Emotions were high at the Huntertown Town Council special meeting May 26. The project at Carroll Road and Mossy Oak Run was discussed, and many residents came to the meeting to express their feelings.
Three council members, President Gary Grant, Patricia Freck and Brandon Seifert, were in attendance at the meeting, while Mike Aker and Mike Stamets participated virtually.
The project would add a median strip, preventing left-hand turns into the Carroll Oaks neighborhood as well as into Walgreens on the north and CVS on the south. The town’s failure to comply with the county standards that require the median strip would jeopardize federal money for the project.
The Council approved Option B for the project in a 3-2 vote, with Seifert and Aker voting in opposition.
Residents are unhappy that it would restrict access to their neighborhood, and they feel that it would cause more people to drive through their development, making the roads unsafe.
Grant was the first person to speak on the issue.
“I wish I had better news, but here is the dilemma that we are in,” Grant said. “NIRCC and INDOT only gave us one option, and that’s Option B. They fund 80% of this project, and they fund basically all of our road projects. And they are quite expensive.”
He said the cost of the project is approximately $2 million. If they do not have the funding from the state, they would need to pay for the entire project.
“They are not giving us any other option but B,” Grant said. “... If we don’t go with that option, we lose our funding for road projects.”
The meeting lasted approximately an hour and a half, with a discussion between the public and the Council. Grant expressed his frustration with the situation.
“I’m almost beside myself on this one,” Grant said. “In all of the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never run into an issue like this that we could not resolve.”
Seifert explained why he voted against the project.
“I’m going to just flat out say that I am going to vote no no matter what because of how it affects the residents at Carroll Oaks,” Seifert said.
He also expressed his frustration on how voting no to this project could prevent them from receiving future funding.
“I was also told that if we did not vote yes on this project that we would lose future funding, like Gary said, we could be considered noncooperating, which makes me very frustrated that a government agency would withhold funding because we voted no on something that we are taking into account the residents that live in that area,” Seifert said.
He is also frustrated because he said the people who are making these decisions are appointed, not elected, into their positions, and they do not live in the town. So they do not have to live with the consequences of the project.
In a phone conversation the morning after the meeting, Seifert stated that he feels the town is being extorted and strong-armed into its decision.
“I think that is illegal that we are not getting funding because we did not vote a certain way,” Seifert said. “To me, that seems like NIRCC and INDOT are extorting us and other towns. If they are doing that to us, they are doing that to other communities.”
Aker did not explain why he voted no.
Freck said that INDOT has specifications they need to follow, and this is one of them.
“These are standards and specs that INDOT passes along to NIRCC that passes along to our engineering firm that ultimately we all as taxpayers pay,” Freck said. “They are not picking on this road project or you residents.”
She said it all boils down to the town needing the funding to do road projects. Freck also said that if they as a whole voted against the project, the town would owe the state the money that has been spent for the project so far, amounting to approximately $69,000.
A resident asked if it mattered who was elected because it seems like INDOT is running the town.
“We have decisions to make,” Grant responded. “It doesn’t matter about being an elected official. I can care less about being elected to this town right now. This is the worst thing that I’ve had to make a decision on in the 10 years I’ve been on this. And I fought tooth and nail for this wastewater treatment plant, and I’m more sick to my stomach over this than I have ever been about the wastewater treatment plant.”
Northeastern Indiana Regional Coordinating Executive Director Dan Avery was on the Zoom call but did not speak. Representatives from INDOT were on the call but also did not comment.
The construction for this project will begin in 2023.
The Council also discussed a resolution that established a policy that would allow members to participate via electronic means of communication for town meetings.
The resolution allows members of the public to watch the meeting through Zoom without restrictions. Council members are limited to no more than two Zoom meetings in a row before they have to attend in person. Council meetings must have at least three members in attendance at the town hall for meetings once the health emergency is lifted.
It was passed with a 4-1 vote, with Seifert voting no.
He explained in a phone call the next morning as to why he voted against the resolution.
“To me, it’s frustrating because ever since the governor switched to the Zoom meetings that the municipalities can do, it has just made it so much disconnected with the voters and with the residents of all of the communities,” Seifert said. “I feel that there is no accountability.”
He feels that the Town Council meetings need to be in person at the town hall for there to be accountability.
“Really, we need to start being in person for the meetings because, as you can see last night, when you have representatives from government agencies, they are not held accountable,” Seifert said. “One of the residents last night dealing with the Mossy Oak Run Carroll Road intersection had said specifically where is INDOT at and where is Dan Avery at? Why are they not in person? They were in the Zoom meeting, but their cameras were off. They are not being held accountable.”