By TIM HORAN
A quarter cent sales tax to fund roads and bridges popped up at the regular meeting of the Dickinson County Commission Thursday.
The commissioners were discussing the summer overlay project and the use of federal funds to repair the shoulders on Old Highway 40 from Abilene to Chapman when Commissioner Craig Chamberlin brought up the subject of a sales tax to fund road and bridge projects in the future.
“We have 22 bridges that are in need of repair,” Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin proposed looking at a quarter cent sales tax which would sunset at some point in time.
Commission Chairman LaVerne Myers asked County Administrator Brad Homman for some comparison figures at a future meeting.
“I think it is something we need to look into, to be evaluated,” Myers said.
Commissioner Lynn Peterson said that the Abilene sales tax is 8.15 percent, Hillsboro sales tax is 8.8 percent and Junction City sales tax is 9.55 percent. The Dickinson County sales tax is 7.3.
Myers said the sales tax is a better way to fund a project than a property tax increase. Peterson agreed.
“I don’t think the tolerance is there for a property tax increase,” Peterson said. “Throughout the state, whether it is a county or municipality, a sales tax has been more receptive for a specific project.”
“The good thing is that we are not in dire straights right now,” Homman said. “The bad thing is, like I have said, a lot of our bridges were made at the turn of the century and a lot of our roads were made when weight limits aren’t what they are today. We are just slowly falling behind. We have done a good job of keeping up, but it is going to catch up with us, eventually.”
Any effort to increase the sales tax to fund roads and bridges will be eight months to a year down the road.
Homman said bids on the summer overlay project were favorable. Dickinson County will borrow money from the Kansas Department of Transportation and pay it back over the next five years to fund the overlay project. It is a program that KDOT has since cancelled but will continue with Dickinson County for this project.
“We did have two bidders on that project,” Homman said. “Our engineer’s estimate on that project was $4.6 million, almost $4.7. We were very pleased to get the low bid from Schilling Construction on that at $3.692 million, almost $1 million lower than our estimate.”
Commission Chamberlin asked if, because the bid was lower, the county was going to do more roads.
“Actually, we were hoping it would come in low like that so we could do what we had planned,” Homman said. “We were afraid that if it came in at the $4.6 million, we were going to have cut back some miles.
“We plan for the worst and take the best case scenario,” Homman said. “We were tickled that it came in at the amount that it did. We are, at this point, confident we can do the 39-1/2 miles that we had planned on. We thought it was going to come in higher because the oil market is really volatile.”
The commissioners also gave the go ahead to apply for the application to fix Old Highway 40 from Abilene to Chapman.
“We have had problems keeping those shoulders up to the road,” Myers said of Old Highway 40.
The project started a year ago when Dickinson County applied for funds to help repair Old Highway 40 because it was “at risk.”
Dickinson County was contacted by KDOT because high risk funds were available.
“Last year the team put together all the information showing that, because of the narrowness of the road (Old 40), it is a hazardous road,” Homman said. “We have had a lot of accidents the last two years on that road and we were able to justify the use of high risk road funding for a project to widen that road 30 inches on each side and to put a paved shoulder on the edge to reduce the hazard.
“We were awarded the first segment from Solomon to Abilene,” he added. “They ran out of money at that time and said that was a good viable project and to come back to next year, which would be 2014, to apply for more funds. They came up with some funding and came back and said if you can come back with the 10 percent match this year, we can award it in September.”
The road facelift from Abilene to Chapman will cost the county $121,750 which pays for engineering fees and 10 percent of the total cost.
“That would gain us roughly a $1 million addition to that project,” Homman said. “We do have that funding in the road and bridge budget.”
However, the county didn’t have the $1 million if it had to fund the project without the federal grant.
The Dickinson County Commission also passed a resolution proclaiming March 12-19 as Agriculture Week in Dickinson County.
Peterson read the proclamation which said in part:
“As the demand for animal protein grows, Kansas farmers and ranchers will play an increasing role in meeting global demands for healthful, wholesome, safe, nutritious food. Kansas farmers and ranchers are the first and best steward of the land as they are producing more food, fiber and energy then ever before with fewer resources.
“Kansas is a recognized trusted leader in agriculture and is setting the pace in the complex animal and dynamic agriculture sector. As Dickinson County farmers and ranchers do not tolerate animal abuse or the intentional abuse or misuse of the land and its resources. Our strong agriculture tradition benefits all Kansans.”