Washtenaw County Road Commission mulls $1.4 million more in service cuts
Washtenaw County road officials are considering nearly $1.4 million worth of service reductions combined with a new prioritization of spending to steer through tough times, but first they want feedback from the public.
The Road Commission sent out a notice Wednesday to township supervisors and other key stakeholders, requesting public comment on a list of about a dozen service level adjustments that could affect road services throughout the county. The proposals call for townships to pitch in more for some services the Road Commission currently provides.
“What we're trying to do is look beyond 2010 and anticipate 2011 and 2012. And in so doing, we need to put some things in place now so we don't get caught in a real bad situation,” said David Rutledge, chairman of the Road Commission. “We're just simply asking local units to share with us some of the pain. There's going to be pain.”
The county’s three-member board identified the proposed cuts - along with some service enhancements - after a series of five working sessions.
Steven Puuri, managing director of the Road Commission, said the agency is making its best attempt to prioritize services as costs climb and revenues decrease. He said it's clear some services need to be reduced or eliminated, while others should be enhanced - which is why the agency is proposing a new roadside drainage improvement program.
Most of the changes wouldn't go into effect until Jan. 1, though reductions in snow removal services on nights and weekends could happen later this year. The Road Commission is proposing reductions in overtime spent clearing snow on subdivision and gravel roads.
“We will still clear those roads on straight time, but the whole idea is on weekends, if we don't have a 4-inch snowstorm, we will just be out clearing the primary roads, the freeways, and then we would call it a day,” Puuri said.
Puuri said the Road Commission's challenges can be traced to the Michigan Transportation Fund, a statutory revenue stream built up from the state's gas tax and registration fees, which road commissions rely on to maintain roads. Washtenaw County is expecting this year's allocation to be roughly equal to the amount it received in 2001, about $15.9 million. Five years ago, MTF revenues to Washtenaw County totaled $17.6 million.
Road Commission officials are bracing for the possibility that MTF revenues could decrease by 5 percent each year through 2012. Meanwhile, costs for routine maintenance have nearly doubled in the last decade, according to Puuri.
The county Road Commission is responsible for maintaining more than 1,600 miles of roads, the majority of which are rated in poor condition.
“The overall trend is the roads are degrading faster than there's money to improve them,” Puuri said. “So we're not taking the poor roads and moving them to good, or taking the fair roads and moving them to good, as fast as they're going in the other direction.”
Road officials say the state's fuel tax for roadway maintenance has not increased since 1997. Michigan has one of the lowest fuel taxes in the country at 19 cents per gallon, while surrounding states such as Ohio and Wisconsin are at 28 cents and 30 cents, respectively.
With the help of federal stimulus funding, the Road Commission is expecting to complete some type of maintenance work on nearly 110 miles of roads this year in Washtenaw County. That's a robust year, but they're mostly short-term fixes, Puuri said.
The Board of Road Commissioners is expected to take action on the proposed service adjustments sometime in October. Comments are being taken by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org through Sept. 25.
Also being discussed is the possibility of further staffing level reductions. The Road Commission, with a hiring freeze in place since 2006, has seen its work force drop from 156 to 138 in the last two years through attrition.
A majority of the Road Commission's employees are under collective bargaining agreements through the Teamsters and AFSCME labor unions. The AFSCME contract was settled earlier this year with the union agreeing to no pay increases through 2011.
Ryan Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at (734) 623-2529 or email@example.com.
PROPOSED SERVICE LEVEL ADJUSTMENTS
The following service level adjustments are being proposed by the Washtenaw County Road Commission. Public comments are being accepted.
• Limit overtime snowplow response on local roads: In 2006, the Road Commission established a 3-inch snow depth threshold for authorizing overtime on subdivision and gravel roads. A 4-inch threshold is being proposed now. Estimated savings: $50,000.
â€¢ New drainage program for local roads: Road Commission officials say there's a pent-up need for improving drainage along roads, and so they're proposing establishing a new drainage matching program for townships, using savings realized from other adjustments to assist with non-curbed road drainage improvements. No cost listed.
â€¢ New tree removal program for local roads: Establish new tree removal program where private contractors would be permitted to remove trees on local roads to then market the wood. The program would be implemented on a township basis and any contractors or individuals who want to participate in tree removal would be required to secure a permit. Estimated savings: $375,000.
â€¢ Reduce street sweeping: Reduce the number of sweeping cycles the Road Commission would pay for to two complete cycles of all curbed roads. Estimated savings: $34,000.
â€¢ Reduce sign maintenance on local roads: Reduce the number of signs maintained by the Road Commission to only those statutorily required or to address safety concerns on local roads. Estimated savings: $175,000.
â€¢ Pavement marking on local roads: Reduce amount of pavement marking maintained by to only what is statutorily required or to address safety concerns on local roads. Estimated savings: $25,000.
â€¢ Local road overlay special matching fund: Eliminate the special overlay matching program for non-subdivision local roads. All local roads would be subject to the eligibility conditions provided in the standard local road matching program. Estimated savings: TBD.
â€¢ Road widening projects: Require all local costs for future primary road widening projects be funded with money other than Michigan Transportation Fund revenue. A township could redirect local road matching funds to a primary road widening project. Estimated savings: $400,000.
â€¢ Road reconstruction projects: Require all local costs for future primary road reconstruction projects that are not supported by asset management criteria to be funded with money other than MTF revenue. A township could elect to redirect local road matching funds to a primary road reconstruction project. Estimated savings: $50,000.
â€¢ Road preventative maintenance: Place a high priority on future primary road preventative maintenance projects, which could be funded with MTF revenue. A township could elect to redirect local road matching funds to a primary road preventative maintenance project.
â€¢ Local road culvert projects: Require 50 percent participation from sources other than MTF revenue for all future local road culvert projects that require an MDEQ permit. A township could elect to fund the other 50 percent with new drainage matching program or the standard matching funds. Estimated savings: $250,000.
â€¢ Intersection improvement projects: Intersection improvement projects will continue to be considered through the Road Commission's capital improvement project selection process and funded with MTF revenue. A township could elect to redirect local road matching funds to a primary road intersection improvement project.