County Government

Plan calls for $14M in bridge work

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A plan developed by the Montgomery County engineering office calls for spending nearly $14 million over the next 10 years on bridge projects.

The plan includes the creation of a two-person crew that would clean and seal bridge decks and work on bridge joints beginning in 2022. Bridges with the most pressing maintenance needs would be repaired first.

County engineer Jim Peck outlined the plan Wednesday during the first of two annual special meetings, where department heads present their budget requests for the following year to the county council. The plan calls for spending a little more than $2 million in 2021.

The maintenance roadmap, which draws on reports from state and federally mandated bridge inspections, raised discussion about the cumulative bridge fund, which would cover the projects.

Councilman Gary Booth, who questioned department heads in the nearly 2-1/2 hour meeting at the Montgomery County Jail, asked whether the Board of Commissioners would be willing to lower the rate taxpayers put in to the fund, currently .075 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Booth pointed to a five-year report prepared by county financial consultant Jeff Peters this summer that was based on a fund rate of .04.

While commissioner president Jim Fulwider acknowledged the board has considered reducing the rate, he said leaving it that low for a set period of time would leave Peck’s plan about $4.5 million short — assuming no change in the growth factor. He recommended that officials meet for a closer review of the two plans.

Fulwider also warned the council about rising costs for bidding out bridge projects.

“This is exactly what I’ve been talking about for four years,” Booth said, “is that when we start looking down the road and trying to make plans, all of the sudden we’re seeing expenses going up and revenues going down, and there’s a crossroads there that says big red flag.

“And when you start talking that way … I just see that intersection and there’s a huge crash. And that’s a good thing because we’re [talking] in 2020 and looking out to 2025.”

Departments were asked to keep their budgets nearly identical to this year’s due to uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic except for 2% salary increases. Following the rest of the presentations on Tuesday, the council is set to adopt the budget at 9 a.m. Oct. 13 in the City Building.

In his report, prosecutor Joe Buser said he expects to replace one of his office’s attorneys in a couple months. Superior Court Judge Heather Barajas and Superior Court II Judge Peggy Lohorn said jury trials are expected to resume shortly after being postponed due to the pandemic.

Coroner Darren Forman, who is recovering from a serious accident in July, received a round of applause as he entered the jail training room aided by a walker. Forman said the department will get reimbursed for COVID-related spending and is waiting for the bill on a new $14,000 stretcher that replaces a 40-year-old cot.

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