Commissioners want their view of spending told
Custer County commissioners say they’re tired of counties being treated as excess baggage at the State Capitol, so they’re going to try something else.
After contacting legislative leaders personally without what he considers little success, Commissioner Kurt Hamburger announced Monday that he’s working on a press release to help inform the public of how counties are being treated.
One of his fellow commissioners, Lyle Miller, said after Monday’s meeting that the release should be considered by all three commissioners at the group’s weekly meeting next Monday.
Their big beef is what it always seems to be when politicians are involved – how the money is divided. In particular, Hamburger and his fellow Custer County commissioners are unhappy at what they feel is a $130-million raid in this budget-strapped year on the CIRB fund (County Improvements for Roads and Bridges). Set up by the legislature in 2006 and implemented in 2008, it was supposed to provide $120 million a year for new and improved county roads and bridges.
But with other branches of government feeling shortfalls, a reported $150 million was cut earlier this year from the CIRB fund statewide. County commissioners, with the help of their circuit engineering districts, were supposed to come up with a five-year plan so that the most pressing projects could be addressed first. And they did.
Now, as CIRB money is supposedly deferred to other state agencies, those projects are being delayed.
When originally instituted, money for the fund was supposed to be based on a percentage of what was collected from motor vehicle fees and fuel taxes. The percent started at 5 and was supposed to range up to more than 20 when fully implemented, when it should be by now.
Meantime, the counties were expected to come up with a five-year plan for improving their roadways, and they did. Now those projects are being set back, and this isn’t the first year. In Custer County, the most notable example is in Hamburger’s District 2 where a two-mile stretch of Lawter Road along the north edge of Weatherford was delayed from 2016 to 2017, then 2018, and now isn’t scheduled until 2021.
Hamburger said the county’s road money is being used to fund the Health Department, the Tourism Department and other agencies of state government.
“We’re losing the battle trying to keep up with maintenance,” he said. “The pieces of the pie are spread out too much. It’s hard for our constituents to understand that.
“I’s coming from fuel taxes and tags and was supposed to be dedicated back to transportation. That’s what it was collected for. That’s what people are paying it for.”
Miller said $50 million was taken from CIRB last year and state leaders told county officials just to keep their plan like it was, even though the money wasn’t available to pay for projects.
Commissioners obviously don’t like the priorities being followed in the spending of state money.
“Stained concrete at Exit 71 (of Interstate 40) gets my goat,” said Hamburger. “Stained concrete for the side of a red hill. Really.”
It also bugs him that counties are targeted in state audits more frequently than other parts of government.
“Why are counties singled out in annual audits?” he asked.
He wondered too about public relations people being hired by other agencies to tell their stories.
“A bunch of these state agencies have got P.R. people hired,” he said. “Joe Albaugh (director of the Department of Corrections) wants another billion dollars. Really.”
Hamburger said it seems to him the thinking of the people in control of county road funds is this: “They spend nothing along the way, then expect a pot of gold to fix it.”