Mandate means new signs for county roads

COLUMBIA CITY — Whitley County officials heard ideas last week on sign updates around the county — and got an unsuspected surprise.At the twice-monthly meeting of the Whitley County Board of Commissioners, Highway Department Superintendent Mike Barton presented Mitch Hansel of GAI consultants of Fort Wayne.Barton and Hansel spoke to the three-man board about federal money available for updating signage which, according to them, is required by law and must be done by Jan. 1, 2012.“It’s mandated, we don’t have a choice,” said Barton.“It’s a very good deal as far as keeping us out of trouble, lawsuit-wise.”Hansel and Barton told the commissioners grant money was available, with a 10 percent match, from the federal government.“There’s $150,000 we can have for $15,000,” said Barton.A $5,000 price tag to the county’s highway general fund will be used for $50,000 total to inventory all county signs while $100,000, with $10,000 of that also coming from the highway fund, will be used to replace signs around the county.Hansel and Barton told the commissioners the deadline for applying for the grants is March 18.County Geographic Information Systems Coordinator Dan Weigold told the commissioner he began overseeing an inventory-gathering effort of county signs beginning last October and reported about 1,400 signs had been plotted.“We’ve already got a pretty good start on it,” said Weigold, adding he’s known about the upcoming federal requirements.“We had heard that this federally-mandated program was coming upon us,” Weigold said.“We saw an opportunity to get a jump on this. I asked a number of times from the state and national levels how they wanted these signs attributed and I could never get a solid answer.”Commissioner Don Amber questioned a lack of intra-departmental communication in the county.“Does the right hand not know what the left hand is doing?” Amber said.Hansel explained to the board that signs had to be plotted via satellite with longitude and latitude. He didn’t know if the groundwork started by Weigold would be able to be used.“I don’t want to pay even $5,000 of the taxpayers’ money if Dan’s already done some of the work,” Amber said.The commissioners gave their approval for the grant application to be submitted, but asked Barton and Hansel to look into possible reimbursements for work already done by Weigold.