COLUMBUS — Gallia County Engineer Brett Boothe recently testified before the Ohio Senate Transportation, Commerce and Workforce committee in accordance with Ohio County Engineers Association of Ohio as its government affairs chair, talking about concerns with the transportation budget for Ohio.
Boothe previously testified in front of the Ohio House of Representatives and before the Senate. Some of Boothe’s major concerns included what he said was a lack in funding to more rural counties throughout the state in order to pave new roads, create new bridges and maintain current structures as is.
“We’ve downsized employees through attrition since 2009 by nearly 40 percent,” said Boothe. “Over forty percent on management and nearly 40 percent on union employees. We go after every state and federal grant. We’ve pulled in the most grants in federal dollars anywhere south of Columbus (in the state).”
Boothe included in his claim that Gallia has pulled in more federal grant money than many urban counties as well in Ohio.
“Even though we’re doing all those things to be as efficient as possible and cut costs, if we can provide better service at better money to pave an extra mile or build an extra bridge, we are at bare bones,” said Boothe. “There’s nowhere else to cut. There’s no grants we aren’t going after.”
Boothe said the Gallia Engineer’s Office operates on a revenue of roughly $3.6 million a year, between gas tax and license plate fees. That does not include grants. Boothe claims gas tax is the lifeblood of engineer offices like his. The office does not make enough off of license plate fees to make a sizeable effect in project funding.
“Gas tax revenue is the only money source that can make a difference for a rural county,” said Boothe. “There is no indexing of gas tax currently … One cent per gallon of gas tax equals about $83,000 to counties. For all 28 cents, for every penny … it’s a little over what would take to pave one mile of road.”
Boothe has previously said it costs around $70,000 to lay asphalt on a road.
According to Boothe’s estimates, if one compares the county and ODOT system, county road miles number around a third larger in total than ODOT road miles statewide. There are twice as many bridges in the county system, Boothe said.
“If you look at all the deficiencies in the (physical) state, you’ll find out that they’re all in the county (government) system and not the state (government) system.” said Boothe. “But if you look at the 28 cent gas tax, counties collectively, between all of us, get somewhere around 3.2 cents of that 28 cents gas tax going to county roads and bridges. ODOT gets around 17 cents.”
In a previous Tribune story, Boothe said in Gallia, there are 454.85 miles of road to maintain with 208.92 being asphalt, 128.17 being chip and seal and 117.76 being gravel, according to Boothe’s numbers. Boothe says his budget is around $10 million including state and federal grants. To meet current needs to maintain roads and bridges, the county needs roughly $2.5 million a year.
Boothe says asphalt roads have a 15 year life before needing to be repaved. To keep up, 13.9 miles need repaved a year to maintain a maintenance cycle. Averaging four miles per year (not including grant money) in Gallia’s current trends, there is a measure of 9.9 miles a year with a cost of roughly $70,000 a mile with a shortfall cost of around $693,000 year. Chip and seal for a five year life to catch up costs around $334,800 a year and to upgrade gravel roads from chip and seal costs several times more.
“I emphasized the importance of upgrading our gravel roads to be paved to the Senate even more so than in the House,” said Boothe. “It’s a matter of economic development for this area and attracting more jobs.”
Boothe proposed implementing indexing measures to ensure revenues keep pace with inflation and fuel consumption patterns. This would increase state gas tax to help with road maintenance and building projects. Ideally, Boothe would like to tie gas tax with increasing resource cost for maintenance needs to make certain road needs could continue to be funded at a reasonable pace as he feels construction materials have tripled in the last ten years but state officials have been reluctant to raise the gas tax. Boothe also proposed that vehicles that operate on alternative energy, such as electric cars, have a revenue stream created because drivers do not pay the traditional gas tax which maintains roads. Overall, he feels current measures cannot help maintain rural needs to build roads.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.