This past summer, when the city of Wheaton wanted to repave two half-block stretches of street near Broadway Avenue, they were surprised to find that the private company they’d normally hire had sent its paving or “milling” machines to the oil fields in western North Dakota.
“We literally could not get the machines in this area to do that work,” says Jamie Beyer, administrator for Wheaton, a city of 1,500 near the South Dakota border. “It’s driving the price up. When the (state government) shutdown happened, the equipment moved to North Dakota.”
Trying to keep taxes down in a time of tightening budgets, Wheaton hasn’t been doing much road repair to begin with. “We’ve cancelled most of our projects,” says Beyer, who also serves as city clerk, treasurer and airport manager. In the long run, she says, “The infrastructure crumbles and it’s more costly to have to completely reconstruct a road than repair it. It’s very troubling for us.”
So when the city received an estimate for paving the two half-block stretches that topped $76,000–it recently paid less than that to pave three full blocks–it chose to put the project off.
In a small city like Wheaton, $76,000 is a lot of money, says Beyer. “That is the cost of having the swimming pool for the year. The library for the year. The fire department for the year. We have been at bare bones for a while now.”