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Kandiyohi County revises budget to include more maintenance of gravel roads

WILLMAR — A revised road and bridge budget will provide some “catch up” money for gravel road maintenance this year, and the endorsement of a five-year plan lays out long-term construction projects for the future.

Both actions were taken Monday by the Kandiyohi County Commissioners during a road and bridge meeting.

For the last couple years, the county has not had enough staff or money — in part because of higher-than-expected snow removal costs in recent years — to adequately maintain gravel roads.

“We can’t be deferring the gravel another year. We’ve deferred too long already,” said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

The County Board of Commissioners, with more precise budget figures available Monday, agreed to put an additional $400,000 into the maintenance budget to make those overdue repairs, and to reallocate $220,000 for capital equipment purchases that will make the gravel work, and other public works projects, more efficient.

Local funds will pay for about half of the nearly $13 million in projects overall in the 2014 budget, and various forms of state aid make up most of the rest of the budget.

The county will attack a “pretty aggressive” schedule of resurfacing and new construction of roads, said Public Works Director Gary Danielson.

This year the county will tackle about 29 miles of paved roads, with bids to be opened on May 20.

The commissioners also identified several major projects for the future, including moving roads farther away from County Park 7 on Games Lake and County Park 3 on Diamond Lake.

They also agreed to hold a meeting with residents along County Road 40 Northeast, known as the Irving Road, to gauge public feelings about improving the slopes and curves on that road.

They discussed options for how to pay for some of those projects, including selling $6 million in bonds, raising the levy or using a county-wide sales tax to pay for specific projects, as the city of Willmar did.

Because of legislative action last year, counties have the authority to invoke a sales tax. But based on the response this week of the commissioners, a sales tax isn’t likely to be pursued.

Even though interest rates for bonds are low now, if the commissioners decide to pursue bonding, that would likely be delayed for a couple years to coincide with the pay-off of county bonds for the Health and Human Services building and bonds for an updated emergency radio system.

“It’s easier to bond than raise taxes,” said Danielson, reminding the commissioners that there needs to be a way repay the bonds. “That’s why you guys make those decisions,” he said. “You need to live with the results.”

One of the long-range projects includes moving County Road 5 a little farther to the east of Games Lake. Doing so would give the county park there more room for parking and move traffic away from the front of the park store, which attracts a lot of young pedestrian traffic.

Moving the road would increase safety on the high-speed, farm-to-market road that hugs the park, and would allow for the development of an off-road walking and biking trail along a section of County Road 5.

The project, which is currently on the calendar for 2016, depends on the willingness of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to part with some land. Danielson said it’s possible the state will trade land it owns in exchange for nearby county land.

The commissioners, who acknowledged that the Games Lake beach and park area is one of the most popular destinations in the county, gave Danielson the OK to fine-tune the road plans and to begin communicating with the DNR.

An archeological survey would also be required on the land before construction could take place.

“Early coordination is really important if you’re going to do this in 2016,” said Danielson.

Commissioner Roger Imdieke also told the other commissioners that he has heard from a landowner to the west of the county park who is interested in selling his lot to the county.

Several commissioners were hesitant to consider buying additional land, in part because of cost.

“I don’t want to close the door on that discussion,” said Imdieke.

Danielson said purchasing additional land could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the county and the park.

A project to move County Road 4 out of County Park 3 and away from Diamond Lake was also endorsed Monday, but is dependent on available funding. It was put on the docket for 2017.

The other big project involves County Road 40 Northeast, which is slated for a $1.1 million resurfacing project. But the commissioners said it may be time to rebuild the road, which is full of curves and hills and steep ditches.

The commissioners agreed to conduct a meeting to hear if residents want to reshape and rebuild the road, or to simply resurface it. A meeting date and location will be decided when the commissioners meet next Tuesday.

Madsen said he was pleased with the “depth and breadth” of the maintenance and construction projects in the works that will carry the county forward for several decades.

“It’s coming together on a very positive basis,” he said.

Meanwhile, the county is preparing for the semi-retirement of Danielson this fall.

Danielson said he intends to retire from his full-time position in November, but will work part-time to help train in his replacement and help oversee several projects, including turning back some county roads to the ownership of townships.

Because Ron Hagemeier, the director of the Green Lake Sanitary Sewer and Water District, is also retiring this year, Danielson said it makes sense that there’s a gradual transition in leadership with the Public Works Department.

Carolyn Lange

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

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