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Invest it now, or pay for it later

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Good things don’t last forever, at least not without some serious investment.

What works with careers and relationships also works with the things we own and prize. We can keep using that favorite hammer for as long as we want, as long as we keep it out of the weather and out of our neighbor’s toolbox. 

But then, the more complicated the tool and the more we use it, the more difficult it is to maintain. 

And so it goes with the equipment that’s used every day of the year to maintain our county roads. As you read in last week’s article in the Valley Journal, the county road crews are utilizing some fairly old equipment. The newest road grader, for example, is 14 years old. 

The hard work they do every day is transparent to most of the taxpayers in the county — we just don’t see them out and about on roads we don’t drive every day — but we eventually drive over the results of their labor. Their role is one that isn’t readily appreciated by the average taxpayer — we might not fully recognize the work that went into a washboard section of county road that was fixed before we drove over it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t benefit from it. 

Finding money to pay for this necessary infrastructure work is the real challenge. Clearly, taxpayers don’t want to pay more taxes, yet as costs go up, the county must trim back services, find new ways to fund necessary services, or do both.

Like most counties in Montana, the Lake County Commissioners are struggling to find enough money to devote to all the county’s needs, including the major reinvestment that is required to purchase new graders and trucks, as well as match the extreme growth in road oil cost that’s gone from $195 a ton in 1996 to $740 a ton in 2009, according to commissioner Paddy Trusler.

And, as Trusler explained, the commissioners have run out of options in finding other fund sources within the county coffers. With the caps set by the legislature on mills and taxes that can be collected, the only realistic option appears to be asking voters to approve a “sunset” levy, one that runs for a specific period, that would fund some new equipment, much needed maintenance and purchase of road oil to resurface 20 miles of road each year.

The proposed levy would last only six years, for 20 mills over the first five years and five mills over the final sixth year. A property owner with a $200,000 house would pay about $74 a year over the first five years, then $19 in the sixth year.

That’s a lot of money out of anybody’s pocketbook, but the benefits of the investment are clearly worth strong consideration.

It may seem easier to just keep fixing old equipment on the fly, but that short-term outlook will catch up to you quickly. Our county road crews sorely need some new tools to keep our roads maintained year-round. 

The need is a valid one and I encourage you to help fill that need by voting for the six-year levy on the June 8 ballot to get our county caught back up with maintenance and replacement equipment.

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