Confusion complicates legality of off-road type vehicles in Culver

If you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between an ATV, RTV, UTV, and MTV -- and whether any of them constitute a golf cart, or are allowed on Culver's streets under state statute -- you're in good company.
Culver's town council last week sought to untangle the meanings behind those acronyms (hint: All Terrain Vehicle, Rough Terrain Vehicle, Utility Terrain Vehicle, and Marginal Terrain Vehicle are at least some of the options) and their legality.
Discussion began when Culver resident Grant Munroe, who said he owns a UTV, asked about the town legalizing their use on town streets, noting the county passed an ordinance four years ago allowing their use on county roads.
"They're about the size of golf carts," he said. "They're practical, they get good gas mileage. They're currently not allowed on Culver's roads. I've talked to several business owners, and they'd love to have these things be legal. You can put hitches on them and plows...and can pull up to 1,600 pounds on a trailer.
"There's very little difference between these and what are legal. I'm asking you to revise the ordinance to match the county. You register them like a boat through the (Department of Natural Resources), but there's no actual license involved."
Kevin and Amy Bonine of Culver were also on hand, explaining when they purchased their utility vehicle for work on their property, they were told it was defined by law as a tractor, but when they drove it into Culver to fill its gas tank, were told it's illegal to drive within town limits.
"We just want to get gas," added Amy Bonine.
Culver chief of police Wayne Bean, explaining he had done some research on the matter, gave council members a copy of the state of Indiana's 2007 statute concerning the vehicles, which he said allows individual counties to pass their own ordinances, largely due to requests by farmers to be able to move them from one farm to another as part of their routine labors. However, said Bean, the state's ordinance disallows towns and cities passing similar laws which would grant permission to drive the vehicles on their streets.
"If you open it up to any off-road vehicle," said Bean, summing up his concerns over the matter, "you open it up to everything. I think you're asking for more problems. I understand what Grant and the Bonines are saying, but I don't think it should be done."
In response to council member Ralph Winters' comment that "Gator" ATVs are used during Culver's annual Lake Fest, Bean noted the vehicles may be allowed, legally, for special events as well as in plowing roads and streets.
Both Munroe and the Bonines asked for a working definition of which vehicles fit into which category, and thus a blueprint for interpreting the legality of their use within, and outside of town.
Bean said allowing use of some of the vehicles for business and other legitimate purposes is certain to lead to abuse of the statute in Culver.
"I wasn't for the golf carts," he explained, "but I went along with it. Now we're going from one step -- what's going to be the next step? We're a unique community. There are people within a four mile radius who have plenty of cash, and they'll bring all kinds of things in here (under Culver's current statute allowing golf carts, if licensed, on the streets)."
Both Munroe and the Bonines pointed out abuses occur with cars, motorcycles, and other presently-legal vehicles, which doesn't lead to their being banned.
Audience member Tom Kearns added the town should consider "cutting slack" for use of the vehicles for business purposes, to help encourage business in Culver.
Winters said the technical aspects of the discussion -- such as what constitutes what type of vehicle, and how each fits into existing state laws -- "are way outside our understanding."
Council president Ginny Munroe asked town attorney Jim Clevenger to research state statutes and return to council with a report.
Chief warns of break-ins
Bean also encouraged people to lock their vehicle doors around town, as several have had items stolen from them while unoccupied.
"Almost every person (who had items stolen) said, 'Well, it's Culver.' But it can happen here. Someone can walk by and see what's in there and take it."
Miller’s sidewalk hoped-for
In other discussion, the council voted in favor of submitting a letter in support of grant funding for a sidewalk between Miller's Merry Manor nursing home and Culver Community High School's baseball field on North School Street, east of the school building itself.
Tom Kearns, among several working to apply for grant funding through the Marshall County Community Foundation for the sidewalk, said the area in question is 255 feet in length and would accommodate a five foot wide sidewalk.
Kearns noted his wife, following a car accident requiring a temporary stay at Miller's, was nearly thrown out of her wheelchair when she was being wheeled to the high school for a performance there.
"If there's an emergency (at Miller's)," he added, "they have to wheel the people into the high school parking lot. Visualize getting 60 people out there with cars and ambulances running around."
Presently, according to Dick Brantingham, also working on the grant, those in wheelchairs have to enter the street to get to the school's administration building, which already has sidewalk installed north to its own parking lot, but no further than the baseball field.
Kearns said Miller's administrator Greg Fassett told him staff members there will take residents to see ball games at the field if a safe sidewalk is available.
Winters suggested if the MCCF grant did not pan out, the town of Culver should consider funding the endeavor next summer.
Planning study grant
The council held a public hearing concerning a planning study prior to applying for a grant to fund an overhaul of its water utility system, aimed at addressing issues of water pressure and unpleasant odors associated with water at some residences in town. Michelle Shudder, an assistant of grant writer Shannon McLeod of Priority Project Resources, explained the study would define what improvements need to be made in the system, which would better facilitate the sought-after grant itself.
Planning grant funds in the amount of $30,000 will be sought, with the town matching $4,000. Shudder said she hopes results of the grant application will be forthcoming by the end of August.
Munroe, during the public hearing, said complaints about drinking water issues in some areas of town have been steady during her tenure on the council.
Other business
Council members also voted on first reading to define two flood plains in Culver, as required in order for residents in those areas to be eligible for flood insurance in the future, according to recently passed state laws. Areas include the north side of Lake Maxinkuckee in low-lying areas, and an area near Hawk Lake. Attorney Clevenger noted the small areas don't constitute a "significant impact for the town of Culver."
Department heads and council members also updated the audience and council on various matters, including street department supervisor Bob Porter's report that construction would start early the following week at Culver's sewer plant, fire chief Mike Grover's report that the previous weekend's Firemen's Festival was "still a success" despite heat and rain, and Winters' report that the related Lions Club corn roast, held the same evening and directly across the street, was a bit more successful than last year, though down from attendance a few years ago.
Munroe also shared that the council has started interviews for the town manager position, vacated earlier this year by former manager Michael Doss.