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Safe infrastructure tops on 1-percent tax list

Apr 25, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County's revenue from the optional 1 percent sales tax will be focused on improving the safety of infrastructure. An advisory committee of citizens chose safety as the most important factor, followed by maintenance needs and project cost.

Transportation superintendent Dave Pendleton told the Fremont County Commission on April 23 the results of the citizen committee's first meeting April 15.

"So what we will do is we'll take all of our list projects ... and we'll rank each project with these criteria and see how it all shakes out," Pendleton said.

Voters approved the optional 1 percent sales tax in November in Fremont County, and it took effect April 1. It raises the sales tax on most items from 4 percent to 5 percent.

The county expects to receive about $4 million a year from the tax, which will be on the ballot for renewal in 2016.

Safety ranks first

The top-ranked criterion was public safety, followed by, in order, preventive maintenance need, project cost, effect on economic development, geographic distribution, availability of matching grants, impact to community development, effect on convenience, improvement to disaster preparation, and impact to the environment.

"It's kind of good to get their thoughts on everything," commission chairman Doug Thompson said. "That's pretty much how I would have ranked it."

Pendleton's plan is to have transportation department employees factor together the degree to which each potential project contributes to each criterion and the assigned weight of that criterion to develop an overall score for each project.

Those scores would allow staff to rank all the projects in terms of priority. Then, Pendleton plans to present the ranked list of projects to the advisory committee, and the citizens group will comment on the prioritization.

"We've got to have a budget for the 1 cent for next fiscal year; we're going to have this done by the first or middle of June," he said.

At the April 15 advisory committee meeting, Pendleton presented the different criteria the transportation department uses to evaluate a road or bridge project. Then the group members ranked the criteria, and Pendleton averaged the score for each criterion.

Maintenance

Pendleton said long-term maintenance, which ranked second on the criteria list, can save money in the long run.

The condition of paved roads deteriorates at a slow rate initially, then accelerates over time, making a curve that bends downward until the structure needs replacement.

"If you keep doing maintenance treatments to it you can pretty much extend that curve out indefinitely and save the county a lot of money," Pendleton said.

Maintenance treatments include chip seals and asphalt overlays, he said.

Commissioner Keja Whiteman pointed out the listed maintenance only covers paved roads and asked if the county could perform analogous treatments to gravel ones.

Fremont County has 210 miles of paved highways and 720 miles of gravel and dirt roads.

Most of his department's budget goes to paved roads, Pendleton said, but gravel ones can benefit form gravel overlays and magnesium chloride application. The chemical treatment, however, would have to be repeated every year to have any effect, he said.

Whiteman and Thompson asked Pendleton to include upkeep of gravel roads in the list of maintenance projects.