The harshest winter in nearly four decades is putting a squeeze on the Starke County Highway Department’s road repair budget. Superintendent Rik Ritzler told the county commissioners his drivers spent 94 days plowing more than 150,000 miles. They also logged 35,000 more miles in support roles. “We used over 44,500 gallons of diesel and a lot of gasoline,” Ritzler said. “We did not run out of salt or sand, as many local agencies did. As a result, we did not have to pay the premium prices for added material. Our salt cost was $48 per ton throughout the winter. The counties that had to get extra had to get it for over $200 a ton, so we were lucky there.”
Ritzler says the Starke County Highway Department will be able to absorb the overtime and fuel costs in the existing budget. “We did have a cushion built in. Unfortunately the pillow is now gone. We have no extra money. We were hoping to use that extra money to add to the road improvement program and to make that where we could improve the roads. We’re not going to be able to do that now without added funds. That’s the greatest effect. It’s going to affect our road program a little bit. We’ll still be able to stay at a maintaining level that we did last year, but we won’t be able to get to an improvement level,” Ritzler said.
The initial 2014 road improvement recommendation list contained 191 miles of improvements at a cost of nearly $1.4 million. A combination of state-mandated budget cuts and winter snow removal costs slashed that to 138 miles of improvements at a cost of $750,000. Ritzler says some of the major improvements were also downgraded due to a lack of money.