The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to add $785,000 to the road department’s budget due to skyrocketing materials costs.
It is unclear where the money will come from, but it likely will be paid for with a mix of higher-than-expected internet use tax income and a loan.
County Administrator Jay Fisher asked the board how to proceed with the road plan, which was originally budgeted at around $2 million. Vastly more expensive asphalt and fuel costs have pushed that total to nearly $3 million.
“The road plan was constructed on $107 a ton for asphalt,” he said. “When the bids came in, they came in 40 percent higher than that. We can try to find some more money, but the budget does not have that this year. This was a tough year. Or we can cut back what roads we pave.”
Fisher said one possible revenue source was the internet sales tax, or use tax. The county gets two allotments yearly from the state, and typically they are higher than anticipated.
“We planned for $1.2 million to come in, which is just an estimate,” he said. “We got $739,000 in January, which is $140,000 extra. Our second check will be coming in July. To date every check we have gotten has been equal to or more than the previous check.”
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks led the charge against cutting the road plan. He suggested using the extra use tax revenue and balancing the difference with a short-term loan.
“It’s hard to tell Mary Sue or Billy Bob that you’re not going to pave their road when they see their neighbor getting paved,” Brooks said. “We need to get the money, if we have to borrow for a couple of years, and then let’s get this plan done.”
District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders suggested another strategy.
“We need to look at substituting slagging for smooth-surface asphalt,” he said. “And instead of resurfacing some of these roads, why don’t we reseal them? I don’t see any reason why we can’t reseal and stretch that (money) out and probably do three or four miles more than what we’ve got on the plan.”
Brooks said resealing didn’t help roads on the prairie that were shifting.
“In a couple of years those roads will be in bad shape again, and we’ll have to double back,” Brooks said. “(Paving) lasts longer. But it goes back to the constituents. They see John’s road is paved and Jeff’s road is not, and we have to deal with that.”
Board president Trip Hairston, who represents District 2, said even if the amount was cut, the county has still done a lot of paving over the last two years.
“In my mind we have two options, and one is to cut them back,” he said. “But that would take us from 17 miles to 10.2 miles. That’s 40 percent (less). But if we do the $2.7 million in paving, that will be $7 million in paving we’ve done in the past two years.”
That total includes the $5 million the county borrowed to do extra road work in 2021.
Fisher pushed back against the idea of borrowing more money.
“The ink isn’t even dry on the $5 million,” Fisher said. “We haven’t made the first payment on it yet, and y’all are already talking about borrowing more money.”
“This is not a lot,” Brooks responded. “We can certainly figure out some extra money from the internet sales check. We can borrow and within the next three checks will probably have close enough to pay that debt. At the most in two years we can pay that off.”
Brooks moved to amend the road department’s budget, and was seconded by District 3 Supervisor John Holliman. The motion passed 4-1, with Sanders voting no.
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.