The condition of our county?s roads are steadily deteriorating by the year. There is no easy solution that would quickly improve their condition. This is a result of longterm neglect and perhaps not having the political will to designate a portion of the budget to focus on a longterm plan for improvement.
In a nutshell, the nature of most taxpayers is to minimize tax levies and pay as little as necessary. Rarely do they recognize the value of strategic planning to maintain infrastructure.
The current political mindset among our taxpayers is the government?all government, federal and state?is bloated and needs to be cut, if not partially dismantled.
County government and the commissioners, on the other hand, are challenged to balance the need to build or maintain roads and bridges and meeting capital requirements of machinery and equipment and their related maintenance costs, not to mention recruiting and maintaining qualified employees to operate them.
That said, Marion County?s residents and rural landowners are increasingly dissatisfied by the road conditions, and something needs to be done to rectify the problems.
Our current county governance structure and those who are employed by it do, however, share responsibility in the road conditions as they now are, and it is imperative that taxpayers receive value for their tax contributions in maintaining the county?s roads.
In the interest of fairness, Marion County?s issues are not unique. Dickinson County also struggles to maintain its rural roads. Some land I farm is located on the county line within Dickinson County. Each two-mile stretch of road is maintained by one county, while the next two miles falls into the other county?s jurisdiction.
Needless to say, both counties have seriously neglected the unpaved, dirt-only sections, creating serious safety hazards with deep gullies crossing the road, along with partially washed out culverts and silt-filled ditches. The roads have become the pathway for runoff.
In both jurisdictions, the dirt road portions have been graded no more than three times within one year. The most recent work was accomplished at my request, prior to wheat harvest.
It is not good, nor fair, to the landowners adjoining these roads to pay their full share of taxes while they are increasingly unable to have normal access to their property, even when roads are drivable, especially when critical farming operations are necessary.
Checking livestock, moving livestock, moving farm machinery to and from fields; all modes of transportation requires reasonable access. Attempting to cross 1-foot deep gullies or washed out culverts, risking serious damage to vehicle or off-road machinery is not what one would call ?reasonable access.?
There is plenty of blame to go around, so it is fruitless to point the finger at any one entity or individual. We can start at the taxpayer and work our way up from there, even to our state legislators and Gov. Brownback?s office, if we have the will and the stomach for it.
As mentioned earlier, our current political climate is unfriendly, if not hostile to working toward reasonable compromise. Until a crisis hits, people forget that a function of government is to accomplish those tasks that individuals cannot accomplish effectively. Creating and maintaining infrastructure is one of those tasks. Law enforcement and fire protection services also fit into that category.
We all hate to pay our fair share of taxes when we are convinced someone else is getting a free ride. The problem, however, rears its ugly head when we decide to restrict or seriously gut programs that enables us to operate freely, like having unrestricted access to our own property.
If left to decline, poor roads will ultimately translate into lower property values and hasten the downward trend. Is that what we want?
Perhaps a solution will be found in the near future. As I write this, Marion County commissioners have scheduled a public meeting, July 20 at the Marion County Lake meeting hall.
By the time you read this, interested persons should have more insight into this issue. Even so, this concern has been brewing for a long time and I believes it deserves thoughtful consideration beyond the level of coffee shop talk.
Paul Penner farms north of Hillsboro. He can be reached at smokeyjay@embarq?mail.com.