Wednesday, July 16, 2014

County scrutinizes road and bridge budget

Reserves could be tapped to keep roads in good repair


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

    The Blaine County Commission is seeking to spend $200,000 less than was requested to fund the Road and Bridge Department next fiscal year. Blaine County Road and Bridge Operations Director Char Nelson is taking a hard look at where to cut costs.
    Nelson requested $1.9 million for fiscal year 2015, which starts in October. The commission has asked what her plans would look like if she were to cut the budget down to $1.7 million.
    The Road and Bridge Department is facing a funding crisis because of a decline in state and federal gas-tax revenue and because it was barred by a commissioners’ resolution passed in 2007 from receiving property-tax revenue for funding road repairs. Since then, a gap has been widening between maintenance needs to keep roads at their most cost-effective remaining service life and the funding available each year.
    Blaine County voters narrowly defeated in May a proposed two-year property-tax levy of up to $5.24 million per year to pay for county and city road maintenance. The failure of the levy put the county in a financial bind, said Nelson.
    “It failed by two percent of the vote,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I hope it will go before voters again.”
    Nelson said several projects could be deferred if her budget is reduced by $200,000, including a $1.8 million re-build and widening of the Adams Gulch Bridge north of Ketchum, which the city needs $132,000 in matching funds to complete.
    Nelson said the 30 miles per year of chip-sealing required to keep roads from deteriorating beyond repair would likely be reduced to 12 miles each year, if her funding request is not met in full.
    Nelson said two miles of paved road near the Little Wood River were decommissioned and reduced to gravel last year, due to a lack of funding to keep them in good repair.
    “The amount of traffic on that road also did not warrant keeping it paved,” she said.
    Nelson said dust abatement procedures [using magnesium chloride spray] on county dirt roads, infill repair with gravel, and work on drainage issues on the dirt portion of Warm Springs Road would all likely diminish if her request is not met. She said the department could also defer re-striping Gannett Road in the Bellevue Triangle.
    The County Commission discussed on Tuesday the possibility of dipping into a $650,000 reserve account to cover the cost of critical road and bridge repairs and maintenance.
    “We will be using a portion, an amount yet to be determined, to fund the fiscal year 2015 budget,” County Clerk JoLynn Drage said.
    The county will finalize its 2015 budget at a public hearing on Aug. 12.
Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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