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More than $4 million in additional funding is needed to continue emergency room-like work to repair Lancaster County's dilapidated infrastructure, County Engineer Pam Dingman told the Lancaster County Board on Tuesday.

New infrastructure spending accounts for three-quarters of the request, followed by needs to replace and increase the size of the department's fleet, she said.

"We have reached the critical point that I have talked about the last five years," Dingman said at her department's budget meeting with commissioners.

Dingman's total budget request -- $37.3 million -- is generally the county's largest, County Budget Director Dennis Meyer said. 

Her budget proposal already includes the infusion of $2.2 million drawn from the county's reserves.

Projected revenue from the higher property valuations in the county would add $4.2 million to the county's budget if the board leaves the levy alone, he said.

County Engineering has asked the board for sizable funding increases, pitched as necessary to remedy previous under-investment in roads and bridges that has led to closures across the county.

Almost every day her staff inform her of new infrastructure problems in the county, Dingman said. 

On Tuesday, a pipe failure on Northwest 84th Street north of West O Street caused pavement problems needing immediate attention, she said. 

And the full effects of the flooding from March are still being assessed, but that storm required county crews to regrade a large swath of the gravel roads and depleted the department's rock supply. 

Flooding statewide wiped out Nebraska's gravel supply to where the county is seeking bids on gravel from Kansas, Dingman said.

Newly designated board Chairwoman Roma Amundson called the issues facing the department "sobering."

The proposed budget would fund work on 10 closed bridges in need of replacement, Dingman said.

Already seven closed bridges have contracts for either design or construction work, she said.

Last fall, a task force report concluded the county needed an additional $15 million a year to maintain all county roads and bridges over the next 20 years and suggested a county wheel tax or sales tax could fund the road system needs.

The emergency repair work hasn't just inconvenienced drivers in the county, but it has strained the department's equipment and stretched thin the maintenance staff, she said.

For example, in the last year some staff went 11 weeks without a day off due to plowing snow and immediate repairs prompted by rain, Dingman said.

Breakdowns in the fleet of dump trucks cost crews productivity and forced the department to contract for that heavy equipment to keep projects moving, she said.

"The goal is to push forward with a number of these things so we can get out of crisis mode," she said.

Commissioner Rick Vest asked whether all 18 of the department's buildings were needed.

Dingman said her department would like to study that, but some don't have heat or air conditioning or were built without bathrooms.

"We've used as much duct tape and baling wire as we can," she said.

County commissioners will continue hearing budget presentations from departments in the weeks ahead.

The county's next fiscal year begins in July, but the County Board won't finalize the budget until late August.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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