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Road repair, maintenance on voters' minds

Mayoral candidates's plans for tackling problems differ

ROCK FALLS – A handful of roads in Rock Falls are in need of repair. Both candidates for mayor appear to agree on that much.

But when it comes to how much the mayor can do to address torn-up roads, the two differ.

In Tuesday's race for mayor, incumbent David Blanton is being challenged by City Clerk Bill Wescott.

"One of the biggest thing we hear about is the roads," Wescott said. "I think that we need to evaluate our roads; we need to identify which ones are the worst, and then we need to come up with the funding, because the current funding is not going to allow it to happen."

Wescott said the city should develop a written plan on how to address necessary road repairs and "stay with it, from a funding standpoint."

Many times, motor fuel tax and half-cent sales tax funds get used for other projects, he said, which then puts necessary road repairs behind schedule.

"We know they're bad; we drive on them every day coming in," Wescott said. "But there is not a specific plan currently in place, and we need to set one, because our finances allocated for that particular aspect of the city are not sufficient."

The city also needs a new way to look at how it operates, he said.

"I think that Sterling has road problems, too," he said. "What can we collectively do? Is there machinery that we can buy and cost share in that both of us can better attack an issue, rather than contracting out?"

After roads are put in, the city needs a maintenance program to take care of them, he added.

About 4 or 5 years ago, the city created an assessment of roads in need of repair, Blanton said.

That assessment is reviewed every year. As projects on the list are completed, the city looks at others on the list, Blanton said.

About $4.4 million of road work has been completed under his administration, Blanton said. Included in that total is $1.3 million the city received through President Barack Obama's Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was used for the First Avenue Bridge reconstruction project and for 19th Street repairs, Blanton said.

The main roads into Rock Falls have all been repaired during the two terms he has been mayor, he said.

There are 68 miles of roads in Rock Falls, and Blanton estimates it costs about $1 million to replace a 1-mile section.

"If I put on the ballot what it's going to cost every taxpayer for me to get $68 million to fix the roads, where do you think that vote's going to go?" he asked.

Blanton said residents complain about the amount they pay in taxes while roads aren't repaired.

"The real fact is, when I look at a $3,000 property tax bill, 11 to 12 percent of that is what the city gets," he said. "I take that $3,000 and I bring that down, and that's just a few hundred. I take that few hundred and I divide it by 12 months. My calculations comes into a McDonald's hamburger lunch a week.

"I say to you, 'You give me one McDonald's hamburger lunch; I give you 24/7 police, 24/7 fire and I plow your streets and we repair the streets. So I think you're getting a pretty good deal."

As far as improving the quality of life for Rock Falls residents, both candidates said the riverfront would play an important role.

The riverfront development has given the city and its residents something to be proud of, Blanton said.

"We had a lot of doubting Thomases," he said. "I go down there, 'Yeah, I'll never see this in my lifetime.' We've not raised any taxes. What we've done down there is paid for."

Wescott envisions the area as a gathering place.

"We need to make that someplace that we can bring in art fairs, that we can bring in musical entertainment," he said. "We'll have a bike path, we can intermix our bike path and the [Hennepin] canal access with the Upper Dam into Sterling and their bike path."

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