Commissioner shared his vision for county roads

Marion County Commissioner Dan Holub has a vision for the future of roads in Marion County that he said is tied to a sympathy for those in agriculture??the people I grew up with and the guys I drink coffee with.?

Holub?s vision became all the more apparent after listening to him in interview with television station KWCH out of Wichita to discuss the state tax exemption for TransCanada Keystone Pipeline going through the county, and then in a later discussion with him.

He cautioned that the vision is his, and not necessarily the same as those of fellow commissioners Randy Dallke and Bob Hein.

Road damage and deterioration, Holub said, frequently are blamed on the increasing size of farm trucks and machines, but the mission of the county will be to upgrade roads to serve modern equipment.

?We can?t expect them to go back to old H tractors and small pickup trucks?it just ain?t gonna happen,? he said. ?It?s what we?ve become, so we have to deal with it.?

Holub wants people to realize that even though roads are important for farmers and other citizens of Marion County, by necessity roads come after other county needs when Marion County has more money with which to work.

And how can Marion County have more money to work with?

This is where Holub said he becomes more frustrated because he feels the state of Kansas, chiefly through the manipulations of a Western Kansas senate committee chairman, Carl Holmes of Liberal, hurried a 10-year tax exemption through for Keystone while carefully not informing counties.

When the Marion County Commission tried by telephone, e-mail and postal mail to contact legislative representatives for help, only Representative Bob Brookens responded, and met with commissioners, Holub said, while senators Jay Emler and Jim Barnett never responded.

Holub said he heard that Barnett believed the exemption to be within state statute, ?but the two senators still have never gotten back to us.?

The Keystone Pipeline will carry oil sand slurry from Canada through North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas en route to Cushing, Okla., for processing. Holub said none of the other states granted Keystone exemption.

Marion County joined with five other Kansas counties where the pipeline crosses, Washington, Clay, Dickinson, Butler and Cowley, to hire legal representation to try to stop the exemption.

The counties were becoming more hopeful that Keystone would be required to pay the first 10 years of taxes because they knew Keystone hadn?t filed with the state, as required by statute by the first year, Holub said. But his hopes appeared to be dashed last week when KWCH reporter Kim Hunes informed Holub that Keystone representatives told her they are in process of preparing the papers.

?But it won?t happen again,? Holub said. ?Houston wants a pipeline, too.?

He said the counties have received word that another oil slurry Canadian pipeline will be coming through to Houston. ?This time the counties will be there for the discussion.?

You get a better feeling for why Holub is so adamant about the situation when you realize the money it could mean for Marion County. He explained that the tax rate for a pipeline like Keystone is determined by the state, based on the costs of building the line.

The pipeline tax money allocated by the state to a county can?t be used to automatically reduce county taxes, Holub said, because it is also tied to the county?s mill levy.

Given that Marion County might have a $5.5 million annual budget, and that Keystone?s total construction costs are reported to be in the $800 million range, Holub said an estimate of Keystone?s annual tax liability to the county would be in the $5 million to $6 million range.

For all six counties together, Holub said, the estimated annual Keystone tax liability would be about $35 million.

Even though the county can collect taxes from Keystone after 10 years, Holub said, in the meantime that?s about $60 million the county could have had toward the fight against infrastructure deterioration.

?We don?t blame Keystone for wanting an exemption,? he said. ?They?ve been cooperative in every way. We blame legislators for not being there for us.?

Holub said Keystone has been fair in doing what it said it would do in the county. It is paying the county for any road damages and landowners for passage, reportedly $14,000 to one for little more than a quarter mile, although most don?t want to reveal figures.

Had Keystone been paying taxes in the coming years, Holub said it might have been possible to reduce the mill levy both for property owners and the pipeline and still have done needed improvements.

To illustrate the kind of road expenses Marion County faces, Holub cited the $1.6 million 6-inch asphalt overlay to be completed on four miles from Kansas Highway 15 into Tampa, largely to accommodate heavy semi-truck traffic for two agricultural-related businesses that together generate most of $70 million annual gross revenue in the town, Agri Producers Inc. and Cardie Oil.

Many miles of asphalt overlay are needed in the county, with one mile of 1-inch overlay averaging $70,000, he said.

?Eventually I would like to make it so that no Marion County resident lives more than two miles from a hard-surface road?be it chip and seal or asphalt,? Holub said. ?To accommodate farm equipment, these roads are going to have to be built wider and with a better underlay than has been done.

?We also have to take care of a lot of ag businesses out in the county. It?s going to happen. We?ve already started, but it?s hard starting with no extra money to help. It?s gonna take years the way we are.?

If the Keystone tax money were to come in, or tax revenue from another pipeline, before road building expansion could begin in Holub?s agenda.

?We first need to build a jail,? he said. ?It?s a given that we have to.

?Then we need to do some serious work on the courthouse, upgrade the windows ?we actually have snow blowing in through some? and upgrade the heating and cooling. We could easily spend $200,000 there.?

Then Holub said the county would need to build a new office building, now estimated to cost about $900,000 for the needed facility. He said the office building isn?t just about the health department but about multiple needs for offices, storage and security.

But after those considerations, Holub said, would come the roads. He would like to see many roads that would first be chip and seal overlaid with 1 to 1.5 inch of asphalt. That might include roads such as the north-south road into Tampa or the road from Peabody to Walton or the Pilsen Road.

Roads such as from Lehigh to Roxbury Road plus Roxbury Road or from Antelope to Middle Creek Road might be turned to chip and seal. All roads would be dug up and have a new base built for heavy traffic before receiving chip and seal.

?We would make a new beginning for everybody,? Holub said.

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