Audrain County voters are being asked next Tuesday to approve a 1/4-cent sales tax for a period of five years due to a need of repairing or replacing small bridges and large culverts throughout the county. The issue is known as “Proposition 2.”
According to information provided by Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs, an inventory of 593 small structures have already been identified. These are bridges or culverts that are less than 20’ long and 48” in diameter.
Reportedly with just 85% of an inventory taken as of March, 20% of the structures have been considered “Structurally Deficient” or “Functionally Obsolete.”
“Structurally Deficient” means the condition of the structure has a significant defect, which means speed or weight limits should be put on the bridge to ensure safety.
Those structures that are “Functionally Obsolete” are no longer suitable for their current use due to inadequate width or safety features. The designation can also be given for structures affected by flood waters.
Currently, the county is anticipating that 40% of the structures will need signs to restrict allowable loads and possible speed limits, 40% will need repairs, and the other 20% will be prioritized for replacement.
“We can take a systematic approach to prioritize ones that need to be looked at first,” Hobbs said.
Many farmers living in rural parts of the county have expressed their hopes for this measure to be passed.
“Many of these bridges were built in the 20’s and 30’s,” said Laddonia resident Jerry Johnson in his letter to the editor. “They were not designed to carry school buses, trailer trucks, or heavy equipment.”
The Audrain County Farm Bureau also said in their letter to the editor that the “importance of these smaller structures is often overlooked.”
“Trash pickup, postal service, school buses, and farm equipment travel over these bridge structures,” the letter said. “Therefore, it is critical that these unsafe bridge structures be repaired.”
While signage will cost less than $500 per structure, other mitigation needed will cost between $1,000-$20,000 per structure.
The estimated total for mitigation on structures needing attention is now approximately $3 million.
Unfortunately, the 2016 budget for the Audrain County Common 1 Road District includes just $170,000 for all culvert replacements.
Passage of Proposition 2 would generate about $750,000 per year for five years before sunset in 2021.
Collecting on a possible new tax will not start being collected until October.
Passage would help the county start replacing the critical structures in the Fall and in early 2017.
Back in 2009, the county allowed the expiration of the Special Bridge Tax, which was a 1/2-cent, to expire after being in place since 1989. In fact, some bridge work is still taking place on the funding provided by that tax and will be used up next year. Nearly 170 bridges were replaced through the program.
The Special Bridge Tax, however, was only for bridges in excess of 20’ in length. Bridges with this length are also inspected every two years by MoDOT. This is not the case for structures under 20’ in length.
“The issue with the Bridge Tax was to allow us to match federal funds because there was a pool of money out there for bridges over 20’ in length,” Hobbs noted.
Commissioners let the tax sunset because there was no way to spend the money after the county’s bridges 20’ in length or larger had been addressed.
Those possibly opposed to the tax will likely be opposed due to the item adding a new tax on county residents. No parties for the opposing of the tax contacted the newspaper on the issue.