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County road plan will wait on election results

An over-budget proposal and concerns from the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners over future budgets have put the county’s execution of a five-year road plan in question in the eyes of the county’s Road Advisory Task Force.

While the BoCC, on the advice of the taskforce, approved and received bids for the completion of a document to help prioritize road maintenance and improvement in the coming years, the proposal received by the consultant fell in the ballpark of $75,000 over the BoCC’s intended budget, at $226,000 instead of $150,000.

In order to lessen the cost of the plan, the BoCC and County Administrator Greg Schulte called for the BoCC and taskforce to meet jointly to reduce the proposed scope of work presented by consultant Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc. (SEH).

Also of concern to the commissioners were the possible effects of ballot initiatives Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 (see related article for more information on the initiatives) and their potential effects on the county’s ability to complete significant roadwork should they pass.

“If any of them pass, they’ll have some effect,” said Commissioner Bob Moomaw. “If all of them pass, it’ll have a catastrophic effect.”

Moomaw continued, airing financial concerns about completing a plan without the money to complete the needed work, posing the question of, “How do we do a plan our budget fits?”

Commissioner Clifford Lucero reiterated the desire to complete a road plan, but stated that he wanted to wait until after the election, when county officials will have a better idea concerning future budgets.

Commissioner John Ranson echoed the statements by his colleagues, stating that roads are one of the most important issues in Archuleta County and that he had a hard time moving forward with the plan until after the election.

“Our best strategy is to buy everybody a snow shovel,” Ranson said of the initiatives’ possible effects.

Schulte noted that, additionally, the county would be informed of the future of the 1A Fund after the election and, by refining the scope of work, the county would be ready to “pull the trigger” with the plan after the election.

Taskforce member Allan Bunch accused those taking these stances on the impacts of the initiatives of being “alarmist,” pointing out that ways of working with TABOR (the Taxpayers Bill of Rights) were found, and loopholes for funding would be found in the proposed initiatives also; but, in the meantime, he indicated he believes the county needs to plan to accommodate the possible reduction in funding.

Fellow taskforce members Brett Locke and Bob Hart echoed Bunch’s concern of needing to move forward with the plan, regardless of the county’s budget, claiming that the less money available to work on the roads, the more strategic planning needed to be done, and the need to be ready for when the county found a way to makeup for the funding reduction should the initiatives pass.

The commissioners continued to state their concern that they need to know what kind of funding will be available before spending the money to complete the plan.

“Right now, we need to know what we’re dealing with,” Ranson reiterated.

“We have a responsibility ... to look out for our taxpayers,” Lucero said.

With obvious frustration, the taskforce members questioned the usefulness of reducing the scope of work at the meeting without the assurance that the BoCC would, in fact, “pull the trigger” after the Nov. 2 election.

The discussion then turned to the county’s ability to have the perpetual continuation of 1A Funding passed on the November ballot without the plan to prioritize the road portion of the funding, with the taskforce voicing the need for residents to see a plan for use of the money before agreeing to 1A again. The commissioners, in turn, noted their growing credibility in accounting for and applying road funding.

As Bunch, along with his fellow taskforce members, pushed the BoCC to obtain the “asset management plan, ” the taskforce continued questioning the BoCC’s willingness to move forward with the plan, with members voicing the belief that working to diminish the scope of work to reduce the plan’s cost would be a waste of time unless the commissioners agreed to move forward.

The commissioners maintained their view on the need to wait, with Moomaw stating that, should the initiatives pass, the county would be in “survival mode” and adding that the county has made good decisions the last two years without a comprehensive plan, noting it’s “not an all or nothing game.”

In the end, at Locke’s urging, the groups took a brief break, then returned to look at reducing the proposed scope of work by SEH.

As a starting point in negotiations for a less-expensive road plan, the group decided to cut down on the number of meetings from the nine proposed by SEH to four; delete the assessment of inventory deficiencies and collect missing inventory data; delete SEH’s defining of “maintenance” and “capital improvement” and to delete SEH’s evaluation of county resources.

Additionally, instead of SEH analyzing and completing missing traffic counts, the group decided to work with SEH to develop a protocol for traffic counts (how many days, time of year, etc.), to internally assess which existing counts fit the protocol, and determine which roads need to be counted.

The taskforce also pushed for the county to hire interns and less-expensive workers to complete parts of the scope originally proposed to be completed by SEH.

When and if the county will choose to pull the trigger on obtaining a plan from SEH will likely be easier to answer on Nov. 3, when Colorado voter choices are tallied.

randi@pagosasun.com