March 8, 2001

County Potholes Created With Budget Process


By Jon A. Brake

The Riley County Commission wants a half-cent sales taxes to pay to fix County roads and bridges. In fact they
want it so bad they have asked the State Legislature to pass a special bill. It passed the House on Monday and
has been sent to the Senate. The bill would give Riley County the authority to create a half cent sales tax to pay
for $16 million in road and bridge improvements. Voters would need to approve the tax in an election.

Let's hope the bill passes the Senate so the voters of Riley County can turn it thumbs down. Remember, after the
Commission spends the $16 million, Riley County will have other roads and bridges which need work but the
Commission refuses to fund the Road & Bridge Department adequately.

Over the past ten years the Commission has underfunded the Department. Each year the Commission would
receive a detailed plan of what needed to be done and how much it would cost. Each year the Commission would
put money into the Road and Bridge Department Budget and then take the money out for other departments.

In 1997 the Commission formed the Riley County Road and Bridge Advisory Committee (RBAC). This
committee gave their report to the Commission in 1998 and the only thing the Commission has seen fit to follow is
asking for the half-cent authority.

Here is what the Committee told the Commission in 1998: "Based on its review of current funding strategies, the
funding subcommittee has concluded that the Riley County Road and Bridge Fund has not been adequately
funded to meet the demands placed upon it."

The Committee went on to say: "Trends in Road and Bridge expenditures exhibit a general decline for the period
1990-1999. This may be attributable to the fact the fund has been used as a source of funding for other Riley
County initiatives in recent years."

Look at the chart to the right. Riley County's Budget has more that doubled in the last ten years but the Road
and Bridge Operations Budget has stayed at $1.8 million.

For the County to keep up with Minimum Standards For Maintenance of Asphalt Roads they need to budget
$824,000 a year. That would allow $47,000 for patching potholes, $460,000 to overlay 10 miles of road and
$317,000 to seal 37 miles of roads each year. And that is just for the asphalt roads. New roadway construction,
gravel roads, bridges, culverts, trucks, graders, salt, oil, tools and other normal maintenance items would require
other money.

But to Budget $824,000 for asphalt roads maintenance is one thing, keeping it in the department is another. Here
is the first recommendation made by the Committee: "Road and Bridge Budget. The RBAC recommends that
the Board of County Commissioners not use the Road and Bridge operating budget to balance the county
operating budget. The RBAC also recommends that the Board of County Commissioners refrain from making
large cuts in the Road and Bridge operating budget as a means of keeping the entire county operating budget
under the statutory tax lid."

Here is what the Committee said about the Local Retail Sales Tax: "The RBAC recommends that a specified
amount of the annual local retail sales tax revenues be designated for road and bridge construction projects.
When the voters were considering the local retail sales tax issue in the 1980's, the Board of County
Commissioners pledged that a portion of the new revenues would be used to maintain roads and bridges in Riley
County. The RBAC recommends that this pledge be honored."

The Commission asked the Committee to "review the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges in the
county and to make recommendations concerning the planning and development of the county's road and bridge
system." Why? The Committee relied on the same staff and information that had been reporting to the County
Commission for years. Each year the Commission was given recommendations from the staff and they were
never acted upon.

Over the past ten years the County has purchased land, buildings, complete computer systems, trucks, cars,
furniture and overlooked roads and bridges. The County purchased the HTX building, which had just been
remodeled and are now making plans to have it remodeled again.

The County spent more than $1 million to remodel the Administration building's first floor and now are making
plans to have the second and third floors remolded. Both were remolded seven or eight years ago.

The County Commission has for years tried to give the appearance that they were holding the line on spending.
The Commission would cut a department request and say they had cut the budget when in fact they had not.

It got so bad that in July of 1996 they passed an false 1997 Budget of $15,945,556 over the objections of the
Manhattan Free Press. In March 1997 the State of Kansas set a representative to inform the Commission they
were spending money in Funds that had not been budgeted. The Commissioner tried to tell the representative
that they had made the mistake unintentionally. A statement that did not go unchallenged. Records show the
"amended" 1997 Budget was $28,680,766.

Riley County does not need a half-cent sales tax. Riley County needs a Commission to set the Road and Bridge
Budget at $4 to $4.5 million and then adjust the other departments to fit under $25 million. It can be done.

The Commission should remember that deteriorated roads and bridges kill people. Road and bridges should be
funded first and other departments second. For better County Government vote "No" on a sales tax.