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Highway levy, asphalt prices may constrain projects

County engineer Dave Olsonawski is back crunching numbers after the Hubbard County board gave him an unwelcome gift on his 31st anniversary last week.

After congratulating him - or maybe his wife - on a wonderful union, the board broke the bad news - cut 10 percent off your levy request.

Olsonawski was in the hot seat at a special board budget meeting as one of "the big three," the biggest departments in the county.

He had asked for nearly an $11 million budget - 35 percent more than 2008.

In levy terms, he was asking for a bit over 14 percent, which was 10 percent more than commissioners were willing to give him.

Olsonawski was one of three department heads to get news of "growth increase" limits, which the board took pains to refrain from calling "budget cuts."

Along with Hubbard County Social Services and the sheriff's department, Olsonawski was feeling the pinch of a touch economy.

"It'll probably come out of road construction dollars," he told the board last week.

"It all depends on fuel prices, oil prices, what projects come in at, cost-wise, whether we can even afford to do the projects, the oil prices are so high," he said Monday. "Asphalt has doubled in price since last year."

"Roads and bridges and Social Services are a little different because they've got some reserves to go on," said county auditor Pam Heeren. "He can still have the budget, he's just just gotta cut where he spends it," she said, referring to Olsonawski's levy request.

"So if you want me to tell you the highway department is going to have a 4 percent increase, probably not," she said. "But they've got reserves where the other revenue departments do not have that."

Olsonawski will need to trim somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 from his levy request. He took issue of an earlier article describing his initial reaction as "stoic."

"I don't know if I'm stoic about losing 10 percent of what we need to provide the public with a service," he said. "That's entirely up to the board. We just have to find a way of getting down to that."

The board did inquire into what has been saving the highway department some money the past decade. Personnel have been applying a liquid salt brine composed of calcium chloride on county roads.

The chloride saves maintenance because highway staff don't have to re-gravel the roads so often, and haven't had to grade them as often, Olsonawski said. The salt brine also keeps dust down.

Olsonawski said the department won't skimp on maintenance, trimming its levy request.

"We'll continue to do the road maintenance," he said. "It's whether we do new construction or county road construction. I think we'll save the dollars there for right now."