Ellis County may issue up to $5.4 million in general obligation bonds to pay for about a dozen or so road and bridge repair projects over the next few years.

The Ellis County Commissioners will meet with financial and legal advisors Ranson Citycode Financial, Wichita, during their May 18 meeting to go over a list of projects and estimated costs.

The county will repay the bonds from proceeds of a quarter-cent general purpose sales tax that Ellis County voters approved in April. The countywide tax goes into effect Oct. 1 and runs for 10 years.

The Kansas Department of Revenue estimates the county’s share of the tax revenue will be $700,000 to $715,000 annually, said interim county administrator Darin Myers.

The county, however, estimates the revenue will be closer to $650,000 or $660,000, Myers told the commissioners during their regular Monday evening meeting at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.

He calculated the possibilities assuming a more conservative $600,000.

“A five-year bond would be able to get us about $2.8 million, which is only about two-thirds of what we actually need for the projects that we identified, and not giving us any wiggle room for any higher costs or estimates on any of those projects,” Myers said.

A 10-year bond would get the county $5.4 million, he said.

Once issued, the county must move quickly to start on the projects.

“For instance if we do bond it right away, there are statutes that say we have to have a certain amount expended within the first six months, and then about 80 of it expended within three to four years,” he explained.

During an April 20 road tour of the county, the commissioners saw a dozen roads and bridges needing work.

Monday in a wide-ranging discussion during their meeting, the commissioners talked about the possibilities, and asked Public Works Director Bill Ring to prioritize the projects.

“We have more dollars in projects than you’re ever going to bond out,” Ring told the commissioners, adding that opinions may diverge on what’s a priority.

“We need to have this very open two-way street discussion,” he said. It may be the most expensive project is $1.5 million, and the lowest $300,000.

“How can we then pick and choose to fill a $5 million bond,” Ring asked. “What’s the best bang for the buck?”

Commissioner Dustin Roths said he favors a bond.

“It’s just a matter of how much, and what we’re going to attack immediately,” Roths said, suggesting some projects be delayed as long as possible.

“If we can hold out, the longer that we can, before it becomes dangerous on the road or things like that, the more value we get out of the last time we worked on them,” he said.

But Ring said putting off road work isn’t a good idea.

“The worse thing you can do is wait to fix roads,” he said. “When you get to a point past the 10-year mark, roughly, the repair costs that you’re going to spend to get it back are way more than it would cost you to maintain it. It’s an absolute fact. So be very careful in that, trying to get as much longevity.”

For example, on the Catharine blacktop, he said, the county stretched out repairs and maintenance as long as it could.

“And now that road will need to be completely rebuilt,” Ring said.

The same could be true of holding off on redecking Bridge 120 over the Saline River about 12 miles north of Ellis on that heavily traveled two-lane blacktop that runs into Rooks County.

Roths suggested widening it, then redecking it later.

“I just know that most people who drive that bridge are less worried about the deck and more worried about the width of it,” Roths said, “because it’s not all that big for as high a traffic a road as it is.”

“I would guess $2 million to do what you’re asking,” Ring said. “You could shoot half the bond on that. That’s why I’m asking, we need to have some serious discussions … A deck is about a half million right now.”

Deck replacement would shut the bridge down for 5-6 months over the summer, including during wheat harvest, Ring said, with a drive-around that’s 15-20 miles.

“If we get to the point we need to put a bridge in, we could have that bridge out for a year-plus, year-and-a-half,” Ring said. It would also cost about three times as much, and waiting another two or three years would add a half-million dollars to three-quarter million dollars in cost.

Putting off the work can be like running with bald tires, Ring indicated.

“They called them ‘may pops’ when I was a kid. Try to keep going and going and they may pop at any minute. And we don’t want that to happen,” he said. “It was pointed out to staff in ’14, that bridge needed to be fixed. And it’s just progressively gotten worse, and progressively the price has gone up with it. It’s almost gone up 50% or more.”

Bridge 120 is high priority, said Commissioner Dean Haselhorst.

Joint projects with cities

Some projects go beyond the county’s scope, Roths indicated.

“What projects are we going to partner with the city of Hays on in the extraterritorial jurisdiction?” he asked. “We talked about 48th Street and their owning half of the right of way and us owning half of the right of way, and it being a problem street with a lot of taxpayers on it.”

It’s the same with the county’s planned $10.8 million Northwest Business Corridor, a U.S. 183 bypass around the city, he said.

“How much more is the city of Hays willing to help on that project, if they’re willing to help at all?” Roths said. “Those are big-line items that could really change where the bond should be at.”

The 48th Street project, from Tractor Supply to Hall Street, will probably cost about $150,000 to hire a contractor to lay several layers of hot mix, Ring said, making it more of a minor project.

“Considering the traffic on that road, that’s less than I expected honestly, and at a 50-50 split with the city it might be appeasable to them,” Roths said. “Those are question marks we need to figure out, because there is that ticking time-clock on a bond.”

Ring agreed with Roths that there are many factors to consider.

“There are a multitude of unknowns and what-ifs and should-we and could-we,” Ring said.

What about chronic problems?

Roths asked about 210th Avenue extending south off Old Highway 40 to Golf Course Road. People complain its slippery, he said.

“Maybe something to fix that?” he asked.

“It’s called cash,” Ring said. “We have a 40-foot right-of-way on that. We have a wall of dirt on one side and we have low on the other side. We can’t barely have but one lane now. We have no drainage ditches, and it’s dirt. We would have to acquire right-of-way, on both sides of the road for three miles.”

There are three miles with no other access points, he said, and there’d be major expense to take the hill off one side and move it to the other.

“I think we’ve talked about three-quarters of a million just to get it where it’s a usable rock road,” Ring said.

“That’s a project, that road,” Haselhorst agreed.

“I hear about that road every day commissioner,” Ring said.

Haselhorst asked Ring to put together some rough numbers on the priority list. Roths said his main concern is safety.

“And then I’m concerned because the voters have told us they want us to get infrastructure fixed in the county,” he said. “They did it with a vote, so I’m ready to do that, we’ve just got to target the projects.”