Increasing costs taking their toll
Gunnison roads and bridges need lots of work, and there isn’t enough money to pay for them. That’s what Gunnison County commissioners grappled with at their work session on Tuesday, January 15.
"This is not special to us," said commissioner chairman Hap Channell. "It’s probably countywide, statewide and nationwide as the cost of materials go up."
Most of the money for road maintenance in the county comes from reallocation of the federal gas tax. The problem, according to Gunnison County assistant manager Marlene Crosby, is the gas tax hasn’t increased in about a dozen years. But meanwhile, things like the cost of diesel have more than doubled.
Of the more than $3.3 million allocated for county road and bridge maintenance, $2.8 million comes from the reallocation of the federal gas tax. The rest comes from county taxes, charges for services, other transportation funds and miscellaneous revenues.
Crosby said she thinks the county still has enough money for actual snow removal, but she said there may not be enough funds left over to cover other expenses related to snow, like runoff management.
As a result, Crosby is looking at a cutback in county plowing services. "Locally where we had plowed at two inches (of new snow) on our upper routes… we will go to four inches," she said.
Crosby assured the commissioners that safety was still a paramount consideration. "We are changing some of our minimums, always maintaining safety and always maintaining a good transportation outlook for our public, but we are going to have to change," she said.
Crosby has carefully budgeted the county’s dwindling resources for road maintenance, and so far has stretched county funds to meet the county needs. But this winter, Mother Nature isn’t staying on budget.
"All the money I thought I saved, I suspect was burned up this December," Crosby said. "The recent storms cost us $93,000 (in snow removal), and that doesn’t include the cost of diesel," she said.
She says during an average storm, most of her equipment burns 50 gallons of diesel. And with 20 pieces of equipment using diesel at $3 a gallon, the costs add up fast.
Channell wondered if the county could create special improvement districts so that subdivision homeowners would take over the cost of their plowing.
County manager Matthew Birnie said the idea was worth deliberating in future planning efforts. "It is something to consider when you’re looking at new subdivisions," he said.
Another idea Crosby introduced was an impact fee on new development. The notion is to add a road and bridge maintenance fee on new construction. Birnie said Montrose County had recently implemented such a fee. Birnie said that it was important that development paid for itself, because studies have shown that for every dollar added to government coffers from rural development, a $1.70 was spent to provide services.
"That’s why it’s easy to prove the nexus for these impact fees based on the cost of development," said commissioner Paula Swenson.
Swenson said the county needs to look at various ways to augment the road and bridge budget, including impact fees, surcharges on any county-performed maintenance extended to municipalities and subdivisions, raising building permit fees and special improvement districts.
Since the discussion ocurred during a work session, no action was taken.