Rupert leverages bond with grant money to complete record-breaking road construction

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RUPERT, Idaho — Several years ago, Rupert officials knew the city was years behind in road construction projects and, with an annual $200,000 road construction budget, there was little hope of ever catching up.

"We have about 52 miles of roads in the city and at that time about 43 miles of it needed either chip sealed or replaced," City Administrator Kelly Anthon said.

This week, a 31.4-mile chip seal project — the city's largest-ever — begins. The work will last for two weeks.

While the chip seal project is underway for the next couple of weeks, people may be temporarily inconvenienced by having to find a different travel route or by having to move their vehicles off the streets.

"The best part of this next round of construction is that it will happen fast," Mayor Mike Brown said. "The crews will be in and out of an area sometimes within a day."

The city also put in about 13 miles of new pavement in the past three years, rebuilding roads in areas that had decayed beyond the point of repairs.

In 2017, voters approved a $3.96 million general obligation bond, which included $1.5 million earmarked for road construction. The remainder of the money was used in the renovation of the Rupert Square and on other city improvements.

Since then, the city leveraged the bond funds by aggressively pursuing grants, Anthon said.

At the end of the season, the city will have spent nearly $4.4 million on road construction, with the additional money over the bond funds coming from grants, he said. The money is equivalent to about 22 years of the city's road construction budget.

"After this year there will only be a couple of miles of road remaining in the city that needs work," Anthon said. The city also has an alleyway behind City Hall that needs repair and some parking lots, including the one at Neptune Park.

The roads left undone will require more underground work on the water and sewer lines, and additional city money.

City officials are already strategizing on how to get them all finished, Anthon said.

The city also received a $1 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, which will be spent this winter on stormwater upgrades.

"I couldn't tell you the last time our overall road system was this good," Anthon said. "But, there's still plenty to do."

Brown said the citizens' approval of the bond played a big role in the improvements.

"Yes, the citizens approved the bond and said we need this but due to city employees the amount we were able to accomplish really increased," Brown said. "I really have to give the credit to Kelly. He has amazing vision."

Rupert has two certified grant writers on staff, which contributed to the city's success in leveraging the bond money, Anthon said.

"We knew we were going to go after some grants but we had no idea that we'd be so successful," Anthon said. "The stars just kind of aligned."

Brown said the city Chief Financial Officer Jeff McCurdy played a prominent role in the grant success because of his professional expertise in working with grants for Region IV Development Association.

The city's department heads, especially Roger Davis, "were also instrumental," Brown said, and it has been a city-wide team effort.

Cities, especially small ones, Anthon said, tend to fall behind in keeping up the maintenance on infrastructure.

Anthon, who is also a state senator, says state funding of infrastructure is a topic he often addresses during the legislative session.

"We live in a community that values low taxes, and so do I," he said. Cities are rarely able to collect enough taxes to maintain or replace infrastructure, and, "we see that across the state and we see it play out in Mini-Cassia."

The bond and grant funds put the city in a position where it can now use the yearly road-construction budget to keep up with maintenance, Anthon said.

"The strides the city made in the last three years are a game-changer for Rupert's future."

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