April 10, 2014

Winter leaves roads in tough shape

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By Whitney Bunn
Ingham County Chronicle staff writer

With this season’s whale of a winter, county commissioners have had to deal with the county’s roads on top of their regular responsibilities.

Last year, Ingham County eliminated its independent road commission, opting to absorb the county’s road duties into its own agenda.

In February of 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation allowing a county’s government to absorb their county road commissions with the hope that this plan would bring efficiency and accountability to local governments.

At the time the bill was signed, Michigan had 81 county road commissions – nearly half were not accountable to the county government.

Ingham County became one of the first counties in the state to absorb its previously independent road commission.

A very mild winter greeted the bill in its first year of adoption. Now in its second year, the severity of winter has struck without relent, and the Ingham County Board of Commissioners is facing the reality of winter and its side effects on county roads.

Under the supervision of the Board of Commissioners, Bill Conklin oversees all activities within the road department in Ingham County as the managing director.

Responsible for the “design, construction and maintenance of the county road system,” Conklin said this winter “has been hard on [his] workers.”

“Our crews have been out plowing and salting virtually every day since before Christmas,” Conklin said. “(We’re) out every day from the early morning till it’s done.”

County Commissioner for District 1 Victor Celentino said, “This has been more of a challenging winter than we’ve had in the past, especially since we’ve had (many) weekend storms.”

Because of the multitude of weekend storms, employees work to clear the roads on overtime. The costs of paying overtime to workers combined with those for salt have had a major effect on the department’s budget.

“If you have a bad winter like we’re having now where there just seems to be one snowstorm after another, then you use up your budget. You use up your appropriations,” said Celentino.

According to Conklin, the department has used more than half of its budget for winter maintenance. Five months are accounted for when drafting the budget for wintertime care.

If the winter budget is expended, the road department will be forced to use funds for summer projects including resurfacing and upkeep on county roads. Conklin and Celentino regard this as a last resort option.

Celentino, an original opponent of the idea, thinks the absorption of the road commission into the county commission has been positive. “As someone who didn’t support it… I’m glad to see we’re working hard to make it work,” he said.

“…From a citizen’s point of view, there hasn’t been any change. We still do our jobs the same way,” said Conklin.