Snow plowing breaks St. Joseph budget; road projects in jeopardy
By Chuck Nowlen
Winter wreaked havoc with St. Joseph Township’s snow-plowing budget this year, leaving the Town Board in a quandary over spring street sweeping and planned summer road-improvement projects.
Town Chair Dan Gavin reported at the board’s April 10 meeting that 2014 snow-plowing costs to date totaled about $176,000, $91,000 more than the $85,000 that was budgeted.
“And, by the way, that $85,000 figure also includes next November and December when it snows,” Gavin explained.
“It wasn’t necessarily the amount of snow we had this year; it was the number of snow events we had. They occurred on so many different days this year, and we still have one more (plowing) bill for this month to pay.”
Meanwhile, the town budgeted about $175,000 for 2014 maintenance projects on local roads damaged by the snowy weather and normal wear-and-tear.
In February, for example, the Town Board started the bidding process for crack-sealing and seal-coating maintenance on 12 local streets: 122nd, 125th, 130th and 138th avenues; 24th, 30th, 31st and 33rd streets; Heritage Trail, Pioneer Circle, Settler’s Way and Thiesen Farm Trail.
The plowing budget overrun leaves only about $70,000 for that project alone, and Town Engineer Lee Mann reported a low bid of $79,175. The town had hoped that opening the bidding process early in the year might prompt lower bids, but all of them were higher than expected, Mann said.
Board member Tom Spaniol added that a spring review of roadways could reveal even more serious damage than anticipated.
Reserves not an option
Using town budget reserves to make up the snow-plowing overrun doesn’t appear to be an option, Gavin added. The town ended 2013 with about $450,000 in reserves, but a final payment needs to be made for roadwork on 140th Street, leaving only about $220,000.
“And that figure falls right on the line where the state wants you to be where reserves are concerned –- about 20 percent of our total town budget,” Gavin said. “So there’s not a lot left to spend on roads right now. The question as we move forward is how to spend what we have wisely. And it might be reasonable to wonder if maybe we can’t do any major road projects at all.”
About $230,500 in planned 2014 town road improvements including the 12-street sealing project and later work on Oakwood Lane and Walsh Road were given short-term priority under a new six-year Pavement Management Plan approved by the board in March. That figure too, however, was also over budget by about $55,000.
The board delayed action on the 12-street crack-sealing and seal-coating bid, pending a Town Hall review of 2014 road conditions and budget options.
“We hope that at our May meeting, we’ll have a more complete list of sealing projects we’re going to do this summer,” Gavin said.
The board did, however, unanimously approve a scaled-back plan for spring road sweeping in St. Joseph Township.
“We’ve got to save money,” Gavin explained. “It’s not something we want to do. We’re just looking at the budget.”
Instead of undertaking normal town-wide sweeping this year, only nine main roads will be targeted, at least until the budget mess is resolved. Those roads are: River Road, Valley View, Rolling Hills, 60th Street, 132nd Street, Birch Park, 122th Street, Perch Lake and 25th Street.
Other board action
In other action at last week’s meeting, the board unanimously approved tweaks and updates to the town’s 1982 large-event ordinance to accommodate the Tough Mudder team endurance race scheduled for July at Game Unlimited on County E.
The ordinance changes, which did not require a public hearing, include more flexibility in letter-of-credit requirements for Tough Mudder organizers in case of unforeseen costs, application filing deadlines and processing times, and maximum attendance limits.
Other issues, such as traffic control, parking, medical services and security, all appear to be covered by the existing ordinance, Town Attorney Catherine Munkittrick said.
The board also approved forwarding the following town concerns to the St. Croix Board of Adjustments when it considers Tough Mudder’s special-exemption permit application April 24:
--Options for a memorandum of understanding between the four jurisdictions affected by Tough Mudder: St. Joseph Township, the town of Hudson, Warren and St. Croix County.
--Determining exact jurisdiction boundary lines on and around the race course.
--Incorporating a list of Tough Mudder questions raised by the St. Joseph Plan Commission about such things as: the race’s impact on wetlands, race-site construction oversight, alcohol and picnic licensing, rest-room distribution and possible effects on fire and EMS response.
--Options for including the county’s new Shoreland Overlay District Plan into Tough Mudder planning.
--Compliance with all applicable town and state Department of Natural Resources regulations.
--The ability to access emergency and fire-rescue services.