Commissioners rethink paving strategy
Officials consider funding projects each year rather than setting aside money
August 31, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners will get a foretaste of the fall budget process today when it sits down with County Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper to talk about a contemplated change in how Routt County plans for funding future asphalt overlays to its hard surface roads.
No decision has been made, but instead of setting aside hard dollars every year in order to pay cash for million-dollar paving contracts five, 10 and 15 years into the future, the comissioners will consider funding only those paving projects it can afford each year for the time being.
"For this year and next year, we do not have any asphalt overlays," in the budget, Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he was determined not to cut service levels any further.
"In 2009 and 2010, we've cut what you can cut and keep minimal service across the board," Monger said.
Draper had a similar message for county residents.
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"As of yet, the commissioners have not identified any areas of service reduction, from mag chloride asphalt repair or routine maintenance," Draper said.
Draper's department had a budget of $10.9 million in 2010, but when about $1.3 million in outside funding of infrastructure projects is subtracted, the truer number is $9.6 million.
The new strategy being contemplated is intended to avoid any further cuts in service levels in the Road and Bridge Department by freeing up the funds previously set aside for overlays to fund current operations.
Without taking measures to defer this year's planned overlay dollars, County Manager Tom Sullivan said the county could be faced with a shortfall in the Road and Bridge budget this year. Paying for expensive paving projects with cash is wise fiscal policy, Sullivan said, but a luxury for most rural counties and one that may not achieve the desired goals in an era of budget constraints.
"This is looking more at what most counties have to do," Sullivan said. "We're probably one of very few across the country that have had the opportunity to put money away," for future paving projects.
Monger said that in the middle part of this decade, when revenues were increasing, the county budgeted to invest heavily in maintaining its paved roads and budgeted millions a year instead of hundreds of thousands a year as it had for several previous years. The current budget climate suggests a different approach, he said.
Monger said short-term changes being contemplated to the way the county funds maintenance of its hard surface roads should not be confused with a policy of allowing county roads to deteriorate.
"They're hard surface now, and we'll keep them in good condition by making certain water doesn't get into the surface or the base," Monger said.
Tools for accomplishing that could include filling cracks in the road or turning to the chip-and-seal process that is far less expensive than full asphalt overlays. In cases where shorter stretches of road have become uneven or wavy, a more modest asphalt overlay could be undertaken, he said.