County engineer faces tough decision with budget

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

With another winter approaching, it’s worth mentioning that Jones County has still not bounced back from the last horrible winter. 

County Engineer Derek Snead said as the county prepares for yet another budget prep season in December, he’s trying to figure out not only how to budget for the next fiscal year, but how to cover what was spent in the last. 

After the harsh winter that hit the Midwest earlier this year, gravel roads took a toll. Snead said it was not just locally in Iowa, but country roads everywhere were damaged by the frigid winter and wet spring.

“It’s never been so widespread like this,” he said. 

The frost boils in the gravel roads made it hazardous for people to travel back and forth, and for road crews to fix. 

“This (past winter) was worse than any of our guys remember,” added Snead. “And it could be even worse. That’s my fear.” 

In a typical year, Secondary Roads refrains from putting rock on the roads by now. 

“We haven’t stopped,” said Snead. 

Between contract rock and spot rock, the road graders have not stopped. 

Again, in a typical fiscal year, Secondary Roads tries to have all of the scheduled contract rock down on the roads by July 1 (the start of the fiscal year). 

“The spring was so bad, zero rock was placed this (fiscal) year,” reported Snead. 

In fact, last year’s contract rock didn’t go down until the current fiscal year, 2020 (after July 1). That causes an issue with the budget when money for two year’s worth of contract rock wasn’t anticipated in one fiscal year. 

“So our balance is at zero,” said Snead. “There’s over $700,000 (worth of rock) coming into the next spring.” 

Within the first quarter of his budget, already two-thirds has been spent. 

Looking into the next winter season, Snead reported that there are some spots in the county that have still not healed from the last winter. “We put a lot of rock down just to get people in and out,” he said. “That had no lasting effect. It wasn’t an issue of not having enough rock, but poor drainage and subgrade. We’re in a dangerous position right now because several (roads) could still use some rock.” Secondary Roads used two-thirds more spot rock last spring than a typical season. “We’re at a $200,000 over-run in our winter expenditures,” said Snead. “With zero carry-over going into this year.” In addition to rock, Secondary Roads also has to build up its salt/sand mix for the winter. Snead said the cost per ton of salt has also increased, which puts a strain the budget, too. “It’s a losing end with both battles,” said Snead. “We’ve tried to increase the rock and winter items in our budget, but we also have equipment needs.” Due to the road conditions and pending winter season, Snead said some equipment purchases would be put on hold for the time being. “We’re in a difficult situation so we’ll postpone anything outside of our scheduled replacements.” Despite the difficult budget situation, Snead said there is funding in the LOT (local option tax) fund that can be used. An average year brings in anywhere from $650,000 to $700,000. “We’ve been saving,” said Snead. “That’s our safety net right now.” So while the LOT money helps, some of it is already earmarked for local road projects such as Shaw Road and Lead Mine Road. The last several years, Snead has requested the county increase its levy rate, which is a percentage of the county property taxes. Snead said the budget is no better now than it was a year ago, and the coming winter isn’t looking positive. 


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