WARREN COUNTY, Iowa -- Back in March, we reported the travel ban on some gravel roads in Warren County after an ambulance got stuck while picking up a patient. On Tuesday, the county board of supervisors moved forward with a five-year secondary roads program that many say is ignoring the bigger issue.
County Chair Crystal McIntyre says the five-year plan is focused toward their first priority, fixing bridges and paved roads that are in dire need of repair. But residents who showed up to the public meeting said their focus should be on gravel roads that the county admits is nowhere near meeting the level A road standard.
“By what your work rules are right here, our road is nothing like what this should be,” Kelly Penman said. “Who's fault is this?”
“Whoever built it in the very first place,” McIntyre responded at the public supervisors meeting Tuesday.
Penman is an active Warren County resident trying to get his gravel neighborhood up to standard. He lives near Carlisle in the Briggs area, but McIntyre says the roads weren't built correctly, and rebuilding isn’t going to come out of the county’s funds since none of the roads are through streets.
"It doesn't benefit the rest of the county. It wasn't built right, so in order to build it up right, we need that extra money,” McIntyre said.
The county's current proposed solution is a special assessment tax. They estimate it could cost over $2 million to at least get Penman's neighborhood that has around 70 homes back up to level A standards. It would be up to those homeowners to pay that extra costs little by little over the course of several years, possible a decade. But residents say they don't have years and wonder where the tax money they already pay is going.
"I can't help but think the county who's admitting these are level A roads and not providing level A roads, should an accident happen, a fire, a tragedy of some sort there would be liability on the county's part,” Ron Wyckoff said. Wyckoff has lived in the area for 60 years and says this is the worst he's ever seen the roads.
He says recently their property values went up significantly this year, meaning they are now paying significantly more in taxes. Yet, it’s hard to find more than a few pebbles on their supposed to be gravel roads.
The county does admit neglect and says they are working to correct the mistakes from the past.
This fiscal year is the first time in at least two years the secondary roads cap actually was met. In years past, the leftover money not used to maintain the roads, went elsewhere. Even with those problems, the county engineer says sometimes there’s only so much you can do with the weather the state has been dealt.
“All us county engineers talk. We are all in the same boat here and we just want to be clear that it's not specifically a neighborhood or Warren County issue. It's happening on a much larger scale,” Warren County Engineer David Carroll said.
The engineer is getting an extra $1 million this upcoming fiscal year, but that will be used to purchase two more belly dump trucks to haul rock. They say in the long run this will save the county millions of dollars.
The board of supervisors are also looking into proposing a bond referendum for the county to vote on in November, but that will go towards an estimated $7 million engineer shop, and millions more for paved roads. They are considering including gravel roads as well in that bond, but it wouldn't be enough to fix the county's over 600 miles, but rather just “spot rock” as McIntyre called it.
McIntyre did add that they can’t focus on just 70 homes on these terribly built gravel roads, but have to think about what’s best for the 33,000 other homes in the county. She says putting millions of dollars into a single area wouldn’t be money well spent for the county overall, and they just simply don’t have the money to do so.