IRON RIVER—While not promising any hirings, the Iron County Road Commission will soon be advertising for summer temporary workers. That was the consensus during its Jan. 14 regular meeting.
The positions would be from April to September and would primarily be to free other Road Commission crewmen to work on improving unpaved roads during the summer.
During the Road Commission’s December meeting, Commissioner Ernest Schmidt made a motion to hire four seasonal employees, two on each side of the county. The board then tabled the motion to allow Superintendent Doug Tomasoski to compile information on what it would cost.
At last week’s meeting, Tomasoski said four temporary part-time employees for six months would cost “just under $75,000.” Adding in the cost of unemployment insurance (at $6,500 apiece), he said, the total cost would be just over $100,000.
Chairman Dan Germic noted that while Schmidt wants the temporary workers hired to improve gravel roads, other roads—he cited Robinson Lake Road—need more than grading. “That whole road needs to be ditched and culverts put in.
“Do we want to put money into putting a Band-Aid on these gravel roads instead of having them engineered right so they last for a while?”
“If you can get the crown back on these roads,” Schmidt said, “the water’s got a better chance of getting off it instead of running down the middle.”
Germic suggested a directive to Tomasoski that gravel roads be emphasized this summer, with the superintendent deciding how best to do that. “Maybe we don’t need four guys.”
The chairman also noted that while the Road Commission has four graders, it only has three grader operators on staff.
“I say, let’s leave it up to the foremen,” Schmidt said.
Tomasoski suggested he can advertise for “seasonal heavy equipment operators,” not specifying how many or how long, “and see what kind of people we get.”
“However you advertise it, I don’t care,” Schmidt said. “I only want to get the roads fixed. That’s the bottom line.”
Commissioner Joe Sabol said the commission’s foremen should set up priority lists for grading, as they already do for crack-filling, with crews working their way down the list. “Then I think we can catch up on some of our ditching and stuff like that.”
Commissioner Charles Battan worried about paying unemployment for six months for the temps. “To me, you’re throwing away $26,000. Can we afford to have four guys?”
Tomasoski said the temp workers can be let go at any time if they feel the program “isn’t working as hoped.”
Schmidt reminded the board that it doesn’t have to pay insurance for temporary workers—that could change next year, he said. “So we should try something this year in the summer. We do it all the time in the winter.
“We’ve got a skeleton crew right now. If they want to go with two, I don’t care. I just want something going on, just to replace our guys and put them in the graders.”
Because Chris Sholander, who seconded the motion in December, didn’t attend last week’s meeting, Schmidt couldn’t withdraw his motion to hire four temp workers.
Tomasoski suggested tabling the matter to February while advertising the jobs, and the board agreed. Some commissioners wondered how much interest the temporary jobs would draw.
• Another discussion about rural roads dealt with scarifying roads and the Road Commission’s policy for applying chloride.
In discussing Buck Lake Road in Mastodon Township, Trustee Raymond Kudwa said the township would pay 50 percent of the cost to put hot mix over the top in those area with a grader. That would give the road four or five years until funding could be possible.
But he added that the township will not put chloride on primary roads. That, he said, is the county’s responsibility.
Commissioner Battan suggested a policy that the Road Commission put chloride on any primary roads that it scarifies.
“To me,” Battan said, “it would be cheaper to buy a load of chloride than patching it over and over, and you can’t drive over it when you’re done anyway. That’s something we need to look into.”
Chloride not only cuts down dust in summer but also bonds road material much better, reducing the need for grading.
The commissioners agreed to discuss Battan’s idea again at its February meeting. Several township officials at the meeting said they get their chloride from Wisconsin sources because it’s less expensive than Michigan chloride.
• Township officials impatient with county plowing efforts on weekends had the Road Commission policy explained by Tomasoski.
Tomasoski said the snow over the previous weekend was 3 to 4 inches but was soft and fluffy. “You can move through that snow.”
The county did plow primary roads that get the most traffic but left it at that.
He said the decisions rests on the road foremen in each half of the county. One person is on call each weekend. If he decides the roads are unsafe or traffic can’t move, the plows go out.
• Tomasoski reminded the public about the policy on rural mailboxes damaged during snowplowing. If a county truck or equipment hits the mailbox, the Road Commission will replace it. If mailboxes are only hit by plowed snow and ice, it’s the homeowner’s responsibility.
• Sabol noted increased problems from private plows pushing snow onto highways. “I guess it’s really getting bad up in Houghton.”
Other commissioners were skeptical that the state will crack down on that. “I’ve heard that forever,” said one.
• The board agreed to purchase $11,787 of equipment for a used truck it recently bought.
The Road Commission bid $4,744 for the truck from MDOT’s Baraga garage, knowing in advance that it probably would need a new transmission and underbody. The transmission costs $5,065, and the underbody is $6,722.
Head mechanic Dean Stolberg said equivalent trucks are selling for $25,000 to $30,000, “without knowing the condition of them.” The Road Commission’s purchased truck, including repairs, cost it about $16,500.