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Towns steering clear of Rock County plowing

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GINA R. HEINE
December 17, 2010

Fewer towns want Rock County crews plowing snow from their roads.


Three more towns this winter started managing their own snowplowing after rejecting plowing and road maintenance contracts offered by the county.


That means seven of Rock County’s 20 towns no longer have contracts with county public works, and at least two more towns are talking about leaving.


Money was the main reason the town of Porter left this fall, while service was the main factor in the town of Union and town of Center, town officials said.


The changes are a concern not just for the county budget but also for staffing and infrastructure, said Ben Coopman, Rock County public works director.


“I think overall there’s some economy of scale,” he said. “By the county/town sharing responsibilities, (we) don’t have to have duplicate infrastructure.”


Contracting with the county provides flexibility when people are sick or on vacation and when equipment breaks down, he said.


But town of Porter officials anticipate savings after leaving the county. Officials in the town of Center and town of Union hope contracts with private vendors will bring better service.


Leaving the county contract, they said, also allows more flexibility in summer, when under the county contract towns are required to spend a minimum amount on maintenance with the county.


The county continues to plow all county roads and state and federal highways in all townships. The changes only affect the plowing of town roads.


The contract

The towns of Beloit and Turtle for years have owned their equipment and had their own employees plow snow. The towns of Bradford and Johnstown left the county contracts in recent years, Coopman said.


Rock County initially proposed increasing the per-mile snowplowing charge from $850 this year to $925 next year, an increase of nearly 9 percent. After talks with town officials, Coopman said the county cut next year’s charge to $885 per mile.


To replace county snowplows, the town of Porter signed a three-year contract with MuniRoad Serv in Cooksville, town Supervisor Phil Hamilton said.


He estimated the town will save $15,000 to $18,000 next year, but the savings could grow.


In addition to snowplowing, each town that contracts with the county also must spend a minimum amount on routine maintenance with the county, Coopman said. The town of Union, for example, was expected to spend $91,500 on summer maintenance work, such as mowing, pothole patching, seal coating and paving, he said.


That component of the contract provides summer work for snowplow drivers and helps towns get needed work done, he said, making it a “way to balance our workforce and be efficient.”


Hamilton, a town of Porter supervisor and president of the Rock County Towns Association, said the county can’t compete on price for summer work, and he cited bids on a culvert project as an example. The county bid for the culvert work came in at $26,000, while two bids from private contractors were about $12,000 and $14,000, he said. Even so, under the county contract the town sometimes had to choose the higher county bid.


The town of Porter is now free to accept any bid from other contractors for summer work, Hamilton said.


The town of Union bought its own snowplow and has a part-time employee plow in subdivisions. The town contracted with Footville Trucking to plow straight roads. The changes allow the town to continue plowing when the county pulls its plows off the roads, town Chairman Kendall Schneider said.


“We didn’t even have a paddle. We were up a creek without even having a paddle,” he said. “Now we’ve got some other means to keep people open.”


In the town of Center, officials decided to leave the county contract after a citizen committee studied the issue after complaints about plowing, town Chairman Wayne Udulutch said. The town is in a three-year contract with Footville Trucking for snowplowing and roadside mowing, he said.


Impact on county

Years ago, the county didn’t charge towns to plow town roads. Coopman estimates it was in 2003 when the county board instituted a per-mile contract. The rate started at $400 a mile, and the county has tracked its costs, usually showing a loss.


The rate per mile has increased each year, but the county still doesn’t recover its costs, Coopman said. Only once in the six years did was the county take in slightly more than it spent plowing town road. The other years combined for hundreds of thousands of dollars in red ink, he said.


About one-third of the county public works highway budget is from town contracts, he said.


The county generally has one plow and driver in each township, except in more urban townships, where another driver might be split between two townships, he said.


With three fewer townships to plow, the county has three fewer drivers this winter, he said.


Retirements and resignations prevented layoffs, and three trucks probably will be sold or traded in during the next equipment sale, he said.


It’s not the county’s goal to lose more towns, even though some towns seem to be thinking that, he said.


“Hopefully we can continue to explain things and hear one another’s points of view,” he said.



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