2007-01-18 / Front Page

'Doing More With Less' Is Focus as Yearly Road Budget Is Trimmed

By Ryan Schlehuber

The Mackinac County Road Commission will rely on contracted service work and savvy spending to meet its budget in 2007, as state and federal funding, its main source of funding, continues to drop. The threeperson board approved its 2007 budget Thursday, December 28, with revenue expected to be $10,298,797 and expenditures of $10,298,172, leaving $625 at the end of the year.

Although this year's budget is similar to last year's, some $4.8 million in state and federal funding is down $250,000 from last year, said Manager Craig Kelso. The commission's gas tax revenue has shrunk by an estimated $87,000 since 2004, as well, from $2.27 million to $2.14 million, leaving Mr. Kelso to lean more on township road jobs and contracting for state work during the summer, rather than to work on county roads.

Much of the Road Commission's summer work includes pavement marking, lawn care, road clean-up, and state-initiated road projects, such as reconstructing local bridges, cleaning ditches, and brushing roadsides.

Other sources of income include contracted work with townships. Some townships have road millages that generate money for road improvements and construction, and the Road Commission has a county-wide match program that provides $30,000 to each participating township for road improvements and gravel.

"Road improvement work is carrying us right now," said Mr. Kelso. "If it weren't for the summer projects, we would not make payroll. We have to do more with less, and work smarter."

The Road Commission, which has garages in Hessel and Engadine and administrative offices in St. Ignace, is responsible for maintaining 650 miles of county and 78 miles of state roads in one of the longest counties in the state, spanning approximately 110 miles from east to west. About 35 full-time and part-time road commission employees serve 11 townships. It does not receive any operational money from local property taxes.

Members of the Road Commission are Lester Livermore, Paul Amacher, and newly elected Commissioner Frank Luepnitz, who replaced John Duncan at the beginning of the year.

Mr. Kelso has reduced winter maintenance service for the past two years, keeping road plowing to a minimum, and avoiding overtime work. So far, he has been able to avoid cutting staff. Little snow so far has necessitated little plowing.

"We still have our weekend shifts, but we do not do any more weekend plowing than we have to, unless we get a significant amount of snowfall," said Mr. Kelso. "We try to take care of any slick roads or frosty patches on roads as best as we can during our regular hours."

A mild winter with little or no snowfall has allowed the Road Commission to get ahead on some road projects that would otherwise not be started until June or July, such as removing tree roots from gravel roads and cleaning ditches. The Road Commission also got a jump on the cross culvert (underground water drain pipes) replacement project near M-134 on Mackinac Trail.

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