Committee talks on roads, takes residents’ inputThe first meeting of the Road Committee formed by the Stutsman County Commission centered on discussion of what roads the county may recycle into gravel in the future and ways to possibly increase tax revenue available for road work. The group met Tuesday in the conference room of the Law Enforcement Center after the Whitney Room of the Courthouse proved too small.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
The first meeting of the Road Committee formed by the Stutsman County Commission centered on discussion of what roads the county may recycle into gravel in the future and ways to possibly increase tax revenue available for road work. The group met Tuesday in the conference room of the Law Enforcement Center after the Whitney Room of the Courthouse proved too small.
“We formed this committee to review our highway department financial condition and the condition of the roads,” said Mark Klose, chairman of the commission. “It has come to the point where expenses exceed revenue and we have to reach some decisions.”
While the committee reached no conclusions it did take input from a number of individuals concerning the road situation. Discussion centered on whether to recycle roads to gravel, which roads to recycle and ways to increase revenue to the road department.
“We may have too many roads period, gravel or paved,” Klose said.
Stutsman County has 233 miles of paved roads. Mike Zimmerman, county road superintendent, has estimated the county currently has the resources to maintain about 100 miles.
“The last project we did cost over $1 million per mile,” he said. “And we get $700,000 per year to work with.”
He was referring to the reconstruction of the road from U.S. Highway 281 to Ypsilanti done two years ago. Other cost estimates included in the meeting were $182,000 per mile for road overlays and $24,000 per mile for chip sealing.
“Even if you were just to keep up with the chip sealing, which should be done every seven years, it would cost $750,000 per year,” he said.
Noel Johnson, chief operating officer of the county, said the road fund has an anticipated revenue budget of $2.9 million for 2010. The bulk of the budget goes for routine road expenses such as staff, fuel and equipment maintenance. The 2010 budget includes $236,000 for overlaying, $200,000 for patching and $380,000 for road construction.
The budget limitations are why Zimmerman thinks some of the county paved roads need to be recycled to gravel.
A bigger debate centered on which roads should be recycled.
“We need to start on the roads that are a liability and safety issue,” he said. “The cost of the recycling will run about $21,000 per mile and savings on the patching will offset the cost of the recycling.”
Some county residents disagreed with that assessment.
“Our roads haven’t been maintained and now it’s being held against us because of safety issues,” said Judy Graves, resident of the Ypsilanti area.
Graves also raised the issue of the heavier traffic on County Highway 62 and Old Highway 10 east of Jamestown.
“With the energy park the traffic on those roads will continue to be high,” she said. “They shouldn’t be turned back to gravel.”
Another county resident wanted to see a more structured approach to the decision-making process.
“My concern is we don’t have due diligence on a cost-benefit analysis,” said Scott Harms, a resident of the Ypsilanti area. “When you make decisions you should make them based on what is needed. They need to plan ahead of the need.”
Another topic was the possibility of increasing the county’s tax revenues for roads.
“We all understand money is an issue,” said Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier. “But road taxes can be used to leverage state and federal dollars. The voters need to know that.”
While five efforts to raise taxes for roads have been defeated by the voters of Stutsman County in the past 22 years other counties have been successful.
“Every county around Stutsman levies more for roads and can access more federal funds,” he said.
Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, suggested the state may provide more funds for local roads in the future.
But because the county has so many miles of paved roads the dollars needed are high.
“We need $25 million,” said Dale Marks, county commissioner. “That amount won’t even fix all the roads, we still might look at recycling some.”
“To say a 5- or 10- or even 30- mill increase will solve everyone’s problem wouldn’t be true,” he said. “We don’t have many options, we’re out of money and we have safety issues.”
The committee will hold its next meeting at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Law Enforcement Center conference room. County officials will provide maintenance cost figures for all the current sections of paved road.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org