PORTAGE — Alleged mishandling of a state roads grant could cost residents here up to $2 million in funding for road projects over the next two years.
The city has been disqualified from the 2018 round of the state Community Crossings Matching Grant program, because officials did not reimburse the Indiana Department of Transportation some $130,000 owed the state as a reimbursement for coming in under budget for a project funded through the 2016 matching grant program.
Mayor James Snyder is blaming Clerk-Treasurer Chris Stidham for not paying the bill, and Stidham is blaming Snyder.
The error could cost the city up to $1 million in funding for next year's paving projects.
An incomplete road construction project also may be jeopardizing the city's eligibility for the 2019 initial round of funding, possibly costing residents up to another $1 million in state funds.
"Portage did owe money to the state from the 2016 grant, and that repayment was not made by the Aug. 15, 2018, deadline," said INDOT spokesman Adam Parkhouse.
"That made Portage — as is the case in any scenario for any municipality where money is owed — ineligible for the most recent call. That payment has since been made, which would make them eligible for the January 2019 call."
That means the city will not receive any funding through the state program this year. In 2017, the city received just more than $721,000 and in 2016, it received just more than $900,000. The community crossings money is used to match the local wheel tax to pave city streets.
Stidham said the city received an invoice from INDOT to pay the bill in April. He said there have been several meetings in which the repayment was mentioned and emails were sent in June and July to Snyder and others reminding them to authorize the expenditure.
Stidham said half of the repayment was to be paid from the wheel tax and the other half was to be paid by the city's Redevelopment Commission, of which Snyder is chairman.
Stidham said, despite the reminders, the RDC did not approve the claim of approximately $65,000 until Aug. 22, a week after the Aug. 15 deadline.
"We did lose out on the 2018 application even though we submitted our application on time, due to a late payment from the clerk-treasurer's office," Snyder said.
"I approved the payment, and it was budgeted on numerous occasions. I’m really not sure why the clerk-treasurer did not get it out on time. He often makes payments like these and rarely seeks approval if it is budgeted, and the council clearly budgeted the Community Crossing money."
However, a copy of a claims docket from the Aug. 22 RDC meeting includes a payment of $65,594 to INDOT for "1/2 Community Crossing refund," according to the description line.
"This is mismanagement of the highest degree," Stidham said.
"The mayor sold the wheel tax to the public by promising to use it as a match for the Community Crossings grant. Now, we have to pay the tax, but we’re not getting the grant money."
The two also dispute how much money the city has lost. Stidham said it would have been up to $1 million, the maximum amount the city could, and did, apply for.
Snyder said the city wouldn't have received that full amount, if any, this year, because of the competitiveness of the grant and because the city has received funding twice before.
"There is no way to be sure of what the loss-impact was, as communities submitted over $200 million in applications and the state awarded $89 million. We were recipients of the first two rounds, making our chances of a third one less likely," Snyder said.
2019 CCMG grant in jeopardy
Funding from the 2019 Community Crossings Matching Grant program also could be in jeopardy due to the fact the reconstruction of Fallen Timbers Avenue between Airport and Hamstrom roads has not been completed.
Contractors tore out trees, sidewalks and curbs along the street in mid-summer. Work halted and earlier this month, contractors sealed up the project for winter, laying a coat of asphalt down. The project, which included installing a new stormwater system, is supposed to begin again in spring.
Not finishing that project is taking Portage out of the running for 2019 CCMG funds, possibly another $1 million, Stidham said.
Parkhouse agreed with Stidham's assessment.
"The 2017 projects would need to be wrapped up by Dec. 31, 2018, in order to be eligible for funds in the January 2019 call," Parkhouse said.
"If that project is not completed by then, Portage would next be eligible in July 2019, assuming the 2017 project is completed by the deadline for that call, which hasn't been determined yet, but would likely be in May 2019."
Snyder disagreed, saying he is working with INDOT and trying to remove the Fallen Timbers project from the CCMG requirements.
"We are aware of the situation regarding 2019 in regards to the grant. We will have it resolved and be eligible in 2019 for a grant," said Snyder, adding the project was delayed because of several issues that arose when contractors began the work.