Commissioner Steve Dillinger says Hamilton County positioned well, preparing for future issues

Hamilton County Commissioner Steve Dillinger makes his annual State of the County address to the Noblesville Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 21. (Photo by Robert Herrington)

Hamilton County Commissioner Steve Dillinger makes his annual State of the County address to the Noblesville Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 21. (Photo by Robert Herrington)

Hamilton County is financially solvent and prepared to address upcoming issues in 2015 and beyond, Commissioner Steve Dillinger said during his annual “State of the County” address to the Noblesville Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 21.

During his presentation, Dillinger spoke about 2014’s successes and which issues may face the county in the future.  Through the ups and downs, Dillinger said we live in a county where the government cooperates.

“That doesn’t mean we all agree all the time, because we certainly do not,” he said. “We argue, we debate, we fight, but I can assure you, from our ventures throughout the state, we get along a lot better here in Hamilton County and accomplish much more than any other county I know.”

Highlights of Dillinger’s speech include:

● Budget – The county’s 2014 budget was $144 million but only $128 million was spent – putting the county $16 million under budget. Dillinger added that the county’s surplus and rainy day funds were $47,934,729.

● Government and judicial center addition – Space at the Hamilton County Judicial Center is nonexistent and officials have decided to build an addition instead of find a new location to house county departments. Officials estimate it would cost $20 million to build three shell stories and furnish the first floor. However, any government or school project costing more than $12 million requires a referendum and that route is not something the county wishes to take. County officials have approached state lawmakers to adjust the bill.

● Overworked judges – Dillinger said Hamilton County courts are carrying caseloads exceeding State Judiciary Committee recommendations. “The county’s population is expected to double over the next several years. This will require additional courts and additional space,” he said.

● Public safety – The county updated its emergency response radio systems in 2014 to make every department in the county able to communicate with each other. Dillinger said it cost $9 million to build four new towers and purchase 3,000 radios for all county and municipal first responders.

● Jail changes, expansion – As a result of legislative changes, beginning July 1 Indiana counties will be responsible for housing convicted inmates with Class D felonies instead of the Indiana Dept. of Corrections. Dillinger said the jail’s capacity is 300 inmates and its current population is 290 people. As a result of the bill, officials anticipate inmate numbers will grow 10 percent each month after July and is expected to double in the following year.

Officials said a shell was built on the third story of the Hamilton County Community Corrections so the county has 33,000-square-feet of open space available. It is estimated to cost $70 to $80 per square foot to build out that area into usable space.

● Training facility – The commissioners and municipal officials are in consensus to build a county training center for public safety employees. Proposed plans for the 96 acres, owned by Westfield on River Road in Noblesville, include a multi-story burn tower, a 20-line weapons training and qualifications range, infrastructure for roads and a small building for classrooms, equipment and bathrooms. Officials estimate the project will cost $3 million.

● Tourism – More than three million visitors came to the county last year and their spending exceeded $100 million, a 42 percent increase over 2013 spending.

● Road projects – The county has approached INDOT about creating access to Keystone Parkway from 146th Street, which is expected to be built by 2019. The other major project is the continual widening of 146th Street to Boone County. Dillinger said Spring Mill Road to Ditch Road will be completed this year; Ditch to Towne Road by 2018; Towne to Shelborne Road by 2021; and Shelborne to Boone County by 2021.

● Ind. 37 project – Hamilton County officials have a proposal to reduce traffic congestion and travel times along a six-mile stretch of Ind. 37 between Fishers and Noblesville by creating a freeway with roundabout intersections similar to Keystone Parkway in Carmel. According to traffic studies, Dillinger said drivers could anticipate a 20 minute or longer wait at the intersection of Ind. 37 and 146th Street within 15 years because of the population increase and overall traffic flow.

At the request of Gov. Mike Pence, the commissioners are in the process of doing an economic impact study of the corridor. When it is complete, Dillinger said officials will meet with Indiana INDOT to work out an agreement that will be beneficial to everyone.

“This is the most important thing since we started building 146th Street,” Dillinger said.