County’s final budget lower than 2017

By Jason Ferguson

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It came over a week later than it was supposed to due in large part to the recent turnover in the auditor’s office, but the Custer County Commission put its official seal of approval on the county budget for 2018 at its Oct. 12 meeting.

The finalized budget came in at a total of $8,182,694, around $13,000 more than the preliminary budget the commission first looked at in August, but still down $43,014 from the 2017 budget.

Included in this year’s budget is a 2 percent increase across the board for county employees, sans the Custer County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s office deputies will enjoy a larger increase, from around 4.7 percent to around 6.87 percent after Sheriff Marty Mechaley balked at filling an open deputy position and decided instead to use that money to give current deputies a raise. Mechaley himself will see around a 1.54 percent raise.

The finalized budget also includes a 2 percent increase for insurance costs.

The budget includes a new starting wage scale, which raises the entry-level money for some of its positions. Any employee who is not already being paid what the new floor for those positions is will be brought up to those levels in the new year. For some, that could mean a 4-8 percent raise.

The budget and new starting wage scale was approved unanimously after a couple hours of executive session (not all of which was related to those topics) that included most of, if not all, of the department heads either in groups or individually.

The commission also heard from county highway superintendent Gary Woodford, who, along with Ross Eberle of Brosz Engineering, led the discussion during the public hearing that addressed the county’s five-year highway and bridge program.

The plan, which is preliminary, gives an idea of where the highway department will focus its efforts until 2022. The plan is required by the state for the county to be eligible for such programs as the state’s Bridge Improvement Grant. Eberle stressed the plan is a living document, as the priority of the projects can be changed depending upon revenue, resources and whether more pressing issues arise.

Woodford said the county tries to put new gravel down on 12 miles of county road each year, divided equally between roads on both sides of the county. Several factors go into deciding which road will receive gravel, including the average daily traffic count on the road, condition of the road and ease of maintaining the road.

Eberle praised Woodford for his proactive approach to the five-year plan and the way the county highway department takes care of its roads, saying Custer County gets more life out of its roads than some neighboring counties.

The preliminary plan shows two miles of Mayo Road, four miles of Beaver Creek Road, two miles of Hazelrodt Cutoff Road and five miles of Riverside Road being resurfaced next year.

In 2019, five miles of Ghost Canyon Road are scheduled to be resurfaced, along with seven miles of Argyle Road and two miles of Argyle Loop Road. In 2020, only Pass Creek Road is scheduled for work, with 11 miles set to be worked on.

Only one road is on the docket for 2021, as 12 miles of Pleasant Valley Road are on the agenda. The following year will see three miles of Pilger Mountain Road resurfaced, along with five miles of Dewey Road, three miles of Carroll Creek Road and 2-1/2 miles of Wind Song Valley Road.

Other projects scheduled for next year include design for a bridge replacement two miles south and 10-1/2 miles east of Fairburn over French Creek. The bridge, which Woodford said continues to deteriorate, is important to ranchers and will be replaced in 2020, or sooner if possible. Next year will also see $500,000 spent on the aforementioned road resurfacing and small draining structure replacement ($100,000).

The year 2020 will be a large one for bridge replacement if the plan remains as is, with the previously mentioned bridge being replaced and three others being refurbished. Those bridges are all on the eastern side of the county, with one 11 miles east and two miles south of Fairburn, one just east of Buffalo Gap and one 12 miles east of Hermosa.

The projects, if approved by the BIG program by the state, will be an 80/20 match, with the county paying 20 percent of the cost and the state funding the rest. The projects vary from $570,000 for the bridge replacement to $100,000 or $200,000 for the refurbishments.

In other news from the Oct. 12 meeting the commission:

• Approved the surplus of five vehicles — three from the maintenance department and two from the highway department — to be sold at auction. The maintenance department will surplus a 2001 Dodge Ram with 88,925 miles, a 2000 GMC with 13,762 miles and a 2000 Chevy Astro Van with 81,991 miles. The highway department will surplus a pair of 2003 pickups Woodford said are “in poor repair.” The highway department will also purchase two 2018 Ford F-250 three-quarter-ton pickups, an expense that was already in the department’s budget.

• Approved spending between $5,358.25 and $10,885 for preliminary soil and groundwater contamination assessment at the Custer County Highway Department’s facilities in Custer and Buffalo Gap. As those facilities have historically maintained on-site storage of regulated materials — including gasoline, diesel fuel, waste oil and herbicides/pesticides — the highway department wants to gather information on the potential of environmental impacts to the soils and groundwater (if present) at both of the facilities.

•Authorized spending $8,000 to replace some concrete removed during the ramp work at the Custer County Airport. Un-beknown to the county, the plans for the work finalized by the Federal Aviation Administration were different from the preliminary plans. That resulted in the removal of an area of concrete that airport manager Mark Stites said could be replaced, with the cost ­being reimbursed by the FAA next year. The commission also approved spending up to $8,000 for grading and asphalt near the hangars at the airport.

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