Clinton County crews use an end loader to clear a road south of Fowler on January 29. Drifts had piled so high that traditional plows were ineffective. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Lansing— In response to Michigan’s harsh winter, some lawmakers want to send counties, cities and villages an extra $100 million this budget year to help them cover budget-busting snow removal costs.
But the proposal would mean $100 million less for special road projects that the Snyder administration and lawmakers previously wanted to do this year but had not yet identified.
County and municipal officials across the state have said the record snowfall is starting to cut into their summer maintenance budgets for pothole filling, mowing, ditch cleaning and fixing guard rails.
The proposal was added as an amendment to a supplemental funding bill at a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting on Tuesday. The committee will vote on the supplemental funding bill Thursday morning and send it to the full Senate, said Committee Chairman Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw.
Sen. John Pappageorge, the Troy Republican who sponsored the amendment, said the $100 million will be divvied up through the state’s normal road funding formula as follows: $39.1 million to the state transportation budget, $39.1 million to counties and $21.8 million to municipalities.
The money would cover “sand, salt, snow and potholes ... added expenses we’ve incurred as a result of the kind of winter we’ve had,” Pappageorge said.
Most of the $39.1 million state share will flow back to counties and municipalities that contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation for winter maintenance on state trunk-line routes within their boundaries, he said.
Several Metro Detroit officials welcomed the idea.
“We applaud them (potentially) stepping up and helping,” Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said Tuesday. “It has been a brutal winter.”
Ficano said the county has used 93,000 tons of salt this season — or 37 percent more than last winter’s 68,000 tons — and the winter isn’t even done. Add in more overtime and other expenses, and Wayne County’s costs are up 200 percent over last year, he said.
“I am very happy they are pitching in and trying to help the communities,” said Gus Ghanam deputy public service director for Warren, the state’s third largest city. “We want to regain some of the heavy financial burden that we bore this winter.”
Eastpointe’s director of public works and services agreed.
“We would love to see a share of the $100 million,” Mary Van Haaren said. “We’ve gone through twice as much road patch as usual and used nearly double the estimated salt. Additionally, the wear and tear on our equipment is taking its toll.”
A second amendment to the supplemental bill would give local communities $2 million to help with expenses for tree and limb removal — necessary mostly because of a devastating mid-Michigan ice storm that knocked out power to 400,000 customers during the Christmas season.
Neither of the proposals would dip into an estimated $971-million state surplus.
■Tree removal money would be taken from $15 million sitting in a road reserve fund.
■Snow removal-pothole money would use up most of $115 million currently budgeted for special road projects. Lawmakers added $230 million to the current-year budget for such repairs, and last year approved a list of projects for the first $115 million of it.
Legislators planned to approve a second list of projects for the remaining $115 million later this year. All but $15 million of that amount now would be directed at defraying the added costs of maintenance resulting from the heavy winter, Pappageorge said.
Some counties are beginning to tap their summer preservation budgets that pay for chip sealing and crack filling to cover ballooning overtime expenses related to the relentless winter weather, said Ed Noyola, deputy director of the County Road Association of Michigan.
“Anecdotally, all of the road commissions are at maximum capacity in their winter maintenance budgets and are starting to look elsewhere,” Noyola said.
Sen. Goeffrey Hansen, R-Hart, said the extra money is necessary to ensure pothole-ridden roads get patched next month when the snow begins to melt.
“We have to have something to put into these potholes,” Hansen said.
Some lawmakers have proposed the $100 million come from the $971 million three-year surplus the Legislature is now starting to debate how to spend.
Ken Hulka, manager of the Muskegon County Road Commission, told lawmakers his agency has already spent $2.1 million this winter season plowing and spreading salt and sand on the roads of his west Michigan county. He expects to spend another $800,000 before the season ends.
By comparison, Hulka said, Muskegon County spent $1.6 million for winter road maintenance in 2013 and $936,000 in 2012.
“That means my summer (maintenance) budget is gone,” Hulka told the committee.
The supplemental appropriations bill includes:
■A $6.7 million general fund appropriation that, together with federal matching money, will maintain an annual appropriation just under $20 million for an infant mortality research and treatment center at Harper-Hutzel Hospital in Detroit.
■$73.3 million in General Fund money to cover the added expense to the health and corrections departments because the state’s Medicaid expansion won’t take place for about another month. That’s because lawmakers didn’t approve immediate effect for expansion legislation passed late last year.
■$114.5 million to cover a shortfall in the Department of Community Health budget because lawmakers couldn’t agree on how to structure special assessments for health care providers designed to draw added federal dollars. Kahn said a total of $400 million for Medicaid services are at risk without the correction.