Guest Opinion: Paving County Roads And Reducing Taxes


During this primary election season, a promise has been made to pave the county roads (not by any current county commissioner). Along with that are promises to reduce spending and taxes. Do these promises add up?

Richland County has about 70 miles of major collector roads, 160 miles of minor collector roads, and 980 miles of local roads. With the varying dimensions of those categories of roads, paving them would require about 20,416,000 square yards of pavement. Using the most recent county bid award for paving from January of this year, which was $25.60 per square yard, just the pavement itself would cost $522,649,600.

Contractors report that the price of asphalt emulsion for pavement has gone up 68% since January. Additional costs include easements, utility conflicts, drainage work including culvert replacements, base course, subgrade work, engineering, and materials testing. It would be imprudent to estimate the total cost at less than $650,000,000.

Maintenance of paved roads is different from gravel roads. Typically, asphalt roads require crack sealing every 1 to 2 years, new chip seal every 5 to 7 years, and an overlay every 15 to 20 years. With a significant expansion of paved roads, the county would need more snowplow trucks, dump trucks to haul chips, chip seal spreaders, pothole repair equipment, sweepers, and so on. If not that, the county would have to pay someone for the use of such equipment. Paving all county roads would cost about a billion dollars over 15 to 20 years.

The most recent audit report for the county available on the Local Government Services, Montana Department of Administration website by Denning, Downey & Associates, P.C., Certified Public Accountants for 2021 shows that road fund tax revenues were $4,167,320 and road fund expenditures were $3,814,915.

This means that just the asphalt for the initial paving, without the other expenses to pave and without future maintenance, would require a road fund tax increase of 1,559%. Obviously, that is not going to happen.

The promises do not add up, so why are they being made and what do they really mean? The promises cannot mean that all the county roads will be paved. They must mean that only some will be paved.

The question then becomes, which ones? Which roads are the favored ones? Who are the favored residents? Contrary to the inexperienced promises, spending would not go down, your taxes would not go down, and you might not be along the favored miles of newly paved road.


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