By Sadie Hunter
With more than 200 in attendance, Noblesville Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob DuBois said the organization’s Jan. 27 luncheon was the largest crowd on record for the monthly events.
This one served as the annual State of the County address by Hamilton Co. Commissioner Steven Dillinger.
Dillinger spoke to the crowd comprised of representatives from each of the county’s four cities, including Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear and Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, along with Dillinger’s fellow commissioners, Christine Altman and Mark Heirbrandt.
And in light of harsh winter storms near Washington D.C., Representative Susan W. Brooks was able to attend as well, addressing the crowd briefly.
“I have to admit, it’s so wonderful to be home,” she said. “I have heard Steve give the State of the County before, so I was thrilled to learn that I could actually come.” She continued, recognizing elected officials and those seeking office or reelection.
Brooks also spoke on the massive growth the county is experiencing, citing a recent study by the Indiana Business Research Review at the Indiana University Kelly School of Business’ naming of Hamilton Co. the fastest growing county in the state.
“Now that is probably not any surprise to you. However, it is projected to more than double in the next 35 years … It’s an exciting time to be part of Hamilton County, Indiana.”
Dillinger’s lighthearted address lasted nearly an hour and covered many topics recapping 2015, focusing on finances, public safety and roads.
Starting the address with the budget, Dillinger said the 2015 county budget was $153,121,000, but actual dollars spent were $132,853,000, resulting in an approximate $20.3 million surplus. Overall, the county general fund, COIT (county option income tax) fund and rainy day fund make for a $55,431,000 surplus for the county.
Dillinger said these capital reserves allow for cash flow flexibility, greater leverage on capital improvements projects and the government center expansion, jail expansion and Ind. 37 project.
ROADS & HIGHWAYS
Ind. 37 Project
Of all the things discussed in his address, Dillinger said the Ind. 37 project was the thing he was most excited about.
“This is my favorite, favorite thing, and it’s been my favorite thing for years,” he said. “I believe that this project will mean more to this community than any singular thing we have done.”
Projected for construction to begin at the 126th Street intersection, the cost for the five intersections at 126th, 131st, 135th, 141st and 146th is estimated at $115.1 million. Cost for the intersections at Greenfield Avenue, Town & Country and Pleasant Street is estimated at $69.5 million.
The current agreement between the state and the county includes the state relinquishing control of the intersections (since it’s a state highway) to the Hamilton Co. Coalition during construction. Once construction is finished, the state will then take over the intersections again, making them responsible for maintenance.
Contributions to the Ind. 37 project include $100 million from the state and $12 million from each the City of Fishers and the county, totaling $124 million. In addition, the county and City of Fishers will put forth an additional $4.5 million each, with a contribution of $16.5 million from the City of Noblesville and approximately $10-$15 million in remaining funds.
146th Street: Spring Mill Road to Boone Co.
With phase one complete, Dillinger said, “phase two will be finished in the spring of 2018 … When this is completed, you’ll be able to get off (U.S.) 65 and take 146th Street all the way to (Ind.) 69.”
146th Street to Keystone Avenue
“You weren’t able to get south on Keystone to 146th, and that was very problematic,” Dillinger said. “We were able to get some federal funds, and we’re going to do this project. It’s projected to be done at the end of 2019. That is at 146th Street and Lowes Way. You’ll be able to go over a bridge and get on an access on Keystone, or you’ll be able to go on Range Line Road and go into Carmel that way. So that’s going to give a lot more connectivity in our community.”
Cumberland & Allisonville Roads
Near Potter’s Bridge, north of Noblesville High School, the City of Noblesville and county worked together to complete a roundabout in 2015.
Correctional campus uses
Dillinger said the effects of House Bill 1006, which became effective Jan. 1, will require the county to make changes to its correctional campus. The bill requires level 6 felons to remain in the county jail instead of the Indiana Dept. of Corrections, significantly increasing the population at the jail.
Dillinger said in 2015, the county jail processed approximately 7,000 inmates, and future estimates show more than 15,000 inmates will be processed each year. The county jail’s current capacity is 294, and the change is expected to increase the jail population to 497. The county’s work release program at Community Corrections processed 478 inmates in 2015.
As a possible short-term solution, Dillinger said there have been talks of using parts of the existing juvenile center to process more inmates. However, Dillinger said because of sight and sound separation regulations, using the same building for minor and adult inmates would be difficult. He said another short-term solution would be the use of the third floor of the existing correctional building, which sits empty and was left that way after construction for projected future use and growth. Dillinger said the county is looking at a long-term solution of building another pod on the campus to house approximately an additional 400 inmates.
Public safety training facility
Dillinger was quick to boast the county’s four nationally accredited police departments in Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville and the Hamilton Co. Sheriff’s Office.
He continued, saying Hamilton Co. is the most affluent, successful, forward-thinking county in the state, but, within its borders, does not have a state-of-the-art firearms range for police and sheriff training, an emergency vehicle operations course or a live fire training tower for firefighters.
Plans for such a training facility to include these things was voted against by four county councilors, despite being endorsed by all three county commissioners, all mayors and city and town councils, all township trustees and boards and all police and fire chiefs.
“Real-life training in live, controlled conditions is very necessary,” Dillinger said. “If you don’t think that’s important, let your house catch on fire tomorrow and see how important you think it is.”
Dillinger didn’t hesitate to criticize the councilors who voted against the county’s $3 million contribution, presenting within his slideshow a photo of the council with councilors Paul Ayers, Brad Beaver, Fred Glynn and Rick McKinney circled in red. Those who voted for the training facility (Jim Belden, Amy Massillamany and Steve Schwartz) were circled in green on a later slide.
Dillinger said, at least for now, the council’s decision has killed the project.
Government & Judicial Center Expansion
Managed by American Structurepoint in Indy, the project for the expansion and addition of the Hamilton Co. Government & Judicial Center is in the process of identifying space needs to move departments from the historic courthouse on the downtown square and for immediate and future construction.
Hamilton Co. Fallen Firefighters Memorial
For an update on the funding of the Hamilton Co. Fallen Firefighters Memorial, to be installed near the Riverwalk (anticipated construction for fall) and Hamilton Co. Government & Judicial Center, Dillinger said approximately $115,000 has been raised so far, with a fundraising goal of $250,000. He said 100 percent of all funds donated go directly toward the memorial. To donate, or to learn more, visit hcfallenfirefightersmemorial.org, or contact Tony Murray or Mike Cook, 714-2967 and 770-5170, respectively.
Discussing the the 2013-14 economic impact of tourism in Hamilton County, Dillinger said tourism spending had increase 4.8 percent to $641 million, direct tourism employment had increased 2.4 percent to 10,250, tourism-related taxes had increased 4 percent to $86 million, growth and visitor spending to $173 million, and hotel demand increased 10 percent in the past two years.
“I’m talking about the (Nickel Plate) Amphitheatre, Klipsch (Music Center), The Palladium, Conner Prairie, and probably most of all right now, Grand Park in Westfield,” Dillinger said.
“I am so excited so many people decided to take this time out of (their) day to come and see what we’re doing here,” Dillinger said in conclusion.