Sometimes you get a “do over” in local government. When the cost of paving roads dropped considerably a number of years ago due to low oil prices, I reflected that I should have finished paving the remainder of the gravel roads in the township. With a total of 73 miles and about 9 miles remaining unpaved, the money just wasn’t there to take on such a herculean task. The budget just couldn’t take a hit of that size in one year. Of course, the residents clamored for their roads to be updated and each year it was a juggling act to decide which, if any, roads should see this type of improvement.
Many factors were used to make this decision, and I always made my recommendation on the quality of the existing road. The basic rule of thumb in road management is “if you don’t have a base, you don’t have a road.” So, if the road in question was holding up well and the drainage was taken care of, it may be time to lay down some asphalt. Council, on the other hand, usually answered the call of their constituents’ squeaky wheel. Their preference often was to pave the roads based on residents who complained. That’s all well and good if the road was in pre-paving condition, but a disaster if the base wasn’t ready for a topcoat. You’re putting a Band-Aid on a festering wound, and we all know how that is going to turn out!
I regretted not taken advantage of the low prices at the time, but even so, money just wasn’t available to complete that large of a project. A chance meeting changed all of that. Our county’s redevelopment authority was provided monies via the local casino’s gaming funds. The odd part about it was that no one was asking for the funds. It was an extremely low interest loan program –less than 2%. The authority had its team visiting various prospective users in an attempt to get them interested in utilizing the program. As I spoke to the team member, I recalled my frustration in not taking advantage of the paving situation in the past. Suddenly the lightbulb turned on, and I realized opportunity was once knocking on my door.
I had our Public Works Director put together a cost estimate to pave all the remaining gravel roads in the township. I recall the crazy look he gave me when I suggested my latest epiphany. Now a low-interest loan, and I do mean low interest, was attractive in itself, but you still have to pay it back. What really sealed the deal was the ability to use State Liquid Fuels money to repay the loan. I contacted our PennDOT representative, and he said most certainly we could do that. We were able to spread the payments over a number of years and take only a portion of the Liquid Fuels money for the once-a-year payment. This left money for other yearly road projects and allowed us to completely pave all remaining gravel roads.
Needless to say, those residents on the newly paved portions were ecstatic with the program, and the guardians of the budget were pleased that no additional taxes were needed to fund the venture. A long-term goal of having all paved roads was met and, of course, was a feather in Council’s hat yielding positive media coverage for them. The trick is to be constantly looking for solutions. As I have mentioned before, KMS (Keystone Municipal Solutions) even uses that in its name. Let us help you find those solutions with our team of experienced local government experts. I am a firm believer that if it was easy then anyone could do it, therefore having a great support team is even more important. “Fire this thing up.” I hear something knocking on the door once again!
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.