Drivers seldom pay much attention to the road they’re traveling unless something is wrong with it.
“Our roads and bridges in this county are very good and we take pride in them; our staff takes pride,” said Janelle Dockendorf, Dickinson County’s finance director. “I think that’s an expectation our citizens have — that our roads and bridges are maintained and that’s something we want to do.”
Dockendorf and a number of other Dickinson County representatives have been visiting with groups and organizations countywide in recent weeks explaining why residents should vote yes to continue the one-half percent sales tax used to fund road and bridge projects for a period of 10 years.
The question is on the backside of the Nov. 5 ballot.
Sharing the burden
By using a sales tax, all persons who make purchases in the county contribute to fix deteriorating roads and bridges, rather than placing the entire burden on property owners.
“A sales tax is the logical choice. It’s not just our citizens who use the roads, it’s also travelers who are passing through our county,” Dockendorf said.
And in the past year and a half, Dickinson County’s sales tax collections have increased, due to two new truck stops, Love’s Travel Stop and the 24/7 Travel Store, along with vehicles sales and retail sales.
Voter approved in 2014
The special half-percent sales tax for road and bridge maintenance first was approved by Dickinson County voters in November 2014. Collections began in April 2015 and the tax will sunset in April 2020 unless voters approve its continuation.
Collections from the special tax cannot be used for anything except road and bridge repairs. Sixty percent of the funds collected go toward paving projects, 30 percent goes toward bridges and 10 percent is for safety, including striping and other pavement marking.
In the nearly five years since the sales tax was approved, the county has completed $5,383,735 in projects, including:
• Two bridges: The Eden Road (Sand Springs) and Union Road bridges;
• 43 miles of pavement and shoulders, included overlay and shoulder work on Old 40 Highway from Solomon to Chapman, work on Deer, Key and Oat roads, 1700 Avenue, Jeep, Fair and Camp roads and 2200 Avenue.
• Pavement markings, including both white and yellow striping.
Dickinson County is responsible for 300 bridges, 1,350 culverts, 208 miles of paved roads, 100 miles of gravel (all-weather) roads, ditch cleaning, snow removal and emergency service which includes situations like flood protection, cleanup and repair and tornado cleanup and repair.
Not surprisingly, the cost to repair and/or maintain the infrastructure and deal with the plethora of problems that arise is not cheap.
For example, a bridge typically has a 50-year life span and costs anywhere from $200,000 to $1 million to replace. Culverts, all less than 20 ft. long, have a 50-year lifespan and cost from $20,000 to $100,000 each.
Resurfacing pavement every four years costs approximately $25,000 per mile. Overlaying pavement, which adds strength and re-surfaces the roadway, costs approximately $100,000 per mile.
Each year, the county budgets around $3 million for bridge replacement, $1.35 million for culverts; $1.25 million for pavement surfacing; $1 million for pavement and $100,000 for striping and other pavement markings.
There’s also other costs including gravel, ditch cleaning, snow removal, taking care of emergency needs, road materials and the necessities of fuel, oil, rock, sand and salt, bringing the yearly total expense to around $6.7 million.
Even with a budget of $4.2 million (comprised of property tax and gas tax) and the $1.2 million raised by the road and bridge sales tax, the $5.2 million in revenue is not sufficient to get everything done. Thus, work is prioritized to spend up to the budget amount available.
“Without the sales tax, funding is not adequate to maintain road and bridge functionality and safety,” Dockendorf said. “The sales tax money allows us to do projects we couldn’t have funded in our road and bridge budget.”
If the sales tax passes, the next project on tap is replacing the Talmage Road bridge, estimated to cost in the $900,000 range.
Built in the 1950s, the bridge has met its expected lifespan of 50 years, Dockendorf said, but the need to replace it now was not planned.
The bridge moved to the top of the list after a hole formed in the decking, damaged by oversized vehicles, heavy loads and corrosion caused by road salt used in winter to melt ice.
Just like the bridge is an unplanned expense, others also come up each year, including situations exacerbated by Mother Nature. Flooding was the big one in 2019.
“We have to reallocate our resources when we have floods,” Dockendorf explained. “We had to pull money from another project because those repairs have to be made.”
Approximately $100,000 was spent on flood damage this spring and the county has yet to been reimbursed by either FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) or KDEM (Kansas Department of Emergency Management).
“We ask citizens to get out and vote and support the sales tax,” Dockendorf said. “We hope people see the need.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com