The single largest line item on a town budget is usually public works.
Unlike cities and villages, towns in Waupaca County do not have their own police departments, libraries and park and rec departments.
One of a town’s most important responsibilities is to maintain its local roads, to ensure the safety of those traveling on them. These expenditures fall under public works on the town budget.
Road maintenance includes resurfacing roads in need of serious repair, replacing culverts, patching potholes, placing signs, mowing ditches, trimming trees, removing storm debris and plowing snow.
Farmington’s road budget
Farmington and Dayton have similar public works expenditures in their budgets, but different methods of achieving their goals.
Farmington, with a population of 3,974 according to the 2010 census, had a total expenditures budget of $1.31 million for 2013.
Farmington needs to maintain 78 miles of township roadway and plans to spend $452,559 for public works this year.
Dayton, with a population of 2,748, had a total expenditures budget of $940,000 for 2013.
Dayton needs to maintain 72 miles of roadway and plans to spend $580,000 for public works in 2013.
According to Town Chairman Dale Trinrud, Farmington spent $346,000 on road maintenance, excluding snow plowing, in 2012.
Snow plowing that year, which included a mild winter, cost $65,000. So far in 2013, the town of Farmington has already spent $87,000 for plowing the roads.
Farmington is contracted with Faulks Bros. to plow its roads.
Over the past four years, Farmington has spent an average of $439,000 annually for road maintenance and plowing combined.
Dayton’s road budget
“For 15 years, the town of Dayton has been spending an average of $429,000 per year for transportation expenditures,” according to Dayton Town Chairman Chris Klein. “The last two years averaged about $7,000 less than the average of the prior 13 years.”
Both Klein and Trinrud noted road maintenance spending can fluctuate due to severe storms or delays in projects.
Klein said the storms in 2011 caused a road resurfacing project to be postponed until 2012.
“As a consequence, the 2011 expenses were $220,000 under budget, and the 2012 expenses were $3,000 over budget,” Klein said.
Klein said the decision to employ and equip its own road crews is saving Dayton about 50 percent of what it was paying the Waupaca County Highway Department to do the same jobs.
He noted the town’s total cost for employee labor is $56 per hour for a three-man crew.
Dayton’s crews are taking responsibility for patching, sign work, tree trimming and shoulder repairs.
“The greatest savings are in after-hours calls where (the) county charges for workers to receive overtime pay and call-in pay,” Klein said. “Normally, we are charged by the county on a one-man job for both a worker and a supervisor, along with their trucks and equipment.”
Klein compared county charges for road maintenance to what the town pays for its own crews to do the work.
He said county “workers range from $19.97 to $21.32 per hour depending on their job classification. Supervisors range from $27.92 to $29.24.”
The county also charges for employee benefits and an hourly fee for the use of tools and equipment.
“Recently, I was called by the 911 dispatcher that they had received a report of a hazard of water covering the road at Crystal Lake Road and County Highway K,” Klein said. “Unable to reach town employees to set up saw horses with ‘high water’ warning signs, I requested the county put up warning signs for a couple days.”
Klein said the county’s total charge for employees and vehicles was $420.
“If our employees had been available, our cost would have been less than $50,” Klein said.
Trinrud said Farmington relies on Simpson Tree Service to trim and cut trees along town roads.
“We pay $150 per hour for three men and that includes whatever equipment they need to do the job,” Trinrud said. “We don’t pay for their insurance, we don’t have to pay for repairs to their equipment, and the liability is all on them.”
Trinrud said Farmington spends between $20,000 and $40,000 annually for tree service, depending on weather.
“We had a lot of storm damage in 2011 and a lot of trees that fell into the road,” Trinrud said, noting the town spent $39,000 on tree service that year.
Road equipment costs
Trinrud said Farmington has no equipment of its own for road maintenance or tree trimming.
Dayton has made significant investments into purchasing equipment for its road crews.
The town purchased a small used dump truck in 2010 for $11,900, a new diesel powered tree and brush chipper in 2012 for $29,000 and a used bucket truck for tree trimming in 2013 for $13,000.
“The chipper usage in the last 12 months would have had a rental charge of at least $13,000 over 12 months, indicating a two-year payback for the chipper,” Klein said.
Electors present at the budget hearing in November 2012 voted to include $55,000 for a storage shed in the 2013 budget.
“Currently, large equipment like the truck and the chipper are stored outside at the homes of town employees or town officials,” Klein said. “Outside storage allows equipment to deteriorate.”
Klein also noted having a central storage site for the equipment will make it easier for Dayton to respond to emergencies.
“We are able to offer residents much better emergency service with the proper tools and equipment, which is even more important than the significant cost savings by using town employees,” Klein said.
Tree, sign policies
Dayton and Farmington differ significantly in their policies regarding tree trimming and sign placement.
Klein has proposed moving stop signs and fire numbers throughout the town to be in compliance with state and county regulations. He has also adopted an aggressive approach to tree trimming in order to clear the right-of-way along town roads.
Trinrud, on the other hand, said he seldom trims trees unless he hears complaints from snowplow operators, school bus drivers or emergency services.
“They give me the name of a road, and I’ll contact Simpson’s to send them out to that stretch of the road,” Trinrud said. “They’ll cut back to a reasonable distance from the blacktop so that the growth is not interfering with snowplows or school buses.”
He said the goal is to cut back far enough so the crew does not need to return for at least five years.
“We don’t usually cut back to the edge of the right-of-way,” Trinrud said.
Trinrud described a situation on North Foley Road last fall when a row of locust trees needed to be cut down in order to blacktop the road.
“I talked with the two property owners there before we cut the trees,” Trinrud said.
As with Dayton, Farmington has angered property owners due to tree trimming.
Trinrud said a row of smaller trees were cut down one summer because they were too close to the road and the tree service crew believed the trees would grow and eventually become a problem. After the property owner saw the trees had been removed, he called the town hall.
“Tom Simpson and I went out there and talked to him and explained the problem,” Trinrud said.
Trinrud said a tree clearing project leading to a boat landing off Pine Ridge Lane also created controversy.
“We needed to cut to the edge of the right-of-way, because in the summer, there’s a lot of vehicles parked out there. It was almost impossible for emergency vehicles to get through,” Trinrud said.
He also noted Farmington has no plans to move its stop signs or fire numbers. However, if a tree obscures a stop sign, the town prefers to move the sign, rather than cut down the tree.
“These stop signs have been up for years. A lot of them have been up for 50 years or more,” Trinrud said. “It’s more important to make sure that the stop signs meet state requirements for reflectability.”
Trinrud also noted fire numbers in Farmington are sometimes close to the blacktop because that is where they are the most visible.