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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Passing on improvements Funding cuts impact amount of work done on county roads

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  • County crews were at work Thursday morning on South Hertzler outside Halstead, performing maintenance on the county's network of roads.
    Although Jim Meier, county road and bridge superintendent, praises his crew for their hard work, he said they're able to do less work than they used to due to rising costs and decreasing funds.
    According to Kansas State University's 2013 "Fiscal Conditions and Trends" report for Harvey County, road and bridge spending in the county declined about 20 percent from 2007 to 2011. The county has had to shift to a strategy of more in-house patching, but patching only lasts for so long.
    "We do the best we can," Meier said. "... We're still not going to be able to do the miles we used to with the dollars we have now."
    K-State reports Harvey County's road and bridge spending dropped from about $2.4 million in 2007 to $1.9 million in 2011 (numbers have been adjusted to 2011 dollars).
    Costs for materials have gone up over the years, Meier said. Though the price of asphalt has leveled off now, for a while it was increasing sharply. In 1996, it cost about $34,000 for a two-inch asphalt overlay on one mile of road. By 2009, the cost to pave one mile climbed to more than $100,000.
    Bridge funding at the federal level is not what it used to be, either. They used to offer an 80/20 bridge program, where the county was asked to pay only 20 percent of the cost. Now, if a bridge needs to be replaced, local government must fund it entirely on its own.
    Meier said many times, attention is drawn to funding cuts at the state level, but he said some of the state cuts are forced upon them from the federal level.
    "When money is spent like it has been spent on a federal level, it's going to have an impact on local levels," he said. "The state is essentially in the same boat as we are, trying to do more with less."
    Meier is looking into new materials and methods that could help to save the county money.
    "Tough economic times spur technology to find ... cheaper, better ways," he said.
    He also is proud of the work his department does with the funding they have, especially since the department is staffed at a minimal level. This year, three road and bridge employees are even celebrating a combined 75 years of service: Doug Donker at 30 years, Anthony Spencer at 25 years, and Meier at 20 years.
    "The workers do an exceptional job enabling people to get from point A to point B," he said. "They work very hard to do that."
     
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