By Jonathan Pleasant
When Road Superintendent Tony Jennings came before the County Commission a couple months ago to request a potential $125,000 loan from county general fund to help cover several past due accounts, there was still some doubt about exactly where the funding to pay it back would come from. Fortunately, only a few weeks out it appears that the department will need very little and possibly none at all of the funds approved by the Commission.
At the time there were two big concerns, revolving primarily around the substantial costs accrued from last years flooding events, and the timing of expected state aid funding resulting from a resurfacing project in the Cold Springs area. The state monies have now come through and with newly appointed Accounts and Budgets Director Russell Robinson keeping a close eye on the situation, the shortfalls may pass without directly affecting the general fund.
Most of the setbacks faced this year are the direct result of the heavy flood damage several months ago. Costs of gravel, asphalt, culverts, and other materials needed for repairs totaled an estimate of nearly $425,000. The USDAs Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was able to step in with emergency funding to help with numerous bank stabilization projects around the county in an effort to make the roads safe for travel again.
Under the guidance of District Conservationist Jason Hughes, who was on site through most of the construction, the county road department installed the planned and engineered projects according to the guidelines set down through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. While the primary focus was in repairing and stabilizing the countys roads, there were additional benefits such as the construction of V weirs to help with flooding issues in the future while also providing some environmental benefits.
A cost share program, the funding paid for 75 percent of the applicable cost, ultimately bringing in a total of $222,019 to the county in three separate payouts. The remaining 25 percent, or $76,735, was left up to the road department and added into their general flood damage costs. Unfortunately, there were several roads that did not qualify for NRCS funding, including Bulldog Road and Sugar Hollow road, both of which had to be contracted out and included costs such as guardrail installation.
The two other big costs to the county included $26,000 for culverts and $32,000 for crusher run gravel, both of which were excluded in the original contract with the NRCS. As Jennings reported to the Commission, these items had been paid for in the past when the county faced a similar flood event several years ago. However, even with the scaled back contract the county still received enough funding to cover more than half of the total repairs.
Those figures would have been even higher had it not been for equipment breakdowns and extra man hours spent waiting on gravel. Ultimately these factors played a role in the average cost per ton installed daily. For example, the first NRCS payment which covered June 6th through August 13th saw an estimated cost of $83.33 per ton as contrasted to the $55.44 per ton cost of the third payout ranging from September 1 – September 21st.
Much of the larger stone used came from the countys own quarry, requiring the trucks to be weighed at the transfer station for documentation purposes. In the past, the countys use of their own materials actually led to an overall surplus, but the scope and damage of last years floods simply created too much of a burden. Even so Johnson County was eligible for expenses including on-site labor, rock installed, debris removal, mobilization, machinery, and equipment, and various other smaller items like mulching and fertilizer.
With the road department recognizing seven separate flood events ranging from January 15th through August 13th and damage being done to at least 22 roads around the county, it is easy to see how unexpected flood costs could adversely affect the road departments budget, leading to Jennings request for a loan in December. The arrival of state aid funding may help to weather the burden, but ultimately without the assistance of the NRCS the county would most certainly not be in as strong of a financial position.
By Jonathan Pleasant