Counties over winter road care budgets

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This relentless winter is more than a million dollars tougher than last, from the perspective of some West Michigan road commissions.

During the winter of 2012-2013, Muskegon County spent about $1.6 million clearing snow, about $937,000 the winter before that.  This year, county officials expect to spend nearly $3 million, according to Muskegon County Road Commission Managing Director Ken Hulka.

“This has definitely been the worst winter in the past dozen,” Hulka told 24 Hour News 8 over the phone Wednesday.  “It’s much, much tougher this year.”

That leaves very little for summer projects like filling potholes, which are expected to be a big problem once the snow melts in the spring.

“We’re not going to be able to do summer work,” Hulka went on to say.  “Our hard costs now are $2.2, $2.1 million. No matter how you cut it, there’s another month that we’re going to be doing winter type activities one way or another.”

Hulka anticipates the county will spend between $2.8 and $2.9 when all is said and done.

Allegan County is in a similar position, expecting to spend its entire winter budget — $2.65 million — by the end of February.  The road commission’s budget has to last until the end of 2014, meaning unless something changes, there likely won’t be any money to take care of the snow come November and December.  Managing Director Larry Brown said that will affect what the commission does over the summer and the budget will need to change.

Kent County is fairing a bit better.  Maintenance Director Jerry Byrne said it’s slightly over its $4 million winter budget, but as long as winter ends within the next 30 days, Kent County should be OK.

One issue for Kent County is state roads. The Michigan Department of Transportation contracts the county to plow state highways, at a cost of $3 million a year. The county has gone over that budget by more than a million dollars, Byrne said, but MDOT has told the road commission to keep plowing. That overage could impact the amount of money spent on state roads this summer.

MDOT budgets $88 million per year for winter maintenance across Michigan. The agency does keeps an additional 30% of that amount on hand — about $26 million — for bad winters like this one.

Muskegon County’s Hulka testified in front of the state Senate appropriations committee earlier this week, explaining to them why they should vote in favor of putting millions of dollars into the budget specifically for local road improvements.

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