Salina, KS

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Commissioner: Road Conditions “Unacceptable”

KSAL StaffJanuary 24, 2017

During a nearly two hour study session on roads and bridges, County Commissioner Mike White described the condition of the county’s gravel roads as being “unacceptable”.  He said that with last week’s 2” of rain, some of the gravel roads were “impassable”.  He asked if it was a factor of the materials being used or maintenance issues.

Chairman Monte Shadwick noted that White had served as commissioner for many years and understood roads at a different level.  Shadwick said he’d defer to White if he said there are immediate concerns.  He urged commissioners and Road and Bridge officials to compile wish lists.  Shadwick said the county commission would “have to fund” essential government services and “make it happen”.

County Engineer Neil Cable responded that given the present level of county funding, the Road and Bridge department cannot “break out of the mold” of their present operational style, which he described as being re-active.  He spoke to the different aspects of taking a pro-active approach.

Shadwick said he is a “believer in bonds”, especially when interest rates are at 1-2%.  Shadwick said that bonding insures that people who are driving on the roads pay for those roads.  Cable said that bonding would allow the commission to pay for projects that have a long life.  Cable said that the “pay as you go” process, used in recent years, limits the department to completing one project at a time.

Commissioner Jim Weese asked that Road and Bridge officials identify if there are capital improvements that are not funded.  This prompted a lengthy discussion of road grading, ditch building, and reshaping and reconstructing roads.  Commissioner Rodger Sparks said that in many places, the crown of the road has been graded away, the ditches have filled with rock, and there is no place for water to go.  Road and Bridge Superintendent Darren Fishel said the department hasn’t had a water tanker, which is essential for pulling aggregate out of the ditches.  R&B has only recently acquired a roller.  Fishel said the cost of reshaping and reconstructing a mile of road is $20,000-25,000/mile.  Location of utility lines underneath or besides the roadbed impacts costs.

When asked how the roads department determines what problems it will address, Fishel said that he hoped there’d be no disasters and that his crews would then address “the worst of the worst”.  Cable added that in his tenure, “the worst of the worse are gone” and Saline County bridges and culverts are in better shape than many other counties.  Fishel repeatedly said that his supervisors would gladly travel with one or all commissioners to discuss specific sites of concern.

Fishel reviewed a printed summary describing the history of gravel roads in the county.  Prior to 1940, townships built and maintained the roads, which were primarily used to transport agricultural products to market.  Then, a vote of the citizens transferred this responsibility to the county.  At this time, farmers were using single axel trucks weighing less than 25,000 pounds when loaded.  Fishel said that back then, farmers didn’t travel to town when the weather was bad.  The county employed a workforce of 70 to maintain the roads.

Now, with the closure of elevators and reduction of rail services, farmers are using semis, which can weight more than 95,000 pounds–if loaded beyond weight restrictions.  With increased “urbanization”, someone in a country dweller’s household may expect to travel to town, regardless of the weather.  The county currently employs a workforce of 35 to maintain the roads.

Fishel described the work flow as:

  • 30% of staff’s time is spent responding to calls from the public.
  • 30% of staff’s time is spent addressing issues raised by the work crews—who may see a need for additional aggregate or spot problems with culverts.
  • 15% of staff’s time is spent responding to requests from the engineering department, when they spot problems with culvert and bridge inspections.
  • 20% of staff’s time is devoted to seasonal concerns—asphalt paving in spring, trimming trees in fall, and snow plowing in winter.
  • 5% of staff’s time is spent addressing safety concerns, such as problems with lines of sight or sharp drop offs.

Fishel said he prioritizes the projects his crews tackle by:

  1. Is it a safety hazard to the traveling public?
  2. Will it become a safety hazard shortly?
  3. If the matter is not dealt with timely, will it cost more to address it in the future?
  4. In matters of a public request, he considers if the request is time sensitive.
  5. Locations of the work crews; if crews are “nearby”, they may address an issue sooner.
  6. Is it seasonal? Tree trimming is typically done in the fall.

Cable noted that Road and Bridge shop building “is better than it was”, given recent efforts to address safety and functional issues.  Sparks commented that improvements in the electrical system had only addresses issues up to the electrical box; he noted that in the office, electrical cords hang from the ceiling.  Commissioner Robert Vidricksen repeated an earlier statement that the rest of the Road and Bridge building that is east of the shop is an “embarrassment”.  The previous Commission had envisioned completing the shop upgrades in phases and upgrading the office had been planned for later in the project.

County Commission Membership Dues

The Commission began discussing whether it wants to continue to pay dues to belong to the:

  • Kansas Association of Counties, at a cost of $12,713.91. The base dues are $500 and the county pays “dues allocations” based on population ($6,465.24) and valuation ($5,748.67).  Shadwick voiced frustration over the costs/quality of last year’s KAC annual convention.  County Administrator Rita Deister was frustrated that KAC raised dues just as a “tax lid” takes effect.
  • National Association of Counties, at a cost of $1,112. Since NACO offers prescription savings that are used by some county residents, Shadwick asked for more time to study the impact of not paying dues to NACO.
  • League of Municipalities, at a 2015 dues cost of $1,108; the previous commission opted not to pay the 2016 dues. Deister said she found the League’s and KAC’s legislative updates helpful.

City-County Social

At the invitation of the City, the City and County Commissions will meet for a “social” on January 28th, at 6:15, at the Brown Mezzanine of the KWU Student Activities Center, 2nd floor.  Then, they’ll take in a KWU basketball game at 7:00 PM; the game will be played at 100 E Claflin Avenue.

Deister said the County will pay $212 out of a contingency fund, to cover its share of the catered snacks.  Commissioners and their spouses will be able to enjoy Caprese skewers, assorted crostini, apple rumaki, saucy Asian meatballs, Italian stuffed mushrooms and southwestern egg rolls as well as a choice of beverages.

Commissioners also:

  • Reappointed Lloyd Davidson to serve as one of the county’s two representatives to the Salina Community Economic Development Organization. In order to stagger the number of members who might be coming on and off the EDO Board, initial appointees “drew straws” and Davidson was appointed to a one year term.
  • Awarded a sign truck chassis bid to Long MacArthur Ford, in the amount of $41,258.
  • Approved the purchase of a Freightliner tandem axle dump truck, with stainless steel dump body, stainless steel salt spreader and 12’ reversible plow using a KDOT bid. The total price is $159,836.
  • Reviewed plans for a contest to design a new County logo. This contest will be open to county staff.  It is part of efforts to re-design the county’s website.  The Commission may or may not adopt a new logo.
  • Signed a contract with Chad Eric Jones to provide cognitive behavior classes at Community Corrections, at a rate of $75/class.
  • Planned future study sessions. Vidricksen said that commission needs to address vacancies on the Planning and Zoning commission, given that two appointees will soon become term limited.  White requested that additional time be spent discussing the county’s membership dues.

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