Falling squarely under that public microscope is Don Rieger, one of three elected county commissioners. How he and his fellow commissioners spend the typically limited tax dollars is uniquely open in this eastern Montana county.
“Everyone knows how the commissioners are performing,” Rieger said. “And the number one item on everyone’s list is roads.”
That is not surprising in a county where road maintenance consumes more than 30% of the budget. While every ranch in the county can be reached via elevated and graded roads, they are unpaved and in need of constant attention from the county’s fleet of seven Caterpillar motor graders.
Fallon County’s network of roads (1,500 miles total and only 18 miles paved) may not be typical, but one fact ties the county closely to all governmental agencies—money is at a premium.
“We have to make the most of every dollar we spend,” said Rieger. “That’s why we buy all of our heavy equipment with a guaranteed maintenance and repair agreement and require the dealership to guarantee a firm buyback price on each machine.”
Those requirements fit hand and glove with a life-cycle costing program. The county knows its exact costs and is therefore able to budget more accurately and not worry about surprises.
In addition to the motor graders, the county maintains a fleet of 11 Cat machines for its landfill, gravel pit and road building. The county purchased all the Cat machines from their dealer located some 200 miles away in Williston, N.D. That distance puts a premium on machine reliability, especially with a county requirement for a replacement machine, if one is down more than 24 hours, plus an hourly penalty for additional down time after that.
“We haven’t had a machine down more than 24 hours since we started this program 15 years ago,” said Dale Rath, county road supervisor. The county changes fluids and takes oil samples from its Cat equipment. It stocks wear items and will handle any “small stuff.” But the county’s maintenance and repair agreements with their Cat dealer cover all other maintenance and repair work, and the dealer provides overnight service on parts.
Both Rieger and Rath echo that the decision to purchase Cat equipment with a life-cycle costing program was purely “an economic decision.”
Rieger points to low operating costs, no service cost, virtually no down time and, most important, the guaranteed buyback price received from their Cat dealer. “We put that money into a capital improvement fund and then pay cash for the new machines. Any agency can start this program with financing. After two or three rounds, they’ll be where we are: paying cash and receiving cash. It’s a great feeling.”