By Martin Slagter
---- — A revolving loan fund has enabled Howard County to perform long-needed maintenance on many of its 500 miles of drains.
Howard County Surveyor Dave Duncan recently updated the Howard County Council on the maintenance progress of four of the county’s largest drains. Funds for the maintenance came in the form of a $1.2 million loan to the Howard County Drainage Board through Economic Development Income Tax dollars.
The loan allowed debt in the drainage maintenance fund to be paid off immediately, before construction and maintenance on drains, which includes cleaning out miles of open ditches, cutting down trees and installing new drainage tile.
The maintenance will ultimately aid county residents with the flood season on the horizon, Duncan said.
“If the property is in a low-lying area, it’s going to hold water,” he said. “What the county tries to do is make sure all of the conveyances — the tile in the ground and open ditches — are clean, have no obstructions and are on grade, so that when we do get the big rain it can still flood some of the low-lying areas, but it’s going to take the water and run it away as quickly as possible.”
After construction on the drains began in June, the county started raising assessments on all of the drains affected by the maintenance. That money is paid back into the drain maintenance fund, which will then be paid back to the revolving loan fund by the end of 2018.
“The idea is in five years, the land owners are going to pay this increased assessment and there will be enough [collected] from those assessments to fully pay back the money that has been borrowed,” Howard County Attorney Larry Murrell said.
Murrell said the increased assessments might not be popular among residents initially, but through the process of public hearings, many expressed their appreciation for performing much-needed maintenance.
Each drain has its own annual maintenance assessment of projected expenses, based on a number of factors including acreage and type of soil.
“I think most of the farmers out there understand that [assessments] hadn’t been raised in 20 or 30 years,” Murrell said. “They were grateful that we were able to do this deal that basically fronted us the money for the projects.”
The four areas of watershed where work is being done ultimately will benefit more than 17,000 acres of land, much of it agricultural. The two largest drains involved in the project — the Deer Creek watershed and McKay dredge — have seen a combined 24 miles of open ditch cleaned out.
Maintenance on three of the four drains is at least 90 percent complete, while the other is about 75 percent finished, Duncan said. Although none of the projects are completely finished, the revolving loan fund still has a positive balance of $384,000.
Four additional drains covering 1,593 acres will be cleaned this year, Duncan noted, starting this month.
Martin Slagter can be reached at 765-454-8570, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @slagterm.