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County pares back road maintenance budget

Public Works Director Gary Danielson, left, and Ray Krossman, assistant county engineer discuss reductions to the 2009 road maintenance budget Thursday during a county road and bridge meeting. Tribune Photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- Maintenance on Kandiyohi County roads will be trimmed this year to reduce expenses.

During a road and bridge meeting Thursday, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners approved $260,000 in cost-saving measures proposed by Public Works Director Gary Danielson. They shifted an additional $134,000 in maintenance cuts to the construction budget.

"We asked how we can cut back without hurting the public," Danielson said. He said he didn't want to jeopardize public safety and didn't want to lay off county employees.

"We're positioning for the future," Danielson said.

"We're looking at a long time out with some very serious challenges," Commissioner Harlan Madsen said.

He warned the economy "won't get better in two years" and that government entities need to work together to share resources to protect the "integrity of public safety."

Meanwhile, the county's construction budget for this year was jacked up by $3 million because of an expected federal stimulus payment of $2.7 million for reconstruction of County Road 2 in the southern part of the county. The project extends into Renville County.

The project was scheduled for 2010, but since getting word that the road had been targeted to receive federal stimulus funding this year, county engineers have been working to get plans drawn up, right-of-way purchased and the project bid in short order.

Danielson warned, however, that new money isn't "iron clad" yet because of a delay at the state level.

Without the stimulus money the county's 2009 construction budget would've been at about $7.5 million.

When it comes to maintenance cutbacks, the county will save $105,000 by deferring or eliminating seal coating and $55,000 by doing less crack filling and edge striping.

Gravel roads will get less attention than in the past with reduced blading and gravel resurfacing -- a savings of $50,000.

A $25,000 reduction for dust treatment on gravel roads generated discussion about safety versus convenience.

Commissioner Dean Shuck said homeowners who live on gravel roads should pay for their own application of dust control chemicals rather than having it done at the expense of taxpayers.

Madsen said the dust on some gravel roads is so bad it creates a public safety hazard for traffic.

Danielson said his department has criteria for doing dust control based on the distance of a home from a gravel road but doesn't factor in the amount of traffic on the road. He said additional criteria will be established for 2010 which could reduce the number of roads receiving dust treatment. There won't fewer roads getting dust treatment this year but the rate of application will be reduced.

Commissioner Richard Falk said they "should look at some significant changes in 2010," for dust control.

The county will save $25,000 by eliminating its contract for brush and weed control along roads. The work will be done by county employees who will now be available because of cut-backs in other maintenance projects.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl asked if some roads could be mowed less often to reduce that $76,000 budget item. "We're not going to be able to do everything," Kleindl said.

Danielson said not mowing could also create safety hazardous by reducing visibility and impeding hiking and biking paths. He said the number of times road edges need to be mowed depends on if it's a wet or dry year.

Over-time for county employees will only be allowed for a short period in the spring for critical projects and then it will be dropped, said Danielson.

Because public works employees won't be doing as much road blading or crack filling they will be used instead for shouldering roads on construction projects. Usually the county hires private contractors for that job. Danielson said eliminating some private contracts will save the county money.

Commissioner Richard Larson cautioned against eliminating too many private contractors. "They're the ones that are paying our bread and butter," he said. If they don't get county jobs those companies have to lay off workers.

The other option, Commissioner Dean Shuck said, is for the county to lay off employees.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750