$5 million going to Butler County townships to improve roads

Money is a slice of COVID-19 relief funds.

Road maintenance is the largest responsibility most Butler County townships have and it is a hard one to fulfill in some instances, but the county commissioners just gave them a $5 million leg up to fix faulty streets.

Last month the commissioners approved $4 million in funding to help 13 townships fix their roads, they upped the allocation to $5 million on Monday. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she was happy to sweeten the pot.

“When we saw the details of the $4 million some of the numbers were so low it didn’t seem you could do much with $100,000 here, $100,000 there,” Carpenter said.

The county is using a slice of nearly $75 million it received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The commissioners have committed $51.3 million to various projects including $10 million for countywide broadband, money for educational/workforce initiatives, community centers and more.

The roadwork money will be added to County Engineer Greg Wilkens’ projects next year. Cities in Butler County manage their own road maintenance and paving programs, but Wilkens’ office bids and supervises township road projects.

The commissioners are giving Wilkens $1.25 million for county roads, a $225,000 base for each township plus additional stipends based on the number miles the jurisdictions maintain. With the additional allocations the range is $459,034 for West Chester Twp. to $236,597 for tiny Lemon Twp. The county maintains 266 miles, West Chester 227 and Lemon Twp. 11.

From the beginning, the commissioners have agreed to give Wilkens his amount for county roads but haggled over the base allocation. Wilkens recommended a $250,000 base because it brought the per-township amounts the closest together. Carpenter at first advocated for $225,000 but later changed her mind after Commissioner T.C. Rogers made his case for the $200,000 base.

“In the grand scheme of things it could be equal but remember he has not put in lane miles,” Rogers said when they first discussed the funding. “So some of these larger townships have more lane miles.”

The $225,000 base gives the smaller townships a bit more money.

Explore$5 million in pandemic relief money will pay for work on Butler County roads

Wilkens told the Journal-News he is racing against the inflation and labor shortage clock to get the projects together so he can go out to bids early for the 2023 capital improvement program. Ideally he said he wants to bid the projects in December — when contractor’s bids are generally lower because their schedules are filled yet — but he has to “herd” the townships to get their projects selected, estimated and ready to go.

“It’s really tough to predict, we’re in kind of unprecedented times between all of the supply chain issues, the costs, labor issues, it’s just difficult to even predict,” Wilkens said. “That’s the problem we run into with the townships, they want estimates and they’ve only got so many dollars they can spend. When you get a 40% increase in resurfacing it’s pretty tough for them to eat, they can’t do it.”

This year he planned to spend $9.3 million resurfacing 43.4 miles of county and township roads. The paving estimate townships received in December was $4.4 million, but the low bid he received was $5.2 million. Some townships had to think really hard about whether they could absorb the extra cost.

Wilkens said depending on how the bids come in for next year, the commissioners’ money might mean the difference between the townships being able to have a resurfacing program or not.

“The sad point of all this is this will probably get them about even for what they typically would with their own money,” Wilkens said. “That’s at 40%, what’s it going to do next year I don’t know. I think it’s going to stay steady or it’s going to drop. I don’t think it’s going to go up.”

Hanover Twp. Administrator Bruce Henry said they have had a culvert project on their to-do list for two years — and received a partial grant for it — but because the project was delayed the price doubled. He said the trustees could apply some of their $262,077 county allotment to the project and finally address it, “it’ll certainly help.”

Henry said for smaller townships like Hanover road maintenance is a top priority that is hard to achieve.

“We have other stuff like fire departments and things like that, but it’s hard to keep up with the roads, particularly with the significant increase n petroleum products and you can’t get certain piping and equipment for culverts,” Henry said. “I think the smaller townships have a hard time keeping a regular maintenance schedule. You wind up patching things and trying to get it to hold until you get enough money.”

Commissioners haven’t taken official action but have said they intend to provide similar ARPA funding in 2024.

“The first one’s certainly going to help and if there’s a second one that would be terrific as far as I’m concerned,” Henry said.

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