St. Clair Township residents on Monday said they wanted their road district to have five employees and not less.
The roughly 200 people to attend the special St. Clair Township meeting at Whiteside Middle School voted overwhelmingly in favor to amend the road district budget and appropriating enough money for five employees in the road district.
Only a handful of people voted against changing the road district budget.
It is now up to the township board on whether to allow the budget amendment to go through. Township Clerk Brenda Reed said she planned to present the results of the special meeting at the township board meeting in June.
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Highway Commissioner Skip Kernan said the board has until June 30 to amend the budget. Kernan wants to transfer money from his construction line item to wages line item.
“That’s the simplest process for that board to do, it’s not taking from anybody, it’s not costing anything,” Kernan said.
He said he hopes the trustees listen to the results of the meeting.
“By law, it’s the will of the electors,” Kernan said.
Kernan and most of the township trustees have been at odds over how many employees the township’s road district should have. He’s employed five people, but hasn’t been allocated enough money, forcing the township to lay off the road district staff for a couple of weeks in March at the end of last fiscal year.
Kernan said he’s only been allocated enough money for 3.5 people, and no summer help, for this fiscal year.
“They’re trying to handcuff me so I can’t provide the services from what you heard, the electors want,” Kernan said.
When Kernan ran for highway commissioner, he said he campaigned on restoring services that had been minimized or eliminated. It has been the reasoning for his push to go with five employees.
Kernan reiterated after the meeting that he did not report to the board and can run the road district has he wishes. However, the township board does have to approve his budget.
He said bringing roads under township jurisdiction, up to current standards would cost $39 million.
Kernan said he would rather have all five employees in order to better maintain streets, such as filling potholes, plowing snow, fixing curbs, filling cracks in the road, keeping drainage ditches clear, and pouring concrete, among other things, to help more roads last longer.
Contractors are hired for large projects, Kernan said.
In the last three years, Kernan said the trustees have opted to allow for budget amendments nearly 70 times.
Robert Buchler said roads are being cleaned and repaired.
“The job they’ve been doing, running with the five people they have, has been an excellent job,” Buchler said.
Ted Farmer used to work for the township and said there is always more work during the summer months than in winter.
“What we ought to be doing is establishing how many people we need in the dead of winter, and that’s the base for full time employees, and then as needed, add supplemental part time employees,” Farmer said. “It would be a lot cheaper, you’re spreading the work around the work would be the same quality.”
Jill Halupa said most objectors to more employees are people who live within Swansea village limits, which has its own public works crew, and newer roads.
“They don’t repairs or work going on that we have, because we a lot of older roads that are spread out all over the place,” Hallupa said.
Steve Duff was one of the few people vote against changing the road district budget and said no evidence has been provided, such as amount of overtime put in, or a list of backlog projects or work, to justify needing five employees.
“There’s no justification for additional employees. The question has been asked several times. The response has always been, ‘that’s how it’s always been,’” Duff said.
“You hire employees based on your workload,” Duff added.
Township Trustee Keith Sturgis, who has been against allow Kernan to have five employees, did not attend the meeting.
“This meeting will be just another attempt for Commissioner Kernan to play his ‘poor ol' little me card’ and hold a political rally at the same time,” Sturgis wrote in an email to the News-Democrat. “As Commissioner he has not notified this trustee with any new information to change my way of thinking on his line item budget request. Trustees are the ones who decide and we do so by our vote from like-minded taxpayers.”