Trustees scale back chip and seal program

CALCUTTA-Due to a lack of funding and continued rising costs, St. Clair Township Trustees have reduced the number of township roads and miles included in the county’s annual chip and seal program.

At Tuesday’s meeting, it was reported the township will chip and seal only 2.03 miles of township roads, instead of the 8.18 miles proposed at a meeting last month. Also reduced was the number of roads included in the program. Trustees had originally slated six roads to be included, but Tuesday said the township only will be able to chip and seal one – Birch Road.

“Unfortunately, we have come to a crossroads with the chip and seal program,” said Robert Swickard, trustee chairman. “Every year it seems because of the rising cost, we had to do less and less.”

He said the trustees’ decision to reduce the scope of the yearly chip and seal program was difficult, but necessary. Much of the problem, he said, stems from the rising cost of the program as well as ever-shrinking state funding.

Swickard explained in past years, township Road Foreman Scott Barrett had stockpiled extra materials to save money and allow the township to chip and seal a greater distance of roadway, but the stockpile now is depleted, leaving trustees with no choice but to scale back the program.

“If we do the 8 miles of roadway that was first suggested, we would not be able to fix anybody’s road for the rest of the year-we would be flat out of money for road repair,” Swickard said.

Faced with the option of not having a chip and seal program versus having a greatly-reduced one, trustees decided to target the township roadway that is in the worst condition-Birch Road.

The township road department operates on a yearly budget of about $500,000, according to trustees. Road crews maintain more than 70 miles of township roadway and, according to trustees, do a great job of stretching their current funding.

“Our road department works off of a $500,000 budget, which for 70 miles is nothing,” said Trustee James Hall. “You just cannot imagine the expense to run a road department. If it weren’t for our road crew employees, we would have spent even more money on repairs. They’ve been very efficient in repairing our equipment.”

Barrett told trustees that when he took over as road foreman, the department was chip and sealing about 17 miles of road a year, but that distance has steadily decreased with each season. Trustees say that aside from meager funding, rising costs are a major factor in the program’s steady decline.

“If we we’re to do that same 17 miles again and compare (with past years), cost has escalated by over two-thirds,” said Trustee James Sabatini. “So we reduce the mileage and reduce the mileage, and it still isn’t enough to keep up with the cost of things. If anything that’s what has changed the most.”

Trustees say that perhaps the only way they could restore the program to its original scale in the future is to pass a road levy, which they note has never happened in the history of the township. Voters most recently turned down a 2-mill, 5-year levy in last year’s November elections.

“We’re not crying wolf here,” said Hall. “We really need to take a hard look at trying to get a levy passed – that way we can get back to our original (distance).”