Debate about how Custer County officials handled recent snow removal efforts generated criticism at the Nov. 9 commission meeting.
“I’m here because of ‘budget cuts,’ so let’s cut the budget,” county resident Dustin Powell said amidst a packed house at the commission meeting.
Powell asked to be on the agenda to discuss why commissioners were considering not plowing to Sawmill Creek on Morgan Creek Road this winter. Owning a ranch near the creek where he operates several businesses with many employees year-round, Powell was upset county snowplows are stopping four miles short of Sawmill at Lick Creek. He was also upset he was informed of the potential change to the county’s snow removal plan by his mail carrier, not a county representative.
“Maybe we did not contact you and that was a mistake,” Commission Chairman Steve Smith told Powell.
Commissioners Wayne Butts and Randy Corgatelli repeatedly told Powell that no final decision had been made about what roads Custer County Road and Bridge workers would plow this year. Butts said the reason they were considering cutting those four miles on Morgan Creek Road is because it costs about $2,800 to run a snowplow from Lick to Sawmill and back again. When it gets plowed twice a day, that stretch can get expensive, Butts said.
According to the county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-21, the road and bridge department was allocated about $2.6 million. Compared to the previous year’s final budget, that’s about a $280,000 decrease.
Smith explained in an email to the Messenger the road and bridge department budget was cut because the county didn’t know if it would have the funds from fuel and road taxes it has had in the past.
“COVID-19 this year really was going to restrict people traveling and thus those revenues would not be to the levels as previously expected,” Smith stated in his email. “We had to set the budget for September/October without knowing that real revenue number.”
In the published, projected revenue for fiscal year 2021, county officials did not include any revenue from taxes in the road and bridge department budget.
Smith also said via email and at the meeting another reason commissioners decided to stop at Lick Creek is because they were unaware there are year-round residents farther up the road.
This drew ire from Powell and logger Marcus Shepherd, who needs Morgan Creek Road cleared up to Sawmill to reach the trees he and the county agreed he could cut. Working just above Powell’s property, Shepherd said he can’t use a snowmobile to haul out timber. He needs access for a logging truck, otherwise he could be out four months of work this winter.
Powell also said Mike Shanafelt, a road and bridge worker who plows snow, had been to his property in the past and and knew he lived there all year. Shanafelt informed county commissioners it wouldn’t be safe to turn a snowplow around at Lick Creek for lack of space, according to Powell, which is another reason he found their idea to be aggravating.
“Listen to the guy you hired to do the job,” Powell said.
Since it was Powell’s name on the agenda, the commissioners directed their questions to him when they asked how the situation could be rectified. Powell said he wants to be notified of any potential changes to the county’s plan in regard to Morgan Creek Road. Also, he said he wants a list off all county roads that will be plowed this winter and the cost of plowing.
Just one person in the audience wore a face covering during the public meeting, where people sat within inches of one another. Even though Custer County was in the minimal-risk category for the coronavirus at the time of the meeting, health experts still recommend people wear masks in public, face-to-face interactions and physically distance themselves from one another.