By Justin Glawe
Bemidji Pioneer 

Beltrami County Board to discuss roads


SHOTLEY – Just a few days before a bill that will seek an increase in the gas tax to secure funding for transportation projects statewide, the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners will discuss their own plan for local roads and highways at their regular meeting Tuesday.

In a conference call with the Transportation Alliance, a lobbying group working with legislators to increase the tax by five cents per gallon, District 3 Commissioner Richard Anderson raised concerns from a local perspective.

The board will discuss the county’s five-year roads and highways plan at their meeting, set for 5 p.m. at the Shotley Township Hall.

“Beltrami County, as many of you know, we can only tax 25 percent of our land. The rest is in state and federal and other reserves,” Anderson said. “That really makes it tough for the taxpayer, as you look at the infrastructure, to come up with the added money that’s needed to do anything but the patching.”

The patching of roads that are already at the point of needing a complete resurfacing is indicative of the state of roads across Minnesota, according to Margaret Donahoe of the Transportation Alliance.

“(The Minnesota Department of Transportation) has estimated that we’re short $5 billion over the next 20 years just to keep the road system in the condition that it’s in today,” Donahue said. “So, no expansions, no improvements. … just to keep the system where it is today, we don’t even have enough money to do that.”

Anderson mirrored comments that public bonds may have to be used to fund highway maintenance, made at an early January County Board meeting, in the call. But the strategy to secure funding at the state level is to go straight to the gas pump.

“We think it’s important to look at modest increases to the gas tax and the license tab fees, so that we have more resources to meet these needs and we can hopefully reduce the burden on the property tax,” Donahoe said. “The gas tax, the license tax, they have to be spent on roads. And I think when people understand that, they are very supportive of those user fees, because the more you drive, the more you use the system, the more you pay.”

The bill’s future is unclear, but Anderson provided a dire assessment of the situation for travelers in Beltrami County.

“We really do need some help at this point, so we can try to save some of the roads from being totally gone,” he said.


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