Winter costs impact summer work

COLUMBIA CITY — Rising gas prices and this season’s heavy snowfall are causing more than just a nuisance for drivers this winter.The Whitley County Highway Department is taking blows to their budget every time gas prices jump, every time snow falls.Not only do jumps in gas prices provide more cost to run the trucks, the highway department’s funds come out of gas tax.“Most people think our money comes from property tax, but our money comes from gas tax,” Whitley County Highway Department Superintendent Mike Barton said.Not only does the highway department have to share a cut of the money with the rest of the state’s counties, but Indiana State Police and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles get the first share of the funds.“The more gas prices go up now, the less fuel that is bought, the less gasoline tax that is taken, which means we get less money,” Barton said.With each snowstorm, the highway department is faced with more costs. Sand, salt, and overtime pay, all take a toll on the budget and all the while, gas prices are rising.“The snow keeps coming, the bills keep coming, but we’re getting less money,” Barton said.Though county residents may not notice the impact yet from this winter’s higher costs, they might this summer when the highway department may not be able to fix as many roads.“That puts a big strain on us this summer. We don’t want to do more than we have to, but we have to do everything we can to keep the roads safe this winter,” Barton said.Barton, along with his department, selected 40 of the county’s worst roads last year and 10 of them were fixed.“Were going to fix as many roads as we can this summer until the money runs out,” Barton said.“We have 700 miles to cover, it’s tough to get everything done and it’s not as quick as everyone would like, but were doing everything we can.”