Cape County wants list of roads that would be paved

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Commissioners prepare for public hearing on sales tax increase.

The Cape Girardeau County Commission on Monday directed the county's road chief to present them with a list showing which roads would be paved during the next five years if voters approve a sales tax hike.

The list, based on which roads are ready for paving under the county's rules, will also show which roads would be delayed if voters reject the tax. Commissioners plan a public hearing on June 19 for input on the road plan.

Commissioners last week set an Aug. 8 vote on a permanent one-half cent sales tax expected to raise about $5.9 million in the first year. Portions of that money will be used to eliminate property taxes dedicated to roads and to provide extra patrol deputies for the county sheriff's department.

The remainder, estimated at approximately $2.1 million, would be used to speed up the county's road paving program.

The list to be presented Thursday will use a first-come, first-served criteria for deciding which roads to put on the plan, said Scott Bechtold, county highway administrator. There will be some variation in that rule, he told the three commissioners, because he will "tweak it to work in several areas of the county" each year.

To win approval of the commission for paving, residents along a road must provide easements so the county has a right of way that is 60 feet wide. If a landowner balks at providing the easement, the county will not pave the road.

In the past, residents have been able to move their road up the list of priorities by offering to share some of the construction costs.

"I will get a working plan together," Bechtold said.

Whether that policy will continue is an open question. During Monday's meeting, the commissioners discussed whether the rules should be relaxed.

"One person should not be able to hold up everything for everybody else," Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said.

Of the two property taxes that would be eliminated support general county road needs, while the other supports the Cape Girardeau Special Road District.

While the commission first made its plans for a tax hike known to the general public on May 24, the special road district directors voted April 13 to eliminate their tax if the sales tax passed, said Ralph Phillips, district engineer.

The sales tax would take effect Jan. 1. Property owners in the special road district, which has responsibility for 100 miles of road near the city limits of Cape Girardeau, would pay the property tax for the last time this fall, Phillips said.

The $1.4 million in property taxes that would be eliminated would be replaced by sales tax revenue and commissioners have promised an extra $290,000 for the district, Phillips said.

"Our board voted unanimously to support the sales tax issue as it was explained," he said.

The commission has direct control of the county road tax, but directors of the special road district could, in theory, re-impose their property tax at any time. "I suppose they could," Phillips said. "But I know our board has no intention of doing that."

During their meeting Monday, the commissioners voted to ready nine road projects of just more than 11 total miles for paving in 2007. For the first time, they will seek bids from contractors to do the preparatory work rather than rely on county workers for the entire job.

The bids will, at the very least, provide insight into what private-sector contractors would charge for the work. "We don't have a clue what some of this costs," Jones said.

Commissioner Jay Purcell agreed, noting that because much of the work is done by employees on the county payroll, the costs can be obscure. "No one can say what it costs us to build a road. We should always be able to compete with the private sector. If we can't, maybe we should bid out more roads."

The proposal on the Aug. 8 ballot is remarkably similar to a proposal advanced by commissioner Larry Bock in an article he published in the Southeast Missourian in 1994.

At that time, he said, the proposal had little support. "It never did seem to generate any interest."

The latest version, he said, is tailored to garner support from every taxpayer, whether they care about lower property taxes, better roads or more law enforcement.

"The way we have designed it, there is something for everybody in this," he said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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