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Roads dominate discussion at county commission meeting

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“Everybody wants highways and nobody wants to pay taxes,” said County Commissioner Bill Arbach.
That was pretty much the theme of the regular monthly meeting held at the Potter County Courthouse on June 4, with  the primary topic being gravel.
Larry Weiss from the South Dakota Local Transportation Assistance Program (SDLTAP) met with the commissioners in regard to 311th Avenue, which is the asphalt road going north of Gettysburg, also known as FAS 155 or Old 83. He and Steve Smith, the county highway supervisor, had looked over the road to determine options for what should be done with the 30 year old asphalt roadway. He presented some averages for life cycle costs of asphalt, along with costs to include treatment of gravel with magnesium chloride for dust control and stabilization.
Weiss asked if the commissioners were getting complaints due to the fact people are driving on gravel now, and he was told no. “We get a lot of complaints when we talk about grinding it,” said Arbach. Weiss said that people don’t understand the process or what the end result will be when treated with the mag chloride, and they need to be educated on the performance of the road upon completion.
A preliminary estimate for patching and chip seal on the road came in around $1 million or more, and the total annual budget is $1.7 million this year. “Can you afford to spend a million dollars on 16 miles when you have over 500 other miles to maintain?” Weiss asked.
Commissioner Bruce Williams explained that they tried to opt out to provide funds for the roads, but it was voted down.
Smith said that traffic counters were put on the roadway for a couple weeks, and the north mile averaged 88 vehicles per day, and the south end averaged 121. “I’ve got gravel roads in Potter County that get more traffic than that,” said Smith.
Smith said a 30 year life span for a grind and putting a mat back on the road would spend a little over $3 million in 30 years over 16 miles of road. If it were ground up with gravel put on it, the cost would be between $800,000-900,000 over 30 years to maintain. His concern is that if nothing is done it will deteriorate, and result in spending that much just to make it available to travel.
Weiss said many roads across the state are being reverted to gravel with the mag chloride treatment, which is an alternative to asphalt. The cost is the issue. He recommended talking to other counties to see what the public acceptance has been. “It’s human nature that there will be resistance when changing an asphalt road to gravel, but it is important to educate the public to the end results in order to be fair,” he said.
Commissioner Ray Shellito said that he had worked with mag chloride roads in the past and they are top quality.
Weiss encouraged the commissioners to look at the road situation before it gets considerably worse and to contact him with any questions.
Dan Lemler asked the commission if he could get a five and a half mile stretch of road graveled which connects to farm and ranch land east of town. He explained that they have around 9,000 acres of grass there which is where they haul cattle but have had a struggle getting in there for many years. He said that basically the land is becoming more inaccessible, and it is causing a problem for the truckers. He said it is bladed a couple times a year, and there are lots of hills and rocks.
Commissioner Delvin Worth said that they might be able to shape it, but couldn’t gravel it since it is basically a minimum maintenance road.
The cost to gravel a mile of road, depending on the width and putting a couple inches of gravel on it, is approximately $7,000 per mile, making the project roughly $40,000.
Arbach reminded the commissioners that there was a similar situation near Hoven last year and that land owner ended up fixing it himself since the county couldn’t do it.
Lemler said, “I think it would be a nice thank you gesture by the county considering the people who own the most land pay the most taxes, and it would be a way of showing that the people who pay the most tax are appreciated.” He added that it seemed like a small price for the county to spend $40,000 on a road that is only worked on once every 60 years, considering the tax increases that are being paid by the landowners to help maintain other roads.
Smith said it would take at least four weeks to gravel it, since they can go about a mile a week hauling gravel. “We’ve got a lot of other roads that get a lot more traffic. We’ve got 40 or 50 miles of roads that need gravel, and we might get 20 done this summer.”
Maroney added that the county has roads that need work that get more traffic in a day than that road gets in a year. “We’d like to fix everybody’s road,” he said.
Smith said, “I agree with you that it needs some work, but it is not a priority road.”
Lemler pointed out that when it is a road that accesses 8,000 acres of land, there is a lot of revenue generated for the county off that land, so it seems like it would be in the best interest of the county to keep up the roads. Worth explained that a big part of the budget goes to keeping up the quality of roads, and it seems that the cost keeps increasing while the amount in the budget continues to decrease. “It is something the county faces all the time, and we are working to try to find out the best way to maintain the major roads and still make ends meet.”
Lemler said he is paying $65,000 a year in real estate tax and to have a road like that graveled once every 50 years at a cost of $40,000 did not seem like much. He even said he would be willing to help pay for part of it.
Williams suggested that they look at the road and see what options are available or if improvements can be made. Smith said that they can do that, but they don’t have much time left to do the project. “We don’t have enough help, we don’t have enough time, and we don’t have enough money,” he said.
Bill Kellogg addressed the board. “We’ve got four families down our road, and last Tuesday, after the rain, it took about 15 m.p.h. in four wheel drive to get out,” he said, adding that the last time his road was gravel was over 14 years ago. He went on to compare it to other roads in the county and the need to prioritize. “The other day I went to Tolstoy and drove the crossover road past Monte Harer’s. I drove 75 mph on that road. I realize that’s a high traveled road, but we should have some kind of gravel out there.”
It was explained that the shoulders need to be pulled up before gravel is put on the road, and that the big rains this spring also had an impact on the condition of the roads. He said that his farming operation pays over $50,000 a year in taxes, “and you only gravel every 20 some years.  I hope I’m not dead before I see the next load.”
Smith explained that the county has over 550 miles of gravel road and with the equipment and manpower they have they can gravel 20 to 30 miles of roads a year, “I’m limited by the manpower, equipment, and time we’ve got.” He told Kellogg that his road is on the schedule to get done this year, but they are currently working on a higher travelled road going south of town which gets between 200-300 vehicles a day, where Kellogg’s gets 15.
Darrin Simon represented the Gettysburg Country Club to discuss the dugout and fencing of the property. There was concern from the city about changing boundaries and insurance issues. The country club land is leased from the city, so more discussion and research will be done on the issue. The state’s attorney will be contacted for more information.
Sheriff Curt Hamburger presented his monthly report. He talked about an accident that occurred near Roger Genzler’s place in the southeast part of the county on 170th, and said that the shoulders on the road were very soft. It was not the first accident the sheriff had witnessed in that part of the road over the years. The heavy rain was also a key component in the accident. He will talk to Smith to see if a caution sign placed on either side of the hill might be helpful.
He also talked about the city police department’s new vehicle, so he got price lists for a new vehicle to be considered for next year, and he has been asking other counties for surplus vehicles for parts for the deputy vehicle.
There was discussions about the importance of law enforcement being visible, and there are plans to expand the patrols.
Jerry Groos of Grow South Dakota, also known as NESCAP, reviewed services that are offered by the organization to the commissioners.
Contracts for mosquito spraying were approved between Potter County and Hoven, Tolstoy, West Whitlock Recreation Area, Lebanon, and Orient. The spraying is done for an hourly fee plus mileage.
Auditor Karen Doerr asked the commissioners if they had plans for wages that she could include in the budget for next year. Maroney said that he thought the commissioners should have a raise. He talked to a commissioner from another county who told him Potter County is getting far behind the pay scale and was, consequently, making other commissions “look bad.” He added that there has not been an increase for the commissioners in several years.
Worth commented that the county has a lot of things that need doing that costs money, and Arbach asked, “How can you give yourself a raise then turn around and tell your employees they probably shouldn’t have one because health care costs are going up?”
Maroney pointed out that the employees always get an annual raise.
“I guess if you want to give them all a buck then maybe we could raise ours a little, too,” said Arbach, adding that if the county lowers benefits, then they can “talk raises.” Insurance rates increased 3.77% this year.
To prepare for the budget, Doerr again asked what she should include for wages. Lengthy discussion included the possibility of eliminating benefits and offering a wage increase. No action was taken.
The minutes are published on page 12. The next meeting is scheduled for July 2 at 8 a.m.
-Molly McRoberts

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