By Sarah Pridgeon
The County Commissioners invite the community to weigh in on their proposed new cattle guard policy at a public hearing this November. The new policy would increase the cost to the landowner for installation, replacement and maintenance in the hopes of reducing how much of the county’s available funds are spent on cattle guards, says Commissioner Steve Stahla.
“These things cost money and, the more of them you put out there, the less you have to deal with other priorities,” he explains. “We’re not in the business of making money from these folks, but we shouldn’t be in the business of going backwards, either.”
The county has an estimated 475 cattle guards in place at present. Once installed, each of these must be maintained and eventually replaced.
“I think the consensus of all of us was that we don’t want a bunch more cattle guards out there,” he says. “At some point they fill up and they don’t do any good, so somebody needs to go out and take care of that. They’re on a county road, so not just anybody can go out and do that.”
Maintenance and replacement cost both time and money, Stahla explains – two resources the county must spend very carefully.
“It’s a money issue and a time issue, too. There’s a lot of them out there and it’s not like the Road & Bridge Department is getting bigger – we’re not hiring new employees to take care of the work we have out there,” he says.
“We have a lot of miles to cover and a lot of things to do for everybody and it’s just getting to the point where there’s too much. [Even] one more cattle guard is one more thing that Road & Bridge has got to take care of.”
The new policy is an update of the 2010 version and has been a work in progress for around a year. The commissioners began to rework it after seeing the bill for new cattle guards, Stahla says, which raised the question of how the county would fund and maintain new ones without taking resources away from work such as gravelling and dust control.
“We’ve got roads out there that need worked on. We’re trying to do the best we can but we’re adding new work with no additional help,” he says.
“It’s a balancing act, trying to get it right. I look at it as a business partnership between the county and those landowners: how far can we go with it with the tax dollar and how much do the individuals need to come up with?”
Unlike some other counties, he adds, the commissioners have chosen not to place a limit on the number of cattle guards that can be installed.
“It’s been brought up in some of the meetings that other counties aren’t doing them any more at all because of the upkeep and expense. There are some that have a cap and will have only so many in the county,” he says.
“Those ranchers would have to do line fences if they want to keep the cattle in – and that’s way more expensive than putting the cattle guards in.”
The commissioners want to give the public the opportunity to tell their own side of the story and hear any suggestions and comments about the proposal, Stahla says.
“We put this thing together the way we think it might work best for both and then we’ll listen and fix it if we need to,” he says.
“We’ve spent a lot of time going up and down on what should we charge, what shouldn’t we charge. We’ve put a lot of time into it and that’s why we’re having a public hearing, because we want to know what the public thinks and have their input because it can only make the policy better.”
The public hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. on November 1 in the commissioners’ room in the county courthouse. The proposed policy can meanwhile be viewed on the county website.
“I understand with new policies you’re going to have people on both sides of it. We’ve just got to decipher what’s for the best.”
Stahla stresses that the policy is not set in stone and says he has already heard from a number of landowners on the issue and had some productive conversations that he suspects will lead to tweaks in the policy. He urges interested parties to contact him prior to the public hearing at 283-3757.