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Kandiyohi County snow removal costs $960K in 2013

WILLMAR — Nearly a million dollars was spent to remove snow and ice from Kandiyohi County roads in 2013.

The $960,254 figure far exceeds the county’s past annual expenses for that line item.

Referencing a 10-year record of the county snow and ice removal expenses, Public Works Director Gary Danielson said the county typically spends $600,000 a calendar year on snow and ice removal.

In 2012 the bill was $431,000.

There’s always an “ebb and flow” from one year to the next on the snow and ice budget line, but expenses for 2013 had a “very significant effect on our budget,” Danielson told the County Board of Commissioners during a road and bridge meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Spending a million dollars on snow and ice removal “gets your attention,” said Danielson.

The year “started out bad” last year with a long season that had snowplows clearing roads in May, which was followed by an early snow season.

“It was a long rough spring and a terrible fall,” he said. “And it’s not over.”

Ironically, the high expense came during a year when there was not an excessive amount of snow, but there was a lot of wind, blowing snow, freezing rain and cold weather.

“It was an odd winter,” said Dave Fritz, public works supervisor, adding that 2014 has already been expensive for the county.

Spending more on snow and ice removal means there is less money to spend on other road maintenance projects, such as brush and weed control.

Finding enough money to fund necessary road and bridge projects has become an increasingly difficult problem for counties, in part because there is less federal transportation money making its way to state and local governments.

Compared to past years, federal transportation funding “is not there,” said Danielson.

New this year, Kandiyohi County will have about $400,000 in revenue from a wheelage tax on vehicles registered in the county. The money will be spent on county roads that are not eligible for state funds.

While that’s welcome revenue, Danielson said it does not come close to what’s needed to improve safety on county roads and make infrastructure improvements for the future.

Other funding options include bonding for projects or seeking a local option sales tax.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the county might be able to save $1 million over the next 14 years by refinancing existing general obligation bonds, with some of those savings dedicated to the road and bridge fund.

During the 3½-hour meeting that was dedicated to road and bridge issues, the commissioners identified the 2014 road projects with a total estimated cost of $8.3 million.

That exceeds the $6.7 million in available funds for 2014. That total funding includes $1.7 million from county tax revenue and an estimated $3.8 million in state aid.

The 2014 projects include resurfacing or grading several roads, replacing culverts and urban reconstruction in the city of Kandiyohi.

The commissioners also discussed proposed road projects stretching out to 2018.

A new proposal in the works could have the county and Minnesota Department of Transportation working together on a plan to make the intersection of County Road 5 and state Highway 23, on the southwest edge of Willmar, safer.

The intersection has been identified as a “black spot” because of its higher-than-expected crash rate, including several fatalities.

The plan unveiled by MnDOT District 8 traffic engineer Ryan Barney includes constructing a bridge overpass that would take County Road 5 over Highway 23 and eliminate through-traffic risks.

“This project is long overdue,” said Commissioner Doug Reese. “It’s time. I’m very pleased with this.”

The $10 million project would be eligible for highway safety improvement funds. The county would be expected to contribute $400,000 to $500,000 toward construction, which would take place in 2016.

The project will not proceed without county approval, said Barney.

The commissioners are expected to make a decision on the project next month.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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