Five years ago, a Bargersville police officer knew he could get to any call — from a break-in to a car accident — in five minutes or less.
Ten years ago, an officer could work a shift, or even two, without a single call. Now, they answer an average of 10 per day.
The size and population of Bargersville grew significantly after the town annexed properties in areas north along State Road 135 and west to State Road 37.
Now, police officers patrol about 18 square miles for speeders and investigate thefts and drugs. Street department crews plow, patch and repave 30 miles of roads, double what they did a few years ago.
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The tax dollars the town collects have more than doubled in the past seven years. But not all of the money from the annexation is coming in yet. Bargersville annexed the largest amount of land in 2010 and granted a 10-year exemption from town property taxes on those properties. A request to hire two new police officers this year was turned down by the town council, and neighborhood streets that residents want to see repaved can’t always be done.
“You never have enough money to do it. You can do more projects, but it’s never enough,” town manager Kevin McGinnis said.
The growth has required changes in the way the town works, from hiring new staff to prioritizing road projects and police calls.
Officers will still come to a house to check a vehicle identification number or when someone complains about a dog that won’t stop barking. But a resident may need to wait 45 minutes on a non-emergency call, when they would have waited only four or five minutes in the past, Bargersville assistant police chief Todd Bertram said.
“That’s what Bargersville was built on, and I want it to stay that way if it can,” Bertram said.
Roads are being paved every year, but the town also is putting some of its resources into sealing cracks in some neighborhood streets and chip-sealing roads, with the hope of getting them to last a bit longer before a larger project needs to be done, street department director Bryan Clark said.
And if the town continues to grow, that will require more services.
For the police department, staffing is a key issue.
The department has 12 full-time officers, including the chief. More than half the time, at least one officer is off for vacation, a sick day or training. Two years ago, when an officer was off for eight months due to a medical issue, the number of reports, calls, patrols and cases officers were involved in fell — despite continued growth in the area — because they were understaffed, Bertram said.
“When you don’t have enough people, you do the minimum,” Bertram said.
Now, the department typically has two or three officers working each shift, but a serious car accident can require multiple officers to respond.
In the past five years, the police department hired three full-time officers — two when the town limits extended to Stones Crossing Road and one when the Hartshire area off State Road 135 was annexed. But the department still has to use officers working overtime and five reserve officers to help cover all the shifts.
“We’re at least another year out before we get new officers,” Bertram said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get past the ‘catching up’ phase.”
One of the recent hires was an investigator, which the department never had. Having an investigator allows police to investigate — and solve — the cases they often didn’t have time to devote to in the past.
For example, if a car is stolen, an investigator would need to contact family, friends and enemies of the owner, go where the car was stolen and check social media. If the car is found, the officer would then need to collect evidence from inside to try to catch who stole it.
One officer often did not have time to do that work, on top of patrolling streets and responding to calls, which is the priority, Bertram said.
“We didn’t have enough time to work the cases that were coming in,” Bertram said. “You just don’t have time to patrol and work the cases.”
‘A Catch 22’
Now, they are able to work with other agencies, such as when the department of child services interviews a child who has been the victim of abuse. The police department also recently worked with six other agencies on an investigation at the Bargersville Flea Market.
The number of criminal cases filed is up nearly 46 percent.
Another addition to the police department: an accident investigator and accident reconstructionist.
Accidents increased 33 percent from 2011 to last year. The town annexed some of the most dangerous intersections in the county, including Smokey Row Road and State Road 135, which recently got a stoplight that should help with accidents, and State Road 37 and State Road 144.
Bertram said a serious accident can tie up officers for an hour or more, and a fatal accident can take even longer.
The goal is still to patrol every street in the town two times per day, but that isn’t always possible, Bertram said. Ideally, he said, he would like officers to be able to spend more time on main routes, such as State Road 37, to help slow down speeders, and hopefully, reduce accidents.
“It’s a Catch 22. You want to be in the areas with the most calls, but then you give short shrift to the other neighborhoods,” he said.
That balance is also a key issue for the town street department. When the town became responsible for twice as many roads, officials had to find a way to prioritize what would be done.
One issue they had to avoid was looking like they were spending too much time in either the old or new section of town — both because of residents’ concerns and to meet Indiana Department of Transportation requirements.
The town began a ranking system for the roads — giving each a rating of one to 10 based on how much the road is cracking, where pieces are broken and how many holes it has.
It also had to create a plan to salt and plow 30 miles of roads — with only three full-time employees.
Town employees looked for ways to become more efficient. They created zones, set rules that main routes come first, bought new trucks and salt spreaders and asked for help from the town’s water and wastewater utilities, McGinnis and Clark said.
With every storm, they clear every road in town, though it may take longer than it used to, Clark said.
The other key issue was maintaining the added miles of road. One helpful factor was what the town had annexed: miles of rural roads, which get less traffic, and multiple subdivision streets, which often are built to last at least 15 years, Clark and McGinnis said.
Each year, they create a plan of what will be fixed based on the roads’ ratings and how much they have to spend. Last year, they spent about $150,000 on road projects, McGinnis said. Sometimes that means a road with a rating of a seven gets work to help it last longer. Sometimes they focus a project on replacing concrete roads in subdivisions.
“You have to spread the money out here and there, and not just one area,” Clark said.
The town got more money when it annexed more road miles. The budget from the two key road funds, motor vehicle highway and local road and streets, grew from about $240,000 in 2007 to more than $500,000 last year, according to the state Gateway website.
But the town also has more road miles that need plowed, salted, maintained and fixed, Clark said. And the money also has to go to the other services, such as leaf and brush collection.
And then there’s the size of the staff, which the town has tried to limit.
“If you’re paying employees, you’re not paving roads,” Clark said.
Here is a look at changes in Bargersville after recent annexations:
2010 Census: 4,013
2013 estimate: 6,409
Size of town
Before annexations: 2 square miles
Now: 18 square miles
Before annexations: 15.5 miles
Now: 30 miles
Police activity (includes calls, patrols, reports, etc.)
Budget (general fund)
2014: $2.3 million