URBANA – Champaign County Board member Greg Knott, R-rural St. Joseph, understands the importance of urban fringe roads.
"As someone who drives from a rural area into Urbana to work, I've benefited from improved fringe roads, Windsor Road specifically," he said.
But Knott also represents a rural district in southeast Champaign County that depends on county roads for its transportation needs.
So Knott was one of the more interested listeners Wednesday night during an unprecedented joint study session on fringe road funding involving the county board and the Urbana and Champaign city councils, held at the Urbana City Building.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing called the meeting to discuss the county board's decision in May to cap funding for fringe road projects at $1 million annually. That decision has deeply upset both cities, which have multimillion-dollar fringe road projects planned for Curtis Road, Windsor Road and other locations.
No breakthrough occurred at the meeting, but it was clear the sides came away with a better understanding of each other's positions and a willingness to continue talking.
Champaign County Engineer Jeff Blue said finance and engineering officials with the county and Champaign and Urbana plan to meet Oct. 27.
"We're just going to try and brainstorm to come up with some ways to fund these types of projects," he said. "Maybe we can come up with criteria for prioritizing these projects."
Blue gave a detailed presentation about why he recommended the funding cap, explaining that the county is committed contractually to pay for 50 percent of fringe road improvement projects involving Staley Road, Lierman Avenue, North Prospect Avenue, Curtis Road and Windsor Road that will cost the county $20.7 million between 2004 and 2012.
That fringe road spending, combined with improvements of rural county roads, would plunge what is now a $12 million fund balance into a $1 million deficit by as soon as 2008, without such a cap, Blue said.
Urbana and Champaign officials argued that they were not notified beforehand about the funding cap proposal and that it needs to be repealed.
"When we deal with things that will have an impact on another government, we should talk to them," said Champaign City Manager Steve Carter. "That wasn't done in this case."
City officials also said the county needs to drop its plans not to participate in future fringe road projects that aren't partially federally funded. They also asked that the cities and county work together to prioritize road projects.
Fairness was also put forward as an issue, with Urbana Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Walden noting that the Champaign, Urbana and Savoy residents provide about 65 percent of property taxes and motor fuel tax money that goes to the county, and should receive a fair share of road project funding.
The cities also entered into an agreement with the county in 1994 whereby the cities would share sales taxes with the county when they annex a county business and, in turn, the county would continue to fund arterial roads, Walden said, adding he believes the county is now in violation of that agreement.