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Sign regulations just one more budget headache for county

By Staff | Apr 10, 2010

It comes as little surprise that budget constraints in local government bodies have started to make things a little heated and testy at meetings.

After all, these boards, commissions and councils are struggling with how to slash their current expenses, after the budgets are already in operation.

And, it isn’t like they haven’t already had to make cuts in this year’s budget – last year when they first were preparing it. Or will have to make more cuts to it, possibly even as late as December when the budget is just about done.

Frustration sets in when the County Board feels the pressure to switch over to a new 800 mega herz emergency radio system, learning it will cost thousands and thousands of dollars – which they don’t have.

At the same time, they are unable to make ‘donations’ to worthy entities such as the fair, economic development or tourism.

Our readers will note a letter to the editor from former county commissioner Loren Lein where he describes raising the funds for the tourism association membership from private donations.

Perhaps we will have to see more of this in the future, if government budgets are going to continue to be cut. Private donations may have to take a bigger role.

The County Board feels its hands are tied in so many cases, where state mandates dictate what they have to fund, yet the state is able to cut back on its share of some of those programs.

Frustration set in when the Blue Earth City Council has to put some projects on hold – or cancel them altogether.

They also are frustrated that the state cuts their local government aid payment, then also issues a levy increase limitation on the city.

Now, smaller cities are seeing feeling the pain of budget cuts. Cities under 1,000 population were spared from previous governor unalottments, but may not be spared any longer.

Townships, too, are struggling to make ends meet.

Several township officers vented some frustration at an informational meeting in Blue Earth last week.

State and federal regulations were explained concerning replacing highway signage.

In a nutshell, almost every sign on a township – or county – road will have to be replaced in the next few years.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation calls it a safety issue. It is hard to argue with them.

Signs do need to be seen both in the broad daylight, and at night. Probably more so at night.

Many of the current signs, especially out in the rural areas, do not reflect enough light to be seen at night.

So, state and federal regulations now require all signs to be properly reflective. At least they gave all the highway departments until 2015 to get it done.

It won’t be cheap. There are thousands of signs in just Faribault County alone. Many of those are on township roads.

Not every sign on a township road is the responsibility of the township. Stop signs, when the road crosses a county highway, are the responsibility of the county.

Township board members wondered aloud how they will manage to find it in their budgets to fund replacing all of the signs.

Their old style of signs cost roughly 84 cents per square inch. The new, highly reflective ones are more like $3.84 per square inch.

Then, there is also the cost of mounting them, replacing posts and bolts, etc. The posts, you see, have to be ‘crash-worthy,’ according to the new regulations.

That means that if a car leaves the road and heads for the ditch, striking a sign, the post must shear off.

One township official says they are more concerned about making the signs ‘bullet-proof’ than ‘accident-proof.’

Another wondered aloud, if the federal government can bail out banks and car dealers, and forgive mortgages and student loans, why can’t they throw some money towards rural America and help them out with new signs.

He thought it would be an excellent place for a little stimulus money.

He was venting a little frustration, but it sounded like a pretty good idea to me.