IRON RIVER—During its regular monthly meeting here Oct. 8, Iron County’s Road Commission agreed to consider hiring part-time employees next summer to help maintain county roads.
The condition of some unpaved roads prompted Commissioner Ernest Schmidt to raise the idea. Schmidt said the commission had earlier discussed the county’s problems of not having enough time and workers to put gravel on roads.
“Our gravel roads are in very bad shape,” he added.
Schmidt said the Road Commission can’t afford to hire a full-time employee. “What I would like to see is temporaries—winter and summer.”
The winter (November-April) and summer (May to October) crews would give the Road Commission “enough temporaries that we can keep the graders running full-time.”
The Road Commission already uses temporary workers during winter. They start around Dec. 1 and work into early May, plowing and sanding roads during winter and helping with road work, such as patching, in spring.
But the Road Commission has plenty to do during summer, too, and not a lot of time to complete a long list of projects, along with keeping unpaved roads in shape.
Schmidt said he’s not sure whether enough qualified workers can be found. “But if we took one summer and kept the graders running full-time, we could shape every gravel road around here—put them back in shape.”
The gravel roads need help, he said, because some of the crowns are inverted. “There are berms at the sides of the roads, and the water is running straight down the middle, taking all the sand out.
“We’ve got to do something with these roads,” he said. “We’ve got the machinery to do it. We just don’t have the manpower. So it would be foolish to subcontract that out.” He proposed hiring four men—two for each side of the county.
Road Superintendent Doug Tomasoski said the plan hinges on whether the Road Commission can find the right people. “It could work,” he said, “if we find qualified people who we are comfortable with running our equipment.”
Another concern, he said, is how many hours the temporaries could work before the Road Commission has to offer them insurance benefits under the new Affordable Care Act. “Other than that, I think it’s something to look at.”
Mark Tousignant, the board’s attorney, noted that because the Road Commission has fewer than 50 employees, it doesn’t fall under the Affordable Care Act, anyway. “A lot of exemptions come into play just being under that cap.”
Another concern is whether the Road Commission will be tempted to pull workers off the graders when a project suddenly comes up. “You can’t do that,” Schmidt said. “We’re going to have to leave them in there.
“It’s going to take a little longer if you’ve got a project, but keep the graders running.”
Commissioner Joe Sabol suggested that the board consider the idea over the next few months and make a decision over the winter.
“We can put it on the agenda and vote on it,” said Schmidt. “Then in spring, we can hit the ground running.”
• At the Road Commission’s September meeting, Trustee Ray Kudwa of Mastodon Township asked for an extensive breakdown of how much crack-filling had been done in each of the county’s townships over the last seven years. He said that some in his township felt Mastodon had been neglected.
Extensive statistics compiled by Tomasoski show that it’s not so. “It seems to me,” said Chairman Dan Germic after looking at the numbers, “that our resources are spread appropriately, based on the miles each township has.”
The stats show how many hours were spent crackfilling in each of the county’s seven townships over the last seven years, along with total hours, hours per year, percentage of total miles and percentage paved.
The stats show, for instance, that Mastodon Township only had the crackfilling machine for 14 hours this year—but 120 hours in 2012 and 93 hours in 2011. The seven-year average is 65.6 hours, the second highest average in the county. “Hopefully,” said the superintendent, “this answers a few questions.”
Kudwa seemed satisfied. “This gives me something I can take back to the township board and our residents,” he said.
• Attorney Tousignant suggested the Road Commission use a consultant as it plans for labor negotiations for the first time under the Affordable Care Act, looking at the county’s opportunities and obligations.
Secretary Darlene Anderson said the act won’t affect the Road Commission too much—it already has a health care plan for employees, and it would face no penalty because it employs fewer than 50 people.
But the general consensus among those at the meeting was that all the rules and limits could change a lot in the next few years. The Road Commission’s current labor agreement expires at the end of 2014.
• Tomasoski said there would not be a permanent patch in the Ski Brule area this fall. He said it would be done if the work can be tied into another job next year, but other agencies are too busy with work that has been delayed this summer. “We don’t know who would be able to do it now.”
• The agreement for the Heritage Trail has been sent by MDOT to Federal Highway Administration for its review. Everything is on hold now, he said, because of the federal budget shutdown.
• Crystal Falls Township Supervisor asked about speed limit enforcement in New Bristol Location—the township has asked for a speed study. He asked about the limit set by the state in residential areas—25 mph.
“Something has to be done,” Lesandrini said. “I’m getting complaints from residents, and I haven’t seen a speed study yet.”
Tomasoski said an officer can still write a ticket if he observes a driver going over 25 mph in a residential area—even if the limit is not posted.
• Officials from Mansfield and Mastodon townships said they have received many favorable remarks about road striping work recently down in their townships.
“They are a lot of people who are really happy with the striped road. I got a lot of comments on it, so thank you,” said Mansfield Township Supervisor Richard Dryjanski.
Kudwa said Mastodon Township may put stripes on its local roads and asked if the Road Commission could chip in for its primary roads: 424, Stager Lake, Tobin-Alpha and Camp Five.