Improvements to Roads Not Sacrificed
BY LEANN DILBECK –
Ten months into his second term as the county’s highest elected official, Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison is grateful for many accomplishments made on behalf of the county but his proudest is the elimination of the $1.2 million in debt that existed in January 2011.
Ellison explained that beginning in 2006, a pattern of leasing/buying road equipment on credit had developed. Most of these financial arrangements typically did not require a down payment, had smaller monthly payments, but then left the county with enormous balloon payments at the end of the term. When those balloon payments came due, Ellison explained, “it became too painful to pay off the equipment, so the equipment would be traded for new or different equipment with another new lease or loan with yet another enormous balloon payment that would eventually be due … and the cycle would just continue.”
Ellison said he is aware that many opt for this style of financing for the argument of having access to good equipment but he has a “pay as you go” type management style. “Since revenue has remained level for the last three years, with fuel prices remaining high, and inflation gradually undermining our efforts, we could very easily be in a tough spot right now. Why should we risk the public’s money for the instant gratification of new equipment today, with a commitment to an unrealistic payment at the end of the term on a piece of equipment that we are upside down on, or, refinance past the time when the equipment would likely be worn out? Not to mention the money that would be spent on the interest. I have purposely refrained from expenditures that would have been beneficial to the “Road Plan” and kept payroll expenses lower than 2010 levels because I felt so strongly that we should become debt free as quickly as possible.”
Along with the debt being eliminated, the county has still been able to resurface 51 miles of county roads with five more planned before the end of the year, weather permitting. Many of these projects, Ellison said, required extensive sub-grade work and drainage improvements.
“When deciding which projects are priority, our 10-year plan uses a formula weighted towards the combination of worst condition and highest traffic count. Because of this, I believe road improvement mileage production will rise due to the fact that some of the most difficult projects have now been completed,” he stated. “Of course, funding levels, fuel costs, and other business costs will be a consideration.”
Ellison said that several small bridges have been replaced and several larger ones have been repaired. “Bridges will also be a problem in Polk County. Once could easily spend a whole year’s road budget on just a few bridges. We have over 200, many of them at least 100 years old.”
Construction has started on three new concrete bridges that are currently closed due to flood damage. The first to be replaced is a 50-ft. long span across Merren Creek on Polk 45. Bids will be opened on October 28, with construction to start shortly thereafter. The next will be a 40-ft. structure across Sulpher Creek on Polk 62 followed by a 60-ft. bridge across Rock Creek on Polk 41S.