City will return grant, kill Etna Avenue project

The Huntington Common Council killed a proposed Etna Avenue reconstruction project during its meeting on Tuesday, June 9, citing limited funding and opposition from community members.

The split 4-3 vote in favor of terminating the proposed project marked the end of a period of uncertainty for both residents and businesses on Etna Avenue.

Councilmen voting with the majority were Erv Ebersole, Brooks Fetters, Jason Fields and Steve McIntyre.

Those voting to continue with the project were Joe Blomeke, Keith Eller and Jack Slusser.

The project was slated to receive $2.58 million in federal funding through the Indiana Department of Transportation, says Dave Schoeff, city engineer. That money will be re-turned to INDOT.

Had the project been initiated, water drainage off side streets, alleys, private properties and the street itself would have been improved.

This would have allowed for an estimated 80 acres of land to be available for development – land that is currently barred from construction by the Storm Water Ordinance, Schoeff said.

Despite the possible benefits from the construction project, some were opposed to the idea altogether.

Fields said that businesses on Etna Avenue depend on walk-in business, and if the road is obstructed for a long period of time, those businesses may lose revenue because customers will not want to have to deal with the construction.

Mike Keplinger, owner of Mike’s Car Care Center on Etna Avenue, was present at the council meeting to voice his concerns about the project.

Keplinger questioned why the Etna Avenue project was being considered when other pro-jects weren’t yet complete – such as a project on Salamonie Avenue.

Schoeff responded by saying that all current projects are either complete or are near com-pletion. In the case of Salamonie Avenue, he says, the first phase is complete, but phases two and three cannot continue until state funds come through.

Huntington resident Kyle Marlow was opposed to the project, which he called “finan-cially irresponsible.”

In addition, Schoeff told the council that INDOT granted the city of Huntington close to a half-million dollars less than the $3 million the engineering department had hoped for. This, in turn, would increase the amount that the city would have to fund for the project.

After hearing arguments both for and against the Etna Avenue project, the council voted to not move forward and to return the grant money to INDOT.

McIntyre suggested that in the future, city departments should be required to appear be-fore the city council before applying for any grant money.

Other business discussed Tuesday night included the proposed storm water fee, which Schoeff says he supports.

The proposed fee would appear as a $3 charge per 2,500 square feet of impervious surfaces on the city water bill. Residential, commercial, industrial and government propertes would all be billed at the same rate. Schoeff estimates that the fee would generate $396,000 per year in revenue.

“We need enough to sustain what we’re doing,” says Schoeff, referring to the $7 million spent in the last 10 years on storm water management alone.

The council did not vote on the proposal, though the discussion on the fee is ongoing. Schoeff said he would like to see the fee enacted by January.

In addition, representatives of the Youth Services Bureau, Huntington Area Transit, Boys & Girls Club and the fireworks committee spoke to inform the council of how those or-ganizations have been using the city’s money and to present their proposed 2010 budgets.

Keith Robinson of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government spoke, praising the council for the passing of the “Transparency in City Government” resolution and offering suggestions to the city of ideas and concepts that would increase public knowledge of what the city is doing.

Ordinance 9-C-09, “Ordinance for Vacation of an Alley” was unanimously passed by the council. The ordinance will allow the owners of 1416 Engle St. and Lot 56 of the Gar-dendale Subdivision to effectively merge their lots into one parcel. An alley was platted, but never developed, between the properties, thereby requiring the owners to have the city officially close the “alley.”

A brief discussion of the 2010 budget was also held. Department heads presented pro-posed budgets for next year, and Mayor Steve Updike and the councilmen proposed ideas for the reduction of costs, such as McIntyre’s suggestion of limiting take-home vehicles for city staff.