The Ottumwa Courier

October 11, 2013

Wapello County's 'perfect storm of paving'

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — It seems that the theme in the Ottumwa area this fall is road construction.

Streets all over the city have been undergoing repairs and reconstruction for what seems like months, and now county roads are being added to the mix.

Bluegrass, Competine and Eldon Floris roads are currently under a construction project headed by the Wapello County Board of Supervisors. The old and poor state of the roads was causing a loss of 3-5 percent of their value, according to board vice chairman Jerry Parker, so the need to find a way to fix them was very evident.

Although county road construction usually means a raise in taxes to help with funding, this project is special. Thanks to what Parker calls a “perfect storm of paving,” taxes will not be raised for the construction.

In order to fund this kind of project, a bond issue has to be passed that secures the necessary money to complete the plan, as well as show a need to fix the roads. With the need very apparent, the only thing standing in the way was the bonds. These bonds are very rarely passed by the county supervisors, according to Parker. In his 16 years with the board, they have only passed one other bond issue. But, out of a wild coincidence, they were able to find the funding from an unlikely source.

A recent reform passed by the state allows county officials to levy $47 per capita for mental health, which is down from the previous amount of $67 per capita. Most of the money saved from the lowering of the levies, approximately $280,000, will go toward the road construction project, therefore keeping taxes at their current place.

“If we wouldn’t have had a situation where the state levies the way we fund mental health, we wouldn’t have gotten the bond,” Parker said.

The Board of Supervisors waits until the proper time to put in for a bond issue, and this time they got lucky that the timing of the state mental health reform fell right in line with the road situation.

“We wait until it is timely, and we just fell into this one,” Parker said.

According to Parker, never again will they be able to find the necessary funds for a project at the precise time that the need arises, so this situation “is a perfect storm.”

The construction on the three county roads began a few weeks ago, and currently Competine Road is the only one of the three that has been entirely completed. The resurfacing of Blakesburg Road is done, with lines coming soon, and the patchwork on Eldon Floris Road is completed with resurfacing to start immediately. The construction for all three roads will be done in the next few weeks, according to Parker.

Once completed, those who use the roads will have nice surfaces to drive on for the next several years. According to Parker, the money from the mental health reform will be enough to cover the paving and the maintenance required for the reconstruction.

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh