January 28, 2010

Declining Revenue Forces County to Make Cuts in Road Rock Program

After a plea to voters in August for additional tax funds was unanswered, the Scotland County Commission announced on January 21st that it will be forced to make funding cuts to the county’s road rock program while depending on private funding to address specific road rock complaints.

Prior to the official 2010 budget public hearing, the commissioners announced a policy change for 2010 that will reduce the amount of road rock the county will spread from 160 tons per mile down to 120 tons of gravel per mile of county road.

“This move has been mandated by our budgetary restraints this year,” stated presiding commissioner Chipper Harris.

He added that the problem is being compounded by the past two years of extremely wet weather combined with the growing amount of larger, heavier vehicles using county roads which will further stress the county’s road systems now that less gravel will be installed per mile.

The commission approved the 2010 road and bridge rock program that established prices for private rock purchases. Gravel ranging in size from 1 to 1˝ inches will be available for private purchase at the price of $125 per tandem load, which is 15 tons. A semi-load, approximately 24 tons, will cost $200, while a private citizen can also contract to have new gravel spread on an entire county road at the cost of $9 per ton.

Under the price system, individuals will be able to re-instate the 160 ton per mile ration, by paying $360 per mile for the additional 40 tons of gravel.

“It is very important that if citizens want to do this, that they contact the county prior to the initial gravel distribution on that road,” said Commissioner Deny Clatt.

Clatt also noted that flags will be available to mark specific sections of roadway that private citizens are paying to have gravel placed on to insure that the rock is installed in the desired area.

The moves were made necessary by declining revenue streams for the road rock and road and bridge programs. Last year, the county expended $422,000 on road rock alone, exceeding the budgeted gravel fund by more than $100,000.

The county had sought to increase the road rock tax levy from $0.25 per agricultural acre to $1.00 per acre but voters refused to approve the measure in August, 2009.

The current $0.25 levy is expected to generate approximately $65,000 for road rock in 2010. The remainder of the $344,000 rock budget comes from the road and bridge fund, specifically from state fuel sales tax revenues through the County Aid Road Trust (CART) fund.

Harris noted that preliminary estimates for the CART fund predict declining revenue in 2010.

The county is also anticipating another price hike in gravel costs.

“If it follows the history we have witnessed over the past five years, we will be paying close to $9 per ton,” said Commissioner Paul Campbell regarding the expected price hike of up to $0.25 per ton from the current $8.85 rate. Campbell indicated the gravel price has risen from $4.25 a ton when he was first elected to the post.

Faced with the rising costs and higher demands for road rock, the county is being faced with tough choices in the road and bridge budget.

“Eventually we are going to be faced with cutting services if revenue does not pick up,” said Commissioner Clatt.

Campbell noted that the tight budget in the road department is causing additional strains beyond the rock fund.

“Basically we are spending all of the budget in that department on rock, bridges and tubes,” he stated. “Our equipment continues to get older and have more and more hours added. At some point we are going to have to address some large expenses it that area as well.”

Based on the revenue shortfalls, the commission indicated it is considering putting the road rock tax issue back on the August 2010 ballot. The commission is seeking input from constituents prior to finalizing the ballot language to determine what if any rates might be favored by county residents. For every $0.25 the road rock tax rate increase, it would generate an additional $65,000 to be spent on gravel for county roads. Thus if the $1.00 levy was sought and approved, it would generate nearly another $200,000 in revenue for road rock, freeing up some of the funds currently being spent from the road and bridge fund for use in other needed areas.

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