County to focus on fixing roads

Marion County roads need to be fixed.

That was the consensus Thursday among the Marion County Board of Commis­sioners.

“This is the No. 1 thing on everybody’s minds: the roads,” said Dianne Novak, chair of the board. “People are really on me about these roads.”

The solution, Novak said, “is to provide more money so we can do the things we need to do.”

Jesse Hamm, superintendent of the county’s road and bridge department, is on board with spending more money. During the commission’s weekly meeting Thurs­day, Hamm requested an increase of more than $1.1 million to the department’s overall budget for fiscal year 2019.

Much of the proposed increase would be used to purchase additional gravel for street repairs.

Hamm said he estimated the cost of gravel to be close to $15,000 for every mile of road that needs to be rebuilt.

Hamm requested $300,000, to purchase gravel for up to 20 roads. This is up from last year’s total of $200,000.

This wouldn’t cover the cost of equipment, labor or fuel, Hamm said, just the gravel.

“It’s almost like I need a whole other crew just to repair roads,” Hamm said.

An additional $350,000 was requested for a yearly bridge replacement plan. This would cover two of the 27 bridges in the county that Hamm said need to be replaced.

The budget also included a four-year, $719,292 chip-seal plan. If the budget is passed, nearly 50 miles of county road will be covered with a special protective surface by 2023, to prevent from wear.

Novak suggested Hamm “bite the bullet” and rebuild some of the county’s main roads with asphalt or concrete for a long-term fix, instead of short-term repairs.

Hamm said while he would prefer more money devoted to road repair, he wants to be lenient with budget increases.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Hamm said. “People don’t want their taxes to be raised.”

Novak said, “People don’t like paying taxes and then driving these roads,”

Poorly maintained roads, Novak said, cause citizens to question whether their tax money is being utilized effectively.

Novak voiced concerned that roads in less-populated areas are being neglected.

A mile of road with one home deserves the same treatment as a mile with three or four homes, Novak said.

Commissioner Kent Becker said the department should invest in training its employees to work more efficiently. Becker said the department should prioritize effective, hands-on training over training from books and presentations.

“All I know is we’re trying,” Hamm said. “But I don’t know the fix.”

Novak said Hamm and the rest of the road and bridge department get “an A for effort,” but she wants to see better results.

One frustrated Marion County resident decided to take matters into his own hands.

Mike Beneke, a fifth-generation Marion County resident who owns a large feedlot in the county, has run into some trouble for taking it upon himself to fix the road leading to his feedlot without the county’s permission.

Beneke said he grew “frustrated with the government” and the process they go through to fix the roads, so he bought the gravel and used his own equipment to get the job done himself.

After a recent storm caused damage to the road, Beneke said he spent more than $7,000 for repairs.

This isn’t the first go around for Beneke. In January, the county reimbursed him $700 for repairing the road. Novak said the commissioners made it clear that the reimbursement was a one-time deal and that he shouldn’t do it again.

This time, Beneke said he wasn’t looking to be reimbursed.

“I just want a thank-you card,” Beneke said.

Beneke said he relies on the road every day, so he can’t wait for the county to come repair it when there are problems.

This has put Beneke at odds with Hamm and Novak, who both said he is circumventing the process everyone else has to go through.

Hamm said while Beneke was well-intentioned, he doesn’t realize how his actions affect the county.

“It’s putting me and the three commissioners in a bind,” Hamm said.

After Beneke was reimbursed in January, Hamm said he was approached by other citizens asking for money to fix their roads. When people do it themselves, Hamm said, it can interfere with the work being done by the county.

Beneke said he is worried that he’s made out to be the enemy of the county.

“There is a fix to this and it is very simple,” Novak said. “Abide by the rules.”