Allen County to commit $500K to road fixes if levy passes

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — The Allen County Commissioners have agreed to allocate a potential $500,000 annually to be used by the Allen County Engineer’s Office to fix Allen County’s aging infrastructure if their 0.2 percent sales tax increase levy is passed this May.

Currently, the engineer’s office spends roughly $500,000 a year on road repair and other infrastructure improvements. The county’s extra funds would effectively double what’s spent, but it would still leave a $1.5 million annual shortfall, Allen County Engineer Brion Rhodes said. In other words, the funds wouldn’t solve Allen County’s continuing infrastructure problem, but it would help push what Rhodes calls “a fiscal cliff” further into the future.

“I can put pencil to paper and know where we’re at. That’s why I’ve been beating the drum so hard,” Rhodes said. “Half a million doesn’t go very far with 352 miles.”

The Allen County Engineer’s Office is largely funded by the state gas tax, which is allocated to Ohio’s 88 counties through the Ohio Department of Transportation. The last gas tax increase was 13 years ago, but inflation and increasing costs on materials have largely negated its effect on infrastructure spending, Rhodes said.

Today, Allen County roads are more often chipped and sealed instead of replaced. It’s a cheaper option from year to year, but over a long period of time, it leads to roads full of potholes and a road system varying in quality from place to place.

The county is also looking at squeezing inefficiencies out of the engineer’s office operating budget with the construction of new facility if commissioners can pass their capital improvement levy that raises $35 million over 10 years through a 0.2 percent increase in sales tax.

That plan will help them create larger storage facilities for raw materials like salt that would allow the engineer’s office to ride out fluctuations in material costs. By keeping more salt on hand — Rhodes is looking for an expansion to store 8,000 tons instead of its current 700-ton capacity — the engineer’s office would be able to pull from storage instead of purchasing materials at peak market prices.

Larger facilities also would help Allen County townships who purchase materials from the engineer’s office get cheaper prices and have salt more readily available.

Additionally, the extra funds could potentially pay matching costs for state and federal grants, which could effectively decrease the county’s infrastructure shortfall, Allen County Commissioner Jay Begg said.

“If we’re fortunate to get the sales tax, it buys us some time,” Begg said.

The current Allen County sales tax is 6.75 percent. The levy would increase it to 6.95 percent.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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