Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 8, 2014

Kalkaska down to bare bones county crews

KALKASKA — Nine workers are all that Kalkaska County can marshal this summer against potholes, cracks, bumps and other maintenance issues that may arise on its 851 miles of county roads.

Kalkaska County Road Commission Manager John Rogers said limited finances, a harsh and costly winter, a seasonal layoff and a wave of resignations and retirements effectively halved his road crew. He'd prefer to have at least 12 full-time workers for the summer.

"At this time, finances won't allow it," he said. "That's providing the bare minimum of service."

The road commission's financial state will soon fall into Kalkaska County voters' hands after commissioners approved placing a five-year, 1-mill road millage request on the county's Aug. 5 ballot.

Commissioner David Gill said the road commission's nine-worker summer isn't a backdoor tactic to drum up support for the millage. Instead, it's a symptom of a long-standing financial struggle.

"It's not unique to Kalkaska; it's the same all over," he said. "As the funding remained static, our costs have increased."

Gill said the millage money would allow officials to be more "proactive" and perform more preventative repairs on Kalkaska County's roads.

Rogers said there's only about $200 per-mile to pay for maintenance materials like pothole patch, gravel, pavement marking and signs. He said keeping fewer road workers during the summer frees more money for those materials, but causes a "Catch-22" situation in which there's no one to perform fixes on decaying roads.

"It's a fine balance of having the right material, having the right equipment and having the right amount of employees," Rogers said. "We know our roads are bad, we just don't have the money to fix it."

Rogers said he's not filling positions for four workers who recently resigned or retired. He's doing the same for five temporary workers hired for winter road maintenance and plowing, which means they're "laid off, for lack of a better term" until next winter.

Road commission officials typically hire more workers for winter than summer. Rogers said last June there were 11 road workers.

"This isn't new to the road commission," Rogers said. "The new part is the communication to the public so they're aware."

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