Without more funding, the Montgomery County Highway Department will continue to fall woefully behind in maintaining the county’s network of roads.
That is the message highway director Jake Lough brought to members of the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday.
“Like I tell my guys, the community is the heart and the roads are the veins,” he said. “You usually don’t have a heart attack in the heart, you have a heart attack in the veins, and that’s where we are at.”
Lough estimates the department needs an additional $2.5 million in its annual budget to adequately maintain the 500 miles currently in the county’s network, purchase supplies and equipment and hire employees.
Lough told the council his current budget, which includes $270,480 for chip seal covers just 4% of the network, and the department should really be covering 14.4% (or 72 miles) each year. The cost increase would amount to $703,248. Its cold mix paving currently amounts to 8 miles or 1.6% of the network and costs $472,736. In the future those numbers need to be closer to 25 miles or 5% of the network, which would be an increase of $1,004,564, Lough said.
As for hot mix, Lough hopes the county will continue to maximize the $1 million awarded by the state’s Community Crossing matching grant and that the local match continue to come from funds outside of the county highway budget. This allows the highway department to increase its chip sealing and paving projects.
Lough added the county also needs to increase its crack seal efforts and suggested the department should be doing 20 miles per year at a cost of $105,600. Currently, there is no money in the budget for that work.
Of the 500 miles in the county network, 300 miles are gravel. Lough said he currently spreads gravel on 39 miles or 12% of the network a year at a cost of $100,000. In the future, he believes gravel should be spread on 150 miles 0r 50% of the network at a cost increase of $285,605.
Lough also outlined the department’s equipment replacement plan, explaining that the average life of equipment is 14 years and some of the equipment still being used today at the department ranges from the late 1980s to early 1990s. The department also is using a 1965 asphalt plant.
As for employees, in 2000 the department had about 50 employees. Today it has 33 employees and three openings, but Lough estimates he needs to add four more employees.
Lough added that the department has taken many cost-saving measures, including picking up and storing materials, keeping and organizing inventory on shop supplies, transitioning from gas to diesel and ordering diesel exhaust fluid in bulk.
“We’re maximizing every penny that we can to get better roads,” he said. “We don’t like patching a road 18 times either, but that’s what we have to do.”
Councilman Mark Smith said local leaders have been focused on growing the county, and quality roads are important.
“We want to grow this community and have more people move in, but they’re going to say why would I want to move to Montgomery County if your roads are so terrible,” Smith said.
Councilman Gary Booth agrees that good roads are important, but he also believes the state should do more, especially when it comes to divvying up its surplus to the 92 counties.
“I wouldn’t mind giving up my $200 (inflation relief payment) if we could get better roads,” Booth said.
Another way to fund the highway department could come by way of an increase in the wheel tax. Councilman Tom Mellish suggested the council review the county’s current rate and consider an adjustment.
“It won’t make up the total amount we need, but maybe it will help us put a band-aid on it for now,” he said.
In other business, the council reviewed various funding scenarios for county-wide emergency medical services. No action was taken Tuesday, however, the council did agree to conduct a special meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at the government center to review their options.
Other council meetings planned for later this month include the annual budget sessions on Aug. 23 and 24.
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