La Plata County is unlikely to reinstate a program that allows residents to ask for more maintenance of county roads, another ramification of budget declines that have plagued the county for years.
In 2002, the Board of County Commissioners established a public process where residents could request increased levels of maintenance for certain county roads, or in other circumstances, ask for a road not maintained by the county to have oversight.
But since the process was put in place, Jim Davis, public works director, said only three applications out of about 50 requests for a change in road maintenance were approved.
The first was about 2 miles of Falls Creek Road in 2005. The second was construction of about 400 feet of a gravel road near Marvel in 2006. And the third was about a half-mile of County Road 503B on Florida Mesa in 2009.
But then La Plata County’s budget plummeted.
As oil and gas prices in the region fell, La Plata County’s property tax revenue from 2010 to 2018 declined about 50%, resulting in the county having less money for its operating budget. Road maintenance was just one of several services officials had to cut back.
“We realized at some point we didn’t have the money to maintain the roads we already are charged with maintaining, so why are we taking on new obligations?” Davis said.
La Plata County maintains 220 miles of paved roads and 440 miles of gravel road. But increasingly, county officials say it’s harder for Road and Bridge to have the funds necessary to maintain and improve roads.
As a result, county commissioners since 2011 have voted to suspend the process to request road maintenance, on three-year intervals.
The most recent suspension expired Dec. 31, and Davis this week presented three options to county commissioners: reinstate the process, continue the suspension or vote to completely rescind it.
Davis, for his part, said he favored continuing the suspension.
“I think it is a good process that has values,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate we don’t have the revenues to make it a valid process.”
In 2020, La Plata County officials, for the first time in years, said the fall in the county’s operating budget is finally showing signs of evening out, allowing the county to start reinvesting in areas like staffing, services and road projects.
But County Manager Chuck Stevens said the turnaround hasn’t alleviated concerns about the backlog and anticipated needs in the Road & Bridge Department.
A 2017 study found La Plata County’s roads are, for the most part, in good condition. That same study, however, said Road & Bridge requires a $4.58 million operating budget to maintain the roads.
Road & Bridge’s operating budget for 2020 is a proposed $3.9 million.
“We think we’ve hit the bottom, and we don’t think there’s a cliff coming,” Stevens said. “But that hasn’t resolved or sufficiently addressed revenue imbalance in Road & Bridge.”
County commissioners Clyde Church and Gwen Lachelt expressed support for continuing the suspension of the process.
“We’re feeling stable, but this could be millions of dollars,” Church said. “I don’t think we want to take on more financial responsibility.”
Commissioners are expected to take a formal vote on the process Jan. 28.