BATAVIA — The Genesee County Highway Department has done as much as it can do to scale back spending and keep costs down.
In the proposed $5.79 million road fund budget for 2021, it has cut maintenance work to offset increases in retirement and medical costs, said Highway Superintendent Tim Hens.
In the road proposed 2021 machinery fund of $2.034 million, the department has no planned equipment purchases, but has some deferred purchases from this year.
“We’re really out of options at this point. It’s almost kind of like, which finger do you want to cut off your hand?” Hens told the county Public Service Committee Monday. “We’re at the point where, any further budget cuts for highway, we’re looking at dropping critical services like driveway installations for ditching. There’s just nothing left to get rid of. Even if I was to think about trying to privatize some of my department, you still have maintenance and capital expense.
“There’s just nothing left to cut, bottom line,” he said.
Hens said deferring maintenance projects will lead to higher costs down the road.
“Our needs over the next 10 years are $125 million. That’s pretty substantial for a county our size. We continue to struggle with the federal funding and competition that occurs with the state. The state’s trying to get their fair share of it. A lot of the federal aid is being directed at interstates and state highway/national highway system,” Hens said. “The rural (funding) set-aside that we rely on is getting smaller and smaller.”
County Highway counts on its relationships with towns, he said.
“We rely heavily on our relationships with our town highway superintendents for added trucking and labor and equipment on capital projects in the summertime and continued contract services with them in the wintertime. As you know, relationships with the towns have been strained, primarily over revenue,” he told the committee. “It’s no one’s fault, that’s just how it is. We’re dealing with that just as well as you are.”
Committee member Marianne Clattenburg asked how much the Highway Department will have in funding for roads and bridges from the sale of the county nursing home.
Hens said the last numbers he saw from Treasurer Scott German showed about $7 million or $7.5 million in reserves for infrastructure.
“Out of the $125 million over 10 years, how much would you say comes out of the county’s costs? What do you usually see as reimbursement?” Clattenburg asked.
Hens said, “If we actually get our share of federal aid, normally our (county) share is 5 percent, between airport and highway, which is the bulk of the capital plan. The crisis is the fact that we don’t always get the federal aid. I program two federal aid bridges a year and we don’t always get that (aid).”
Clattenburg asked how the county can get across to its congressmen and senators that the lack of a federal infrastructure plan and funding is a problem.
“They (congressmen and senators) need to stop fighting each other and start thinking about real problems that people are having in counties. We’re practical. We’ve been frugal. We’ve put the money away so we could do this work and now everything is stalled,” she said.
Committee Chairman Andrew Young said, “Why we’re not talking about an infrastructure bill at the federal level, I don’t get it. It would solve a lot of problems.”
Hens said the county has roughly 100 federal-aid bridges.
“They all have design lives on them of 50 to 75 years on them. Theoretically, just being general, you need to replace two bridges a year just to keep pace. Ten, 15 years ago, we were doing two a year. Now it’s like one every other year, so you start falling behind and you have this backlog,” Hens said. “Where we are, most of our bridges were built post-World War II, so they were all built in the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s.”
These bridges are at the end of their life span. The county has 40 or 50 bridges that need to be replaced and is getting funding for one or two every other year, the highway superintendent said.
“There’s just no way we’re going to keep up. When we did the Stroh Road bridge ... it sat on the federal program, on and off, for 10 years. It had holes in the deck that you could look down and see the water through. We were getting ready to close the bridge,” he said. “We used $1.8 million of nursing home money just for one bridge. We paid the full shot on that one. $7.5 million — if we pay full shot on three or four bridges, it’s gone.”