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They are the bane of every city council and county board. No, not potholes — unfunded mandates. They occur when the federal or state governments ponder about what good they can do their constituents and then decree that a certain project shall be done. Then Congress or the Legislature force local governments to scramble figure out how to pay for the project.

An typical example of how the game is played was seen at a Cass County Board meeting last month. The board faces two upcoming federal mandates. One requires it improve the reflectivity of highway safety signs before the end of 2014. The second requires it to improve the reflectivity and increase the size of street name sings by 2018. 

Replacing the street signs is going to be a costly undertaking. Cass County Engineer David Enblom said it cost around $200,000 about 13 years ago. The larger signs could double that cost.

The Cass County Board justifiably asked Minnesota’s congressional delegation to work to either repeal the mandate or fund it. The board appeared to favor the more logical route of being practiced by the Cass engineer now. When a sign is damaged or wears out it is replaced by one that meets the federal guidelines.

That idea makes sense. Which, unfortunately, means it may be an uphill battle for the notion to be adopted by Congress.