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Cass highway annual report issued

WALKER — Cass County has had to put more local property tax revenue into road pavement preservation, because state funding has not kept pace with the rising cost to construct and re-construct roads.

This was evident in the figures County Engineer David Enblom and Lori Koch, highway department fiscal supervisor, showed in their 2013 annual report to the county board.

The county builds and maintains 500.3 miles of state aid highways, 31.5 miles of municipal state aid streets, which are partially supported by state money. It also builds and maintains solely at the county expense another 282.87 miles of county roads.

Cass was paying about 31 percent annually to maintain state aid roads from 2009 to 20012, but its share dropped in 2013 to 21.7 percent. Enblom attributed this largely to the fact the county did not have to do major storm damage repairs in 2013 and, because of a wet summer, did not have to apply a second coat of calcium chloride to gravel roads.

The state aid short-fall is evident in the road construction costs the county has had to assume.

In 2011, state money paid 91 percent of Cass’s state aid highway construction costs. In 2012, that dropped to 82 percent and, in 2013, to only 71 percent.

To cover this state funding drop, Cass shifted some local property tax road construction money from county roads to state aid highways. The county share spent on state aid roads rose from $239,525 in 2011 to $797,795 in 2013.

“This is the maximum we can afford,” Enblom told the board.

Cass was able to shift the local property tax money away from county roads to state aid roads largely, because the county had completed a program to pave all county roads carrying at least 150 vehicles per day. It does not plan to county pave roads with lower vehicle use.

There are still funds allocated in the county road budget to rebuild or resurface gravel roads on a rotating basis with new gravel, but no new asphalt projects are planned in that system.

Without additional state aid funding, Enblom expects future year resurfacing projects for paved state aid roads could have to be scaled back.

He already has taken steps to apply overlays on only portions of state aid roads, which otherwise might have been completely milled and overlaid. This preserves the existing surface for enough years to extend the pavement life to maybe 30 or 35 years rather than 20 to 25 years.

In 2013, Cass spent $2,362,654.29 to maintain state aid highways or about $4,722 per mile. The county spent $208,460.01 to maintain state aid municipal streets or $6,618 per mile and $1,471,917.61 to maintain county roads or $5,204 per mile.

Road construction cost Cass in 2013 $2,590,400.33 for state aid roads or $5,176 per mile, $70,929.84 for municipal streets or $2,252 per mile and $1,016,651.28 for county roads or $3,594 per mile.

Cass’s revenues from all sources, including some federal highway income, and expenditures, including costs for equipment and personnel, totaled closed to $12 million. The budget for 2014 calls for $10,034,855 revenues and expenditures.

Some of the variance can be attributed special to state or federal grants available in a given year, but Koch said much of this year’s change will be due to “trying to cut back on a few things we could.”

The highway department had $2,418,321.54 cash on hand at the beginning of 2013 and ended the year with $1,865,278.64 cash on hand. Koch said the decrease was due to the fact the county had completed some construction projects and paid vendors, but had not been reimbursed yet by the state aid the county had coming.

Cass originally built its main highway department shop at Walker in 1958 and has added cold storage buildings and an office since then. It also has shop garages for its equipment built between 1971 and 1995 at Hackensack, Pillager, Remer, Cass Lake, Longville and Pine River.

The newest highway department structures are salt storage sheds built in 1999 and 2000 at each shop.