GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Council approved a $3 million loan to Bristol for its bypass and approved a confirmatory resolution for an economic revitalization area and tax phase-in for Winnebago in Middlebury Saturday morning.
The Winnebago project is a go after a month of face-to-face discussions with officials from Elkhart County, Middlebury, the Economic Development Corp. and Winnebago.
Council members voted unanimously for both the commitment agreement and for the confirmatory resolution.
Winnebago plans to invest about $12.3 million to develop a high-tech manufacturing campus around its location on 14th Street on Middlebury’s outskirts, Craig Buche, county attorney, said in the council’s March meeting.
The first stage calls for building two facilities, totaling 180 square feet, that would become operational by October or November, followed potentially by another two buildings in the next 18 to 24 months.
At the March council meeting following a 2-2 deadlock vote on the tax phase-in, the council asked that the parties work out their differences.
Mary Cripe, Middlebury town manager, had expressed frustration that the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp. moved ahead with the abatement process in January in spite of the town leadership’s objections to that financing model.
Cripe was also concerned about whether Middlebury’s water system could handle the Winnebago expansion, reaching agreements on how to pay to extend the city’s water main to the property and maintaining roads to handle additional traffic.
Since Winnebago operates in a tax increment financing district, Cripe questioned how a tax phase-in would affect TIF revenues.
All of those issues appear to be resolved.
Cripe told the council that all parties came to a consensus after sitting down together to talk about the issues, including fire protection and how a water line the town needs to install would be looped and connected to the water system. The current plans are for that to be a shared project with costs to be shared by Middlebury, Winnebago and the Middlebury East Tax Increment Finance District.
“We pulled everybody together,” she said. “We had everybody in the same room. It was a huge table – probably 25 to 30 people there — and just put out all of the concerns and issues on the table. An obvious issue was being able to provide fire protection. … It wasn’t that we didn’t want Winnebago, we just didn’t want to end up with a liability.”
Once concern some council members still had was traffic. Winnebago would be adding 175 more new full-time jobs.
Cripe said that one of the concerns is putting more people on Ind. 13, which is already crowded when factories let out, especially trying to get people out onto 14th Street and Ind. 13. She said at some point a traffic light might have to be installed there.
Cripe added that the Indiana Department of Transportation has decided to five-lane U.S. 20, which is south of the town. That will help with traffic flow
Council members said that if Middlebury could come up with a consensus on how to get traffic from U.S. 20 to the Toll Road, to let the council know. They would be willing to help as they have with Bristol.
As for Bristol, the council agreed to loan up to $3 million to the town to construct what is being termed the “Bristol bypass.”
The Elkhart County Commissioners approved the loan on Monday.
Funds will be appropriated from the Major Moves Fund and are expected to be returned within 10 years or less. The project is aimed at rerouting heavy traffic coming off the Indiana Toll Road from Bristol’s downtown area out toward the south and west industrial areas of town.
According to Bristol Town Council president Ron Norman, after traffic exits the Toll Road onto Ind. 15, instead of taking the jog onto Ind. 120 to get back onto Ind. 15, traffic can take the bypass, which will start on Pearl Street. Pearl Street is just across Ind. 120 from the north Ind. 15 intersection. Going south, the new bypass will go over a new rail crossing that will be built and continue south through the industrial park (Ponderosa Drive) and then turn west onto Bloomingdale Drive to connect with Ind. 15.
Bristol officials hope to eliminate 50 percent of the truck traffic through the downtown.
The Bristol Town Council has already accepted bids for the at-grade crossing. The Community Crossings Grant is funding the Ponderosa Drive portion to the south, Norman explained. And Bloomingdale, which runs west to Ind. 15, is under contract with Niblock Construction.
Norman said, “We’re looking forward to moving ahead.”
The Bristol Town Council met with INDOT Thursday morning. “They really want to help us, but we’re just too soon to do this project. Their director did make a comment that they’re putting in all new traffic heads and there are five heads on the realignment of the 120 intersection to 15 North to the Toll Road, to the tune of about $20,000. One of the engineers made the comment, “Well, that’s really not that much money. It pales in comparison to the cost of the project.” And I addressed him as, “There’s not anyone in this room that would drive down 69 and throw $20,000 out the window. We’ll take it.” I’m hopeful that we’ll at least get $20,000 off.”
Mark Dobson, president and CEO of Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, told council members the EDC had a very good year, especially with the launch of its elkhartworks.com website that posts job openings in the county and tries to attract workers.
He said because the site is designed to be user friendly, it does not require an account and it does not follow up with those using the site to see if they were hired for a position they found through the website. Right now, the site gets about 200 visits a day. The users go to the job component of the site and then to housing.
Overall, he said, “Elkhart County is growing, is doing well.”
Council members also:
• Learned from County Auditor Pauline Graff that tax bills are in the mail and should arrive shortly; the budget is on target as far as spending; and the county is seeing a good return on investments.
• Learned from Graff that the state collected $20,631,109 more in taxes for the county from 2016 to 2017. That is for all taxing units.
• Approved an additional appropriation for Harrison Township of $600,000 to purchase a fire truck. The appropriation needed to be made through the county since two firefighters sit on the Harrison Township Board, Trustee Kerry Yaw explained.
• Approved $510,000 for bridge inspections. There are 173 bridges in Elkhart County, County Administrator Tom Byers explained. Of those, 158 of them are inspected every two years and 15 every year. He said 80 percent of the money is reimbursed by the federal government.
• Approved a $100,000 additional appropriation for the Middlebury Southeast Tax Increment Finance District for the town’s water loop project. That’s about 20 percent of the total cost of $524,000. The loop is being installed because Jayco is putting up three new buildings. This will help maintain the proper pressure needed for firefighting.