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Allen County, New Haven mend fences over bridge repair dispute

Deterioration of the deck has exposed the steel support rods of New Haven's Main Street Bridge over the Trier Drain. The $894,000 rehabilitation project has been on the books for years and remains a priority for New Haven, Mayor Steve McMichael said. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of News-Sentinel.com)
Steve McMichael
Nelson Peters

“We’re not mad at anybody,” Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters said in 2017 not longer after a cost dispute ended an agreement under which Fort Wayne and New Haven paid the county to maintain their bridges. “We would welcome them back.”

At least one of those rhetorical bridges could be rebuilt Tuesday, when New Haven City Council is expected to consider paying the county $110,000 per year to oversee its bridges — or about $360,000 per year less than the county said it needed three years ago to cover its projected costs.

“We got a price that works for everybody. It’s fair and sustainable,” said Steve McMichael, who succeeded longtime New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald in January. In 2017 McDonald told The News-Sentinel he believed his employees could maintain New Haven’s bridges for less than the county was asking and said his city had not been receiving its fair share of the funding under the previous agreement, which called for New Haven, Fort Wayne and other municipalities to donate a portion of their wheel tax revenues to the county in exchange for bridge maintenance and construction.

Effective this year, the Commissioners increased the county’s bridge tax from $0.0129 for every $100 of assessed property values to $0.0224. That will generate an additional $4 million per year, which the Commissioners say is needed to cover more than $54 million in bridge repairs that will be necessary in the next eight years. About $4.5 million of those needs are in New Haven, which has about 17 bridges.

Even so, Peters said the reduced support from New Haven could mean fewer bridges throughout the county are repaired as quickly as hoped. But that possibility, he added, will be offset at least in part by the fact that New Haven and other communities will not be “donors” to the city of Fort Wayne’s needs.

Fort Wayne, which as of last year had about 95 bridges needing about $23 million in work, did not renew the revenue-sharing agreement in 2017 after the county wanted to increase its annual contribution from $1.35 million to $2.7 million. “We weren’t comfortable with the numbers, and this will give us more flexibility and control,” city spokesman John Perlich said at the time.

Although Fort Wayne continues to maintain its own bridges, Peters said he is confident other towns and cities will also continue to rely on the county — and help pay for — their own bridge needs. There are also about 270 bridges in unincorporated Allen County.

Peters said projects undertaken by the county will be prioritized according to needs identified in previous inspections. But those priorities, McMichael stressed, will also be influenced by a new advisory committee that includes representatives from New Haven and other municipalities.

“Every community will have a say,” he said.

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