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County reneges on gravel tax

News editor

At the end of a three-hour work session Friday, commissioners were firmly behind a tax hike to address gravel roads.

It took about 20 seconds Monday for that resolve to evaporate.

“That’s what we said Friday, but I went away unattended for the weekend,” Commission Chairman Dan Holub said as he pulled back on his support for a two-mill increase. “My gut feeling down deep in my subconscious is telling me not to do it.”

Commissioner Randy Dallke also had a weekend epiphany, though it was only half as profound as Holub’s.

“I talked to myself this weekend and cut myself back to one mill,” he said.

They were not backing away from addressing the problems with gravel roads, however.

Holub and Dallke appeared to embrace what budget consultant Scot Loyd and clerk Tina Spencer had been saying for three weeks: problems could be addressed by using funds the county already had on hand.

“We’re going to get something from FEMA, and with the backup capital improvement funds, I don’t think we’re going to get ourselves in financial trouble where two mills is going to make a difference,” Holub said.

Commissioner Lori Lalouette was on board Friday with tapping capital improvement funds and designating one mill for gravel.

“I think we need more than $130,000,” she said, indicating an infusion of cash could be used to “try to get things going,” but that it shouldn’t become regular practice.

The seeds for Monday’s reversal may have been sown at the outset of the session that affirmed the tax hike on Friday.

“I’ve had some phone calls that city people weren’t happy with me,” Commissioner Randy Dallke said. “They didn’t want to pay for the rock. I said, ‘We’re just raising our rock budget up a little more because it costs more,’ but that wasn’t good enough for them.”

Holub asked what the cost per mile was for gravel and asphalt. Once he had estimates, he leveled criticism at critics.

“City people are driving asphalt roads,” he said. “Most of the country people are driving $8,000 a mile roads, they’re driving $150,000 a mile roads, so who’s paying what becomes a moot point. We’re either in it together or we’re not at all. If we need to fix roads, we need to fix roads.”

Dallke acknowledged specific problems raised by individuals, but he also pushed for a broader plan targeting particular roads. He said it was important to demonstrate progress.

Holub agreed.

“That’s what I want to be able to do here,” Holub said. “If we’re going to raise it, this is what we’re going to do with it, and I want to assure them at the end of the year that’s exactly what we did with it.”

Talk then shifted from gravel to asphalt and signs.

Road and bridge superintendent Randy Crawford said no overlay or chip seal projects were planned for 2016. Crews will focus on sealing cracks and blade patching where needed.

For 2017, 41.5 miles of blacktop roads were slated for chip seal treatments, focusing on higher traffic routes.

There appeared to be some confusion as to what sign funds were available.

“We have some decisions here,” Holub said. “Are we going to budget for signs?”

Spencer responded.

“You have budgeted for signs,” she said. “You budgeted about $100,000 this year, and you put in about $100,000 for next year, but you just need to decide how you’re going to go about doing that.”

Holub said priority should go to signs on asphalt roads.

“All the asphalt roads are done,” Crawford said.

“Remington, 190th, 60th, 40th, so they’re all done?” Holub said. “Wow. I guess next would be the main artery gravel roads.”

There was little talk about accounting for every penny once the tax increase was off the table, but Dallke reaffimed the need to plan for visible changes.

“Graders on the ground, rock on the roads, that’s the only way people are going to see we’re doing something,” he said.

Loyd said a required five-year plan for capital improvement funds needed updating.

“You’ve got a substantial amount of money sitting there, so you want to be in compliance with statutes,” he said.

Last modified Aug. 13, 2015

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