TO IMPROVE COUNTY ROADS
C-T June 19, 2017 - Back in April of this year, a plan to improve the county's long-term finances was approved by the voters. One of the provisions of that plan was to work with the 13 townships to improve the county roads as we had committed $200,000 a year of the tax increase. We also agreed to use up to an additional $50,000 a year to work in partnership with the City of Chillicothe to improve border roads that serve both the city and county, such as Litton Road.
The county won't start receiving the new sales tax money until the very end of this year, which means our funding of these programs will begin next year (2018). However, we do believe that it is important to get started on the improvements of the roads this year. Therefore, we have implemented a plan to get this process started. Since Livingston County has a township form of government, the county owns the roads, but the 13 townships in our county have the legal responsibility to maintain their roads. There are about 600 miles of roads in the county, so on average, each township has approximately 50 miles of roads - some are smaller and some larger. The townships are managed by board members who are elected by each of the township's voters, and each township has a dedicated property tax to help with this effort. Additionally, the county receives gas tax revenue from the state and federal government County Aid Road Trust (CART) rock money. Most of this money is disbursed on the basis of the road miles in each township for the purpose of purchasing rock for their roads. The remaining CART rock money is used in our Road and Bridge budget to fix and build bridges and other related road and bridge needs.
Township board members work long hours for negligible compensation. There are limits set by statue as to the size of their property tax assessment; and in practice, that leaves most of the townships with inadequate resources to do their job as well as they would like. (Chillicothe Township is an exception in that it has revenue from a much larger tax base and can therefore afford more staff, more equipment and more rock.) Most of the townships have a used motor grader operated by a part time, and in many cases retired, motor grader operator. But their funds aren't sufficient, even with their CART rock money, to put down as much rock as needed to adequately rock all their roads.
LIVINGSTON COUNTY'S PLAN: Our plan to assist the townships with their roads can only go so far, but we believe it will help, particularly over time. As a condition for CART rock money, the county has always had a contract with the township that includes a condition that we inspect the roads before their rock is put down. Last year, in an effort to improve county roads, we began a process that would require each township to maintain one mile of road to a higher standard. This year, to continue that process, we have asked the townships for another two miles in addition to maintaining last year's one mile. The county's definition of a higher standard basically means that we require good drainage ditches to be dug deep enough to carry excess water off roads, that the road is crowned in the center to accepted road standards, and that excess dirt and debris from the ditches be moved off the road. Good drainage is essential to a good road and ditches and proper crowning is necessary for this to happen.
Our County's Road & Bridge crew will inspect these two miles of road this year and each of the added required miles in future years to ensure that the roads are done to the standards required. Our thoughts are that if we require this higher standard on two additional miles of road each year, the roads will improve significantly over time. This amounts to a total of 26 miles yearly (13 townships times 2 miles). We aren't micromanaging the townships, but the county owns the roads, and we are asking for accountability in order to better serve the people of each township.
When the new funds come in, our preliminary plan is to use $100,000 of the $200,000 to reimburse the townships for the cost of this higher standard (i.e. motor grader operator time, dirt hauling cost, and rock for this two miles or alternately hiring someone to this for them). This would amount to $7,692 per township for this two-mile improvement.
Additionally, the county's Road & Bridge crew currently purchases and installs drainage tubes over two feet in diameter for the townships. Our plan calls for us to use the remainder of that $200,000 to purchase and install smaller drainage tubes as necessary which will save the townships time and money. If a township doesn't need as many of these tubes, we could possibly make available half of that amount ($3846) to purchase additional rock. There may be some years (with flooding) that might require all of this money for tubes. But in other years, they may not need as many tubes and could then use some of the money for additional rock. This hasn't all been finalized - but that is a direction we are leaning.
We are also requiring that the townships put their CART rock on their roads by October 31. This gives the rock a chance to be worked into the road before cold and winter occurs. In an unusual weather year, this may not be possible. But in most years, it will optimize rock usage.
The net benefit to each township should be an additional $15,384 of funds or services to improve the two miles of road to the higher standard, to improve drainage with additional tubes, and to provide additional rock money. Although each township's CART rock money varies based on their specific road miles, the current average existing CART rock disbursement to each township is $24,230. This additional $15,384 starting next year will be on average an increase funding for county roads of 64%.
This whole process has required considerable discussion with the each of the townships to explain our thinking. We want to partner with them to help make roads better for the people. Although we do have requirements on these funds to insure accountability for all of us, we have made it clear that our goal is not to catch them in non compliance, but to encourage them to meet a certain standard, and to help them do that with some significant additional funding. I would like to thank the township boards for their willingness to work with us and share with us their input. We cannot promise that county roads will be perfect, but we do think we can gradually improve our roads so that over time there should be a noticeable difference.