Part one in a five-part series addressing Camden County's most pressing needs ahead of the August 2014 primary.
Both candidates for Camden County Presiding Commissioner — incumbent Kris Franken and challenger Greg Hasty — have stated that they would like to see the county start accepting new roads for public maintenance again after several years under a moratorium adopted to limit the county's responsibilities for road maintenance. As materials costs began to climb, the county was struggling to keep up with the price tag to maintain approximately 900 miles of existing roadway.
Since the moratorium was issued, new development in Camden County dropped off alongside a shrinking national economy. Now as the local economy is showing signs of life again, the candidates are supporting acceptance of new roads meeting certain standards as a way to encourage growth, property values and good roads in new developments. Where the candidates appear to differ is on what the standards should be.
Whereas Franken has said streets need to be paved to standards depending on traffic volume, Hasty has stated that gravel roads — also meeting certain standards — in the more rural outlying areas of the county should also be an option.
If done to proper standards for the amount and type of traffic, the price tag of accepting new roads would likely be relatively little in the short term — mostly winter clearing costs — but would rise in the long term as wear occurs or possible upgrades are wanted or needed, though that could be offset to some extent by rising property values or other possible related revenue increases.
The proposal to end the moratorium begs the question of whether the county can afford to take on more roads any more now than it could when the moratorium was adopted.
Some of the main funding sources for the county road and bridge department are just now approaching pre-recession levels.
In 2013, revenue from the motor vehicle sales tax reached $449,307.39 compared to $349,000 in 2008 after falling off from $454,000 in 2007. The motor vehicle license fee increase fund — license fees — hit $417,000 in 2006 before plummeting to $258,000 in 2008. That revenue stream has still not returned to the previous high, bringing in just $280,373.70 in 2013. Six-year licenses may also have contributed to lower revenues there, according to Treasurer Elaine Gilley.
A more stable source of funding has been the 11-cent property tax levy dedicated to road and bridge. It brought in more than $1.53 million in 2011 and is projected to provide revenues of just over $1.6 million.
CART (County Aid Road Trust) funds — the county's share of state gas tax — are also fairly stable, totaling nearly $2 million in 2011 and budgeted for just slightly over $2 million in 2014. In 2008, the gas tax provided revenue of $1,958,477.89.
In the meantime, however, cost of materials has continued to climb and remain high. Asphalt is the particular culprit as it jumps alongside world-event-sensitive oil prices.
At approximately $60 a ton near the end of June, the purchasing power of the county's dollars for the critical paving material does not go as far as it used to, according to South District Supervisor Terry Willis. The commission budgeted $810,000 for asphalt in 2014 which at the immediately current prices — the quote is only good for a month and is in the process of being impacted by the conflict in Iraq — would buy a little over 13,500 tons of asphalt.
It takes about 1,060 tons of asphalt to overlay one mile of blacktopped road, according to Willis. So with the asphalt budget for 2014, the county could theoretically overlay about 13 miles of road — if the asphalt for patching weren't also included in that budget item.
The county currently maintains close to 400 miles of paved roads.
"We have a lot of roads needing attention. We need to be doing a lot more than 13 miles a year, but we don't have the money apparently. We're doing everything we can with what we've got," Willis commented.
With more stable material costs and typically less maintenance costs once the road is up to standards for the amount of traffic it carries, the situation with the county's gravel roads is slightly better off.
More work is now being done on gravel roads damaged by last August's flooding through relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The road and bridge budget reflects $931,000 in revenue from FEMA disaster relief. While some of the repairs were done in 2013, $650,000 was set aside in the 2014 budget for FEMA disaster relief related expenses.
Key funding sources for road & bridge
In 2014, a total income of $7,063,421 is anticipated excluding FEMA disaster relief funds for repairs related to last year's flooding. With rollover of 2013 funds and FEMA money, estimated total funds are$8,659,625.
$1,722,512 Property tax
$2,012,909 CART Funds
$200,000 Use tax
$315,000 Marine tax
$340,000 Motor vehicle sales tax
$260,000 Motor vehicle fee increase
$1,910,000 General fund transfer
$240,000 from road and bridge portion of county's 2007 half-cent sales tax
$50,000 Asphalt contribution from residents
Actual income 2013
$7,089,550.56 Total income
$1,650,146.68 Property tax
$120,509.80 Delinquent property tax
$1,983,136.76 CART Funds
$120,535.43 Use tax (2013 was the first year for the county to collect use tax)
$298,675.04 Marine tax
$449,307.39 Motor vehicle sales tax
$280,373,70 Motor vehicle fee increase
$1,949,013.65 General fund transfer
$256,049.56 R&B portion of 2007 half-cent sales tax
$10,500 Asphalt contribution
Key expenses for road & bridge
While total expenses are projected to be $8,240,181, approximately $970,080 will be transferred through to municipalities and special road districts within the county and $650,000 is set aside for flooding repairs funded by FEMA. The county expense budget for its responsibilities only is $6,620,101.
$2,026,161 total personnel compensation for 64 full time (includes benefits) and two part time positions (Two vacant and unfunded positions for material coordinator and maintenance leader are noted in the budget file, but while the department head position of highway administrator has been vacant since April, it has been fully funded in the budget.)
$467,300 Fuel & Oil
$65,000 Tires & Tubes
$33,000 Shop Supply/Tool
$28,000 Road Oil
$162,000 Gravel-Dirt-Rock Salt
$90,000 Chip & Seal Material
$290,000 Equipment Repair
$382,363 Equipment Rental/Lease
$586,000 Equipment Purchase
$12,000 Road Signs
$30,000 Building Cost
$64,400 Building and Equipment Insurance
$1,041,877 Miscellaneous/General Operation
Actual expenses 2013
With $1,023,111.87 transferred to municipalities and special road districts, total expenses for county work only was $5,201,886.26.
$1,809,405.61 total personnel compensation for 64 full time and two part time positions
$538,865.98 Fuel & Oil
$65,822.47 Tires & Tubes
$21,279.89 Shop Supply/Tool
$19,593.68 Road Oil
$109,268 Gravel-Dirt-Rock Salt
$0 Chip & Seal Material
$241,116.87 Equipment Repair
$397,569 Equipment Rental/Lease
$127,926.42 Equipment Purchase
$9,668 Road Signs
$29,927.73 Building Cost
$94,391.30 Building and Equipment Insurance
Sources: Camden County Auditor's Office and Camden County Treasurer's Office