While we've only had a few snowflakes this year, road commissions across the area are already gearing up for the real winter.
The Kent County Road Commission sent about six trucks out on the roadways Monday night to spread salt on a few bridges and overpasses due to the light snow showers. The budget for Kent County for road maintenance, repair, and snow removal is more than 22 million dollars. About one third of that goes to manpower while the remainder is equipment and materials.
With the mild winter and low snow totals we had during the 2011-2012 season, Kent County had a budget surplus of 1.7 million dollars. Unfortunately, that money cannot be saved. Only a portion can perhaps go into a rainy day fund, but much of it must be spent in the same budget year (October to September). In many cases across each county, the money is used during the summer months for road repair and resurfacing. Kent County normally repairs and resurfaces about 60 to 70 miles of roadway, but this year was able to tackle 133 miles.
The story is similar in Muskegon County. Their annual budget of nine million dollars had a carryover of 710,000 dollars due to the mild winter last year and the reduced need for roadway salt. They too, used the extra funds for road restoration and repair in the warmer summer months. Muskegon County generally uses about 16,000 tons of salt in an average year, but only used 8,078 tons (about half) last year. Muskegon has about 44 vehicles for snow removal and about 50 percent have already been changed over to winter mode.
In Kent County, about 40 percent of their snow removal fleet of 100 vehicles has already been converted to winter maintenance from summer construction. Jerry Byrne, Director of Maintenance for Kent County says their price on salt per ton is approximately 63 dollars. Kent County generally uses about 40,000 tons in an average year.
Byrne says one major snowfall can have a serious impact on their budget. They can literally burn through 250,000 dollars in a single significant event. As an example, if the outside temperature is 20 degrees, they drop about 450 pounds of salt down a two-mile path. At a temperature of zero, it could take as much as 2,000 pounds to get the same melting effect.
Almost all of the funds that make up the budget in each county come from taxes in one way, shape, or form. In Kent County, vehicle registrations, purchasing a car, buying license plates, and filling your gas tank (gas tax) all help pay for the maintenance and upkeep of our roads on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.