State slashes county funds

Sulphur Springs Road project a casualty of new Illinois cuts, county funding formula

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Without any warning or explanation, one of the state funds coming to the Edgar County Highway Department was slashed by 90 percent from $50,000 to $5,000 for the next fiscal year.

“Our five-year program is totally off center now,” said Aaron Lawson, county engineer.

He discussed the issue with county board members during the road and bridge committee meeting Monday, May 6. He recommended delaying a project to widen and make line of sight improvements to sections of Sulphur Springs Road because there is no clear way forward to secure funding.

The cut made to Edgar County is in the State Match Assistance (SMA) program. Lawson explained SMA is a long-standing program of the Illinois Department of Transportation to help counties that cannot levy enough to provide the required match to secure federal money for infrastructure projects. Federally assisted projects are commonly funded at 80 or 90 percent, with the local match being the remaining 20 or 10 percent of the cost.

“That money was my leverage for getting federal money,” said Lawson. “With $50,000, I could get $500,000 at a 90-10 split.”

He told county board members the original message from IDOT was received in early May announcing SMA was getting cut in half, which should have meant $25,000 for the county. The announcement was accompanied by additional information stating the funding formula was also changing and county engineers were advised to check a website for more information.

The website is where Lawson learned Edgar County was to get only $5,000 in SMA. He added some locations received no money as a result of the formula change.

Lawson has served as the county engineer for 10 years. When he arrived, Edgar County got $65,000 in SMA although the award has steadily decreased over the years to the $50,000 received last year.

Motor Fuel Tax payments have also declined and other state payments such as County Aid to Bridge and Township Aid to Bridge have stagnated to the point it takes years of saving those payments in order to build a bridge.

It is a common practice from the federal government to local jurisdictions to have a five-year plan of infrastructure improvements. The Prairie’s Edge improvement the county did in 2018 was actually authorized to receive federal money in 2013.

Lawson again emphasized he is uncertain what the loss of SMA means for the highway department’s five-year plan.

He said the county will continue with a $1 million guard rail safety project because that money is in hand as is money for shoulder improvements in places along the Lower Terre Haute Road. He plans to submit a request for additional safety money to accompany the shoulder improvements, but it is not certain the money will be awarded.

Another concern is the Staley Bridge. IDOT awarded the contract for building the bridge, which does not involve any federal money. The financing is through the county, Elbridge Township, state Township Aid to Bridges payments and a USDA loan through a program administered by EnerStar.

Lawson said the Township Aid to Bridges funding won’t be announced until the fall; and if it gets cut, as did the SMA, that might jeopardize the ability to finish construction.

He admitted a high level of frustration.

“We keep hearing from people at the federal and state level that infrastructure is important, and they want to have a capital program. Then something like this happens,” said Lawson.