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Southeastern Wisconsin counties to suffer under DOT cuts

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
October 22, 2009
— Plowing Walworth County roads could take up to two hours longer this winter or the county could lose all its summer road workers because of state road maintenance cuts, a county official said Wednesday.

The state contracts with counties to maintain state highways. In an effort to close Wisconsin’s budget shortfall, the state budgeted to pay counties almost 11 percent less than last year.


“This is not a responsible way to balance their budget,” Walworth County Public Works Director Shane Crawford said. “We have budget problems throughout the year, and we have a ton of state mandates that come through without any funding.


“We at the local level always find a way to deal with it.”


But this time, Crawford said, the county budget already has been set, and local officials have no flexibility to make up the $250,000 the state plans to take away.


Officials in Walworth, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties on Monday sent a letter to state Department of Transportation officials outlining two possible scenarios under the proposed cuts.


Under scenario No. 1, the seven-county region could cut up to 32.5 full-time winter positions—4.5 in Walworth County—taking the remaining employees up to two hours longer to plow roads that would normally take two to four hours.


Scenario No. 2 would keep winter staffing and evenly spread the cuts throughout the remaining seasons. That could result in an overall reduction of 64 full-time positions across the seven counties—13 in Walworth County, which would be all the county’s road workers.


“If you guys are telling me to do this cut on summertime, I’m not going to have any workers to do anything,” Crawford said.


The cuts come in the heels of a DOT decision this summer to reduce mowing along state highways.


At the time, David Vieth, director of the state Bureau of Highway Operations, said the department was not in a position to allow mowing “geared toward aesthetics and stewardship.”


He cited a 9 percent reduction in the bureau’s budget and the rising cost of salt—about $17 million more than last year—as reasons why the department cannot pay for mowing that doesn’t directly affect safety.


“Our budget situation hasn’t changed,” Vieth said Wednesday.


Vieth said winter maintenance will continue to be DOT’s priority to ensure road safety. But county appropriations are fixed for the next two years and the department doesn’t have the flexibility to move dollars to alleviate local struggles.


“The letter from the counties … is simply a reflection of the funds that have been provided to us in the state budget,” he said.



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