If one were to rank the three most talked-about issues facing Boone County presiding commissioner candidates, it might go something like this: roads, roads and roads.
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about the state of Boone County roads, and the candidates, incumbent Republican Keith Schnarre and Democrat Ken Pearson, have diverged on the issue in debates and forums.
Although Pearson said he can’t make any promises to pave more roads, he said that if he’s elected he’ll use his experience as an auditor, manager and administrator with the Missouri Department of Revenue to make sure the Boone County Public Works Department is spending taxpayers’ money wisely so that, perhaps, more paving could be done.
Pearson said he also wants to take a look at the process the commission uses to determine which roads need maintenance and which should be paved. He said the county lacks good traffic counts, which means some roads are given undue priority for maintenance.
As an example, he cited a recent county bridge project on Green Road about four miles east of Centralia. A traffic study found that on average only 13 vehicles use that road per day, but Public Works will spend $52,000 on a bridge project there.
Jane Telander, a Public Works office administrator, said the bridge became a priority because the Missouri Department of Transportation cited it as deficient.
“When we’re putting together maintenance priorities, we’ve got lots of different things to look at,” Telander said. “A safety issue will always get a first look.”
Schnarre said county roads have improved considerably under his tenure as presiding commissioner. Part of that success, he said, is because the commission has gotten away from micromanaging road and bridge projects and lets Public Works officials decide which roads need paving and maintenance.
Financial constraints also make paving new roads difficult, Schnarre said.
“(Pearson) can make all the new roads he wants — if he can find the money,” he said.
The county has a special half-cent sales tax for roads that’s been approved by voters. The sales tax will generate an estimated $11.7 million this fiscal year, said Caryn Ginter, an accountant with the Boone County Auditor’s office. In 2002, by comparison, the tax generated $9.5 million.
The sales tax is scheduled to expire in 2008. Both Pearson and Schnarre said that, if elected, they would vote to put an extension of the tax on the ballot in 2007.
“They need the sales tax for roads,” Pearson said. “But the concern I think most people have is that they don’t have a strategic plan out there.”
Under Schnarre’s leadership as presiding commissioner, the Public Works Department has paved 2.95 miles of roads and added them to its inventory for routine maintenance. Schnarre said that number is relatively low because many of the county’s other roads were overdue for maintenance, which made paving new roads difficult.
“We’ve had to do a lot of catch-up,” he said.
Schnarre said that next year he expects the county to pave up to three miles of roads.