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County asking for tax increase for Road & Bridge Fund

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Friday, June 24, 2016 9:32 AM

Courtesy La Plata County Board of Commissioners

La Plata County crews are responsible for ensuring that our 653 miles of county roads provide residents and visitors safe, efficient routes around and through the county's 1,690 square miles.

This extensive road network is a vital public asset providing critical infrastructure to families, businesses and visitors - both today and those to arrive in the future.

Our county population has grown more than 6.5 percent since 2010, with at least 2 percent growth projected in coming years. While we have vibrant municipal centers where population density is concentrated, the majority of county residents live in unincorporated areas: For 63 percent of the population, county roads are essential for traveling to work, home, church, school, recreational outings, and more. County roads are similarly critical for connecting communities to their outskirts and to one another.

Keeping roads in good shape requires us to strategically identify and invest in road projects that respond to traffic and safety trends, and sufficiently maintain those investments to keep them in good condition. However we strike this balance, suitable funding for maintenance and construction is essential and recent national economic forces have made this increasingly challenging.

Historically, taxes from natural gas and oil production have constituted the bulk of the county's coffers. Since 2010, though, gas and oil tax revenue has fallen roughly 60 percent in the county because of nationwide price declines and corresponding drops in local production. This has had a compounded effect on the county's Road & Bridge Fund - both because of declining gas and oil property taxes, and because of reduced state grants primarily funded by severance tax collected on gas and oil extraction.

Though the entire county budget has felt this squeeze, the Road & Bridge Fund is bearing the brunt, forcing crews to defer maintenance and construction projects so as to stretch limited dollars. We are deeply committed to spending public resources wisely and value lean government, so some trimming is appropriate. However, failing to properly invest in essential infrastructure is not efficiency, nor is it fulfilling a basic government responsibility.

We have crafted a 10-year, $33.8 million plan to address some of the most challenged roads throughout the county, with 24 miles of road reconstruction, 32 miles of paving, and 11 intersection and bridge projects. To complete this work and adequate road maintenance, we must make an investment and are considering asking voters to increase their property taxes by 2.4 mills - roughly $76 a year for a $400,000 home.

We do not make this consideration lightly. La Plata County takes stewardship of public resources seriously and budgets accordingly; we are proud that the county has not increased the property tax mill levy since 1992. However, we have reached a tipping point that requires additional investment to ensure that the county serves its constituents well.

Visit co.laplata.co.us to learn more about our road improvement plan and how we propose to execute it. We want to make La Plata County the best it can be - from the ground up - and believe safe, sound roads are essential to that goal.

The La Plata County Board of Commissioners is Brad Blake, Julie Westendorff, and Gwen Lachelt. Reach the commissioners at 382-6219.

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