Inevitably, a wet spring following a difficult winter, is going to generate some trouble spots in a rural county’s gravel roads system. Scotland County is not immune to such issues, even though local government is expending nearly $400,000 annually on road rock.
“Pretty much every year about this time we start hearing complaints, with some people questioning why we collect all that road rock tax and then don’t use it,” said Presiding Commissioner. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
In 2018, Scotland County received $172,066.54 in revenue from the county’s road rock tax that levies $0.75 per agricultural acre. However the county expended $379,374.93 on road rock.
That has pretty much been the norm this decade, as the county has spent no less than $140,000 above the annual road rock tax levy revenue in any year since 2011.
“And that is just the cost of the rock,” said Commissioner David Wiggins. “That doesn’t even include the cost of trucking, hauling and the labor of placing the rock on the roads.”
In 2017, the county increased the amount of rock placed on county roads from 150 to 170 ton per mile. Up until 2005, that application rate was just 120 tons.
The road rock tax has been in place for approximately 20 years, starting out at $0.25 per ag acre. In 2010, voters narrowly approved a local levy increase to $0.75 per acre.
The tax generates approximately $200,000 a year for road rock, with half the county receiving gravel each year. The northwest and southeast quadrants will receive rock this year, covering roughly half of the county’s 513 miles of gravel roads.
The local efforts compare favorably to neighboring counties based on numbers compiled in 2014. Scotland County’s 170 ton per mile application rate is well above the numbers shared by Shelby and Lewis counties (75 ton per mile every year) and Adair County (100 ton every other year).
“Unfortunately a lot of people think there is money just lying around to pay to fix trouble spots,” said Commissioner Danette Clatt. “We do not have a mud hole rock fund.”
Clatt noted that unless the county has recently done ditch work or installed a tube or performed some other maintenance, the county cannot simply respond to a request for road rock.
“We can use capital improvement funds for rock in these type of construction situations,” said Clatt. “Otherwise, the county road gets rock based on the schedule, with the only other alternative being the private land owner paying for additional rock.”
The county maintains detailed records regarding rock delivery dates and amounts for each county road that are open for public review.
Road rock can be purchased by property owners for $10 a ton. Currently the county is paying roughly $9 a ton, with the additional $1 going towards delivery costs and placement on the road.
County Clerk Batina Dodge noted that rock costs for the county have more than doubled during her 12 year tenure.
“We were paying $4.45 a ton when I started and now it is around $9,” she said.
While the road rock tax is paid by rural constituents with agricultural acres, the special road and bridge tax, which funds the roughly $150,000 additional costs of the annual road rock purchases, is funded by the county wide tax levy.
“Roughly a third of the county’s assessed valuation comes from the City of Memphis,” said Dodge, ” so this cost isn’t solely falling on the shoulders of rural residents.”