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And the sign said — spend money, counties

POSTED July 14, 2011 3:13 p.m.

Perhaps it could be called “a sign of the times” that Barton County is being forced to spend more than $25,000 for materials alone to replace perfectly good rural road signs. And it was a measure that was adopted this week without the unanimous approval of the Barton County Commission.
The bright spot in the mandated replacement of county road signs is that some time ago the county invested in the equipment that allows it to make its own signs and it is only because of that, that the cost will “only” be $26,441.25 for the materials, County Administrator Richard Boeckman reported.
County officials were, however, able to act quickly to purchase the locator sign materials with 911 tax monies.
They had to act quickly to be in compliance with yet another state law.
The issue arose because of a new state law that requires that 911 tax money cannot be used this way.
“Under the new (state) law, 911 tax monies cannot be used for road signage. Generally, 911 tax funds, whether collected for land or cell lines, are to be dedicated to the 911 system and its infrastructure. Given that the county’s balance in the 911 Fund is at a level where regular expenses and planned upgrades are covered, the county opted to purchase $26,441.25 in material for road signs prior to the enactment of the new legislation,” it was explained in the county’s agenda.
The state regulations had ruled that counties must erect larger identification signs at the county intersections, it was explained.
County Communications Director Doug Hubbard said using the 911 user fees, at least keeps the county from having to divert property tax funds for the project. “We have enough 911 money to do it.”
The commissioners agreed to back the purchase, which was made before the new regulation went into effect.
However, Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg said he could not vote for the purchase, declaring “something’s screwy somewhere.”
Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Schartz said it would have made more sense for the state to have required that, as signs were replaced through need, they be replaced with larger versions, rather than calling on wholesale replacement of perfectly good signs.
Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips said the county has until 2013 to get the job done and his department will need every bit of that time to replace about 1,500 signs all across the county.
Commissioner Kenny Schremmer said he gets around most of the county in his work and he noted: “I’m not supper happy about this.” However, Schremmer said there are many places where a larger road sign would be helpful.
Down the road, the larger signs should be useful for those who have to find they way around the rural areas, especially for public safety crews.

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