Delta County government finds itself in a running disagreement with contractors, and the disagreement looks unlikely to go away soon.
Nevertheless, 15 gravel and road and bridge contractors who do work in the county pledged on Monday to keep talking with commissioners and other county officials about what they see as growing, hurtful, and unfair competition from the county on road project work.
The county commissioners, staff and administrator for their part pledged to get answers to specific questions and complaints about the county road and bridge operations. The two groups met in an almost two-hour-long session Monday to air their differences.
Hans Benson of Benson Brothers Aggregate helped arrange the meeting. Benson and other contractors at the session say the county is growing big at the expense of private enterprise.
Government officials answer that the county does its work cheaper than private enterprise can and saves taxpayer dollars.
The contracting community says that local government is overstepping its rightful role, and the county says its gravel and road operations are mandated by state law.
The session at the county courthouse Monday began with statements by contractors and was lead off by Benson. He is critical of how the county manages the accounts of its road building costs. He doesn't think that the figures add up right on the county's depreciation numbers and its operating costs for gravel crushing and heavy equipment use.
Benson challenges the county cost figures and methods of accounting on a number of specific points. The county's policy of taking money in payment for doing road work for other local governments amounts to contracting. "Receiving money for work is competing with private enterprise," Benson said.
In addition to the county commissioners who were at the meeting, seven county staff were on hand to address the contractors' concerns. They were the county engineer, an engineering technician, three road supervisors, the county planner and county administrator.
The county's presentation began with citations from five state statutes outlining what officials see as the commissioners responsibility for construction and maintenance of county roads and bridges. None of the citations given is a certain mandate for the county to be in the road and bridge building business.
For example, C.R.S. 120-13-27 was cited as, "Cities and towns with a population of less than 5,000 may contract with a county for engineering, maintenance, and supervision of the road and street work of the city or town."
Arlo Cox of Cedaredge told the county officials, "You guys compete with every contractor in this room. You don't have to make a profit or capitalize your equipment, and you operate on my tax dollars," he said adding, "There is no way that we can compete with you on cost.
"You are competing with the people who pay your salaries. When government works for government, pretty soon you have socialism. If what you do is for the general benefit of everyone, then why aren't you in everything? I am serious about that," Cox said.
Kyle Alpha of United Companies asked the commissioners, "What is the role of government? That is what this comes down to." He said that the intergovernmental agreements that the county uses for other government's road building needs "really don't look right."
A Hotchkiss-based contractor added, "We have lost our way here as to the county's role. If we private contractors are out of business where will your tax money come from? And most of us are on the edge."
Ron Luttrell of Rocky Mountain Aggregates agreed with his colleagues on both points; the philosophical argument and the government accounting argument. He told the Delta County officials, "It's the same argument everywhere you go around the state. In Montrose County, four legitimate bidders were all around $600,000 on some work, and the county did it themselves for $385,000. There wasn't any $215,000 profit in that job."
Dwight Benson added, "We aren't against the county. The county should do what it's supposed to do," including emergency services and road maintenance). "But the role keeps growing. Let private enterprise have a chance."
County Engineer Bob Kalenak and Road Supervisor Larry Record gave presentations showing the county's costs on road projects and explaining how those costs are accounted for.
Their numbers demonstrated that the county does in fact account for depreciation in plant and equipment. Also, in gravel crushing and overall costs for road material the county can provide for its own needs 30 to 40 percent less than local contractors can, they said. They showed that the county's own operation provides twice the road miles per dollar than private contractors can. And, the per-mile costs are lower, too.
The contractors were not convinced by the numbers that officials showed. The county's numbers are audited, Kalenak explained. But he conceded that government has significant cost advantages that private enterprise doesn't have. Those advantages include the following:
• No taxes paid on fuel, materials including road oil, or on purchases of heavy equipment.
• The county gets "significant government discounts" in fuel, tires and capital equipment.
• The county road and bridge operation services no debt.
The county's road and bridge program, which costs the average household $20 per year now, would cost $39 per year if private enterprise were used, explained Robbie LeValley, county administrator.
The contractors didn't trust the county's accounting methods at the meeting. Cox told the officials, "You don't play with the same set of books we have to. You aren't taxed and operate tax free. That's the whole basis of the philosophy argument."
Hans Benson said, "The figures you use are apples and oranges."
The contractors wanted to know why lower cost "custom gravel crushing" that contractors could supply isn't used.
Kalenak said that 50 of Colorado's 64 counties have permitted gravel pits. But contractors wanted data on how many of those counties actually operate the pits themselves, and how many have private enterprise operate them.
At the meeting's conclusion, County Commission Chairman Doug Atchley noted that any cost savings in the county road and bridge operation are ultimately passed on to taxpayers.
He promised that the contractors' questions would be answered and that the contractors' specific points will be taken under consideration by the BoCC. "We look forward to continuing this dialogue with you," Atchley said.blog comments powered by Disqus