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Mower County roads to get attention; Sales tax enacted in 2017 to fund $6M in road projects

Mower County has more money to sink into road work this year, but the half-cent local option sales tax commissioners enacted in 2017 is not enough to cover the needs, county officials said Tuesday, pointing to a persistent lack of funding by the state.

Fiscal 2018 is the first year revenue from the sales tax is available, and the county is using it to launch $6 million in road resurfacing. It will use the initial $1.5 million collected and $4.5 million in reserve funds to pay for the projects this year, using the next three years’ collections to restore the reserve, County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

“This sales tax does not solve the issue,” Oscarson said, but it helps.

Commissioner Tim Gabrielson said the state does not adequately fund county roads, and that shortcoming will cost rural counties more in the long run.

“It helps in part,” he said of the sales tax, but deferring road work only means facing higher costs down the road not only because of rising prices from vendors, but because the severity of issues gets worse with time. What might have been a simple resurfacing can deteriorate to a full reconstruction, for example.

Oscarson said the sales tax provides about 25 percent of what the county needs to effectively and efficiently maintain its roads.

In 2016, when the board approved enacting the tax beginning Aug. 1, 2017, Public Works Director Mike Hanson, at the board’s direction, outlined a roughly $100 million plan of needed road and bridge projects over the next decade and an estimated funding shortfall of $6.5 million per year.

The board set Feb. 8 as the letting date for 2018 road resurfacing projects that are possible because of the half-cent local option sales tax:

— County State Aid Highway 6 between CSAH 19 and Highway 56.

— CSAH 7 between State Line and CSAH – CSAH 27 between West County Line and Highway 218.

— CSAH 29 between CSAH 4 and Austin city limits.

The board also set Feb 8 as the letting date for two projects funded by state aid.

— CSAH 8 between CSAH 1 and the north county line.

— CSAH 25 between CSAH 25 and 262nd Street.

In other action Tuesday, the board:

Approved changes to collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME for a new 3-year contract retroactively effective July 1, 2017.

Reappointed Randy Queensland and Steve Leif to the Austin-Mower County Homeownership Fund Board for three-year terms effective Jan. 1.