The Henry County Council meeting got a little heated Wednesday when discussion started whether to set aside potential tax revenue for one specific project. Ultimately, the council pledged $511,000 of future Food and Beverage Tax funds over the next five years to extend the Wilbur Wright Trail.
According to Jeff Ray, trails coordinator for Healthy Communities of Henry County, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) is offering an 80/20 match in federal funds for local projects. For every $20 the county puts toward the trail expansion project, INDOT could potentially provide another $80 in funding.
The Henry County Council "irrevocably" committed half a million dollars of future Food and Beverage Tax revenue to the project so Ray could apply for this year's grant. The letter of support stated that the money would be "received and available for the match by Dec. 31, 2021."
"It would be foolish as a county to turn down matching money, especially to the tune of 80/20," said council president Nate LaMar.
County attorney Joel Harvey said the food and beverage tax brought in about $577,000 last year and is projected to bring in more money than that next year. The increase of funds is not the issue, though. By signing the letter of support, the Henry County Council is giving the trail expansion project priority over other future community projects, Harvey said.
Harvey pointed out that the letter would specifically commit funds to the trail project and there might not be as much money for other community projects to use in the future.
Some city and the council officials took issue with the decision as well. Mayor Greg York was the first one up to the podium to express concerns.
"If we're getting in line for money from the future, I'm going to need a million dollars for the next five years," York said. "In the next two months, we're going to have 1,100 families coming to town playing baseball... I've got the number one income that's going to feed food and beverage. You can take all these other projects and times that by 10 and they won't bring in what this sports complex is going to bring in."
County council member Robin Fleming told everyone that she loved the trail and she used it all the time, but she agreed with York.
"I will not support something that's going outside the process that we've established as a safeguard," Fleming said.
Food and beverage tax dollars are designed to be used to promote tourism and economic development within the county. The Capital Improvements Committee is tasked with vetting project applications. The council takes recommendations from the committee and grants final approval of project funding.
Healthy Communities of Henry County went through the application process this year and was denied.
Henry County Surveyor Steve Rest worried that the county could be on the hook for millions of dollars if something happened and the project doesn't get completed.
The council approved the letter of support with a 4-2 vote. Fleming and fellow council member Clay Morgan voted against it.
The Henry County Council also approved the full list of recommendations for this year's Food and Beverage Tax grants, with Morgan voting against it. A list of projects and the amounts suggested they receive were previously published in The Courier-Times.