Consolidation won’t go away.
In the eight years Ray Mobberly has been a commissioner for the Worley Highway District, the push to bring Kootenai County’s road districts together as one has surfaced at least four times.
It is expected to rise again Wednesday when the county’s 12 highway commissioners meet with community leaders to discuss ways of saving money on road maintenance. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Idaho Transportation Department office, 600 W. Prairie.
Many tax activists insist that consolidating any of the county’s 44 government entities capable of levying taxes could only save money. It would limit duplication of support staffing and help prioritize county road projects, they say.
But County Clerk Tom Taggart says he thinks consolidation would save little. The districts already scrape by on relatively small budgets.
Mobberly predicts this could be the season for melding the four highway districts: Worley, Lakes, Post Falls and Eastside.
It has been tried before, argue leaders of the four districts which manage more than 1,000 miles of roads with annual budgets that range from $1.1 million to $3.3 million.Consolidation has been tried before.
“Before 1972, there were eight districts and a county road department,” said Eastside commissioner Dick Edinger, who has served for 23 years. “It was much worse then.”
Residents voted to dump the county road department because outlying areas didn’t get the attention they deserved, he said. One member of Edinger’s crew even moved his pregnant wife from Harrison to Coeur d’Alene in winter because he was afraid roads wouldn’t be plowed when the baby was due.
The districts have been known to wage turf wars, Edinger admits.
Worley, the smallest, manages 185 miles of roads with 15 employees. Eastside manages 236 miles of roads with 16 employees.
“We know our people and our roads, and things work better this way,” Mobberly said. “You’ll lose that” with consolidation.
But not all residents agree.
Henry Balliet, a resident of rural Clemetson Road south of Coeur d’Alene, has been battling the Worley district for seven years to pave his rutted road. The district keeps backing out because it can’t afford the $140,000 upgrade.
“It’s still driving people crazy,” he said last week of the rutted road.
Rural residents such as Balliet would get even less service under consolidation, Edinger argued.
“All the work would be done where the most people were around to complain,” he said.