Dennis Feickert made the comment about Jan Weismantel during Tuesday's Brown County Commission meeting. Now a Democratic member of the state House, he was aggravated by not only the condition of some county roads, but also the fact that the state will not give local governments the power to raise enough money to adequately care for roads.
Weismantel, obviously hurt by the comment, briefly excused herself from the meeting.
Talk about road conditions started when 10 or so residents who own property along County Road 9, which runs west of U.S. Highway 281 near Westport for 10 miles to the McPherson County line, approached commissioners about the potential of improving the road. They said they were willing to financially contribute to the work.
Donnie Hinz said he procured an estimate to patch the road with asphalt. It would cost roughly $51,600, he said. Last year, he said, the cost would have been closer to $31,000. But gravel patches the highway department put since would have to be removed adding to the cost, he said.
Weismantel had planned to mill at least 8 miles of the stretch next year in an attempt to keep road care costs down. She believes it would cost more to asphalt patch the road than Hinz's estimate.
Hinz also said it would cost about the same to chip seal the road after patching it with asphalt as it would to mill it. He said chip-sealing the stretch would cost about $227,000, according to an estimate he sought.
Weismantel wondered what would happen in the event of more breakup along County Road 9 in the future, if the county would be obliged to spend even more money on the stretch in the future.
The bottom line, she said, is that the county has too many miles — 464 — of asphalt road. About half of of those need to be milled and, even then, the county likely won't have enough money to properly care from them, she said.
Commissioner Mike Wiese said that while he doesn't like the idea of residents contributing to county road projects, he's open to the idea because the county doesn't have enough money to do all the work needed to be done.
Duane Sutton, commission chairman, told the County Road 9-area residents to discuss how much money they might be willing to chip in, then visit again with the commission.
Feickert said he is against the idea of citizens having to contribute to public road projects.
"A public road should not have to be paid for by private, personal dollars," he said. "It's just absolutely wrong."
It sets a dangerous precedent, he said.
He suggested that the county not make planned improvements to County Road 14W near Northern Beef Packers this year and instead consider using that money elsewhere. But, Sutton said, the county has $450,000 in state grants that need to be used on 14 by year's end or returned to the state.
Sutton said that the county is gambling that a new ownership group will eventually buy the beef plant and make it viable.
The amount counties can collect in increased property taxes each year is limited by state-imposed caps of the amount of annual growth plus the rate of inflation or 3 percent, whichever is less. And, Wiese said, the county slashed its budget the year before the cap was put in place. As a result, the county budget is artificially low and it can't catch up, he said.
Brown County voters have voted down past opt-outs of the state caps, a fact that was noted at the meeting. Commissioners wanted to use the extra money to better care for roads and bridges.
Feickert said some folks might be hesitant to give more money to the highway department because they aren't confident it will be spent wisely.
"I'm sorry, but maybe we need to discuss a new management at the highway department," he said.