Board continues to work on budget - Highway request is down slightly - Part 2 of 3

By Steve Sharp:

JEFFERSON --The amount of county tax levy being requested by the Jefferson County Highway Department is decreasing slightly in 2019 from the current year, but that doesn't mean the department is backing down from tackling road needs in its jurisdiction. If anything, the department is ramping up its efforts to provide smooth, safe driving surfaces and clean winter highways for the traveling public.

According to Jefferson County Highway Commissioner Bill Kern, who presented his department's budget to the county finance committee Wednesday as part of preliminary budgeting this week, the levy request from his department will go from $5,694,303 to $5,569,075, a decrease of $125,228. Total expenditures for the department are projected at $12,595,188, with revenues at $5,955,093. Other financing sources provide $1,071,020.

Kern discussed three different focuses being taken by his department, those being ones on its fleet, projects and employee training.

Kern said there is a fleet move to quad-axle trucks for dual construction use and winter maintenance operations.

"Quad-axle trucks will allow over 21 tons to be hauled for construction materials and paving," he said. "The larger trucks will also allow for more winter material storage for plowing, including larger liquid salt brine tanks."

The quad-axle trucks would also bring higher trade values when sold.

"The full fleet of quad axle trucks will carry approximately 100 tons more material than the fleet from less than 10 years ago and will allow direct application of liquid salt brine in winter operations," Kern said.

Addressing the "project focus" of the highway department, Kern said there is a push for completion of as many backlogged projects as possible over the next five to 10 years. There is a focus on keeping projects on track by minimizing alignment adjustment, and completing more engineering and planning work in-house.

"The department will place an emphasis on moving projects forward on highway pavement sections that are more than 20 years old, placing emphasis on minimizing costs where possible through rehabilitation work so a new pavement structure can be put in place," Kern said.

A classic instance in which the "rehabilitation" philosophy will be put into effect is on County Highway B from the Dane County line east, ideally in the county plan, to the Waukesha County line. This is a distance of 23 miles.

Kern said Highway B, on the whole, is holding together well, considering the traffic it carries. The county, however, wants to mill about an inch off of it and apply a new surface to make it last another 10 years without any major attention.

"A 'mill and pave job' on County Highway B should allow the county to stretch some dollars," Kern said, adding the base of the highway has held up well over time. "We are not going to pave a roadway that is not in good shape."

The work on County Highway B could come in at $2,070,000 in terms of its drain on the levy, with a total project cost of $2,500,000.

The "employee training focus" calls for a continuation of the implementation of ongoing equipment certification training and lessons in equipment safety. Kern said an added emphasis will be placed on comprehensive winter maintenance training for all employees.

Hitting levy highlights for the proposed 2019 budget, Kern said winter maintenance costs, as they are obtained from the tax levy, should remain static from 2018 to 2019 at $832,774. Kern did say, however, increases in the costs for salt are "killing us." He said the cost for salt has gone up 12 percent in recent times.

Kern also said the costs to the county for asphalt are constantly in flux these days, making it challenging to plan for restoration projects on area roads.

In addition to the major County Highway B rehabilitation project next year, the county is planning resurfacing work on County Highway CI from State Highway 106 to County Highway Z as a levy cost of $1,377,358 and other governmental aid at $222,642. County Highway J is expected to see construction from State Highway 106 to US Highway 12 at a levy cost of $100,000.

The 2019 preliminary budget for the highway department was tentatively approved unanimously by the finance committee.