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County paving help falling off?

Dan McClelland

Town officials here reacted to news reports that the Franklin County Highway Department will not do as much as it has in the past to help towns get their roads paved this year.

Reacting to recent news reports about the changing county highway department operation, Deputy Supervisor John Quinn told his colleagues this month that helping towns now with paving of roads is “now a low priority” for the county.

In the past the county highway department has brought its paving machine and a crew to help Tupper Lake and Harrietstown town crews tackle their early fall paving projects.

“It doesn't do much good (for the county) to tell us in late October that we're now yours to help, when the batch plants are closed and there's no asphalt,” asserted Mr. Quinn.

He said he was aware Harrietstown officials have expressed their dissatisfaction with the new county highway department plan.

Mr. Quinn said he has discussed the issue with Highway Superintendent Bill Dechene and Supervisor Patti Littlefield at length in recent weeks.

He said while he wasn't fully aware of the history of the county helping towns to pave their roads, he said he understands that many towns and the county purchased the paving equipment cooperatively years ago. It has been shared since.

“-And now the county is saying we may not have the time to serve all towns! We have our own needs to meet!”

He said it seems the county has encountered some scheduling and manpower problems and “it is making a county problem a town problem now!”

The councilman said the towns in southern Franklin County get “precious little help” from the county. “Our tax dollars go north, as a rule.”

“We need to ask our county legislator (Paul Maroun) to push that issue and free up the county paver to help us out!”

“We got a quote for paving (not including materials) of $5,500 per day. That's a budget killer!”

Supervisor Littlefield said she recently met with other town supervisors in Malone, as part of a process by which town supervisors meet with county officials and others periodically to talk about government efficiencies and how governments can work together to save taxpayers money.

“The topic of paving came up at the last meeting. The gist of it is...and we haven't officially been told...we're not getting the county paver this fall.”

She said the county's aim this year is for the county road crew to pave county roads which have been neglected in recent years while the equipment and crew has been sent to towns and villages to help them with their projects.

She added the crew has been assigned here in recent years, and to other towns. “This year, however, they are saying they want to pave county roads that have been let go, because the county paver has gone to towns to help.”

Complicating the paving work by the county crew is the fact, she said, that the state first takes product from the various batch plants around the North Country and the mix for the state is different.

“The batch plants cater to the state. So we can't get our asphalt each year until the state finishes getting theirs.”

The supervisor noted that sometimes that just leaves weeks at the end of each paving season for the towns and counties to get their paving jobs completed.

“So while I agree with John- the county needs to revamp the way it does things, but if the county is saying it's a one and done year thing,” something could be worked out for this one year.

If the county takes too long to do all its work, before it comes to help the towns, it is likely it will be too late to do any paving this fall as the batch plants close in late October, she told her board members.

The supervisor said several paving projects here were budgeted this year using state CHIPs money. “The money we use to purchase asphalt and lay it down each year comes from the CHIP!”

She said she wished John Klimm, who has been pushing the town to use those funds to fix his Upper Park St. sidewalk (see related story this week) had still been present that evening to hear that.

She said that his figure of over $300,000 the town has received in the past three years was correct. “And even if we used all of that and added more, that wouldn't be enough to pay for that new sidewalk!”

In answer to a question from Mr. Quinn she said some of the CHIPs money each year goes into the highway department budget for paving and paving materials and all of it is accounted for in the town books. “Every penny!” she stressed.

Again in response to Mr. Klimm's assertions earlier that night, she said the CHIPs money each year is used for many other things- roads, sidewalks, culverts each year in the work done by the town crew.

She said it was less than a year ago that her board learned it was responsible for caring for sidewalks along state highways here. “So it is unfair to accuse the town of not spending its money on a sidewalk that up until 12 months ago we did not know we might be responsible for!”

Mrs. Littlefield said the town is still in discussions with the state DOT about what's the best solution there: fixing the old sidewalk or removing it.

After talking to many of Mr. Klimm's neighbors the jury is still out on that.

“We are not going to jump into spending $300,000 on a new sidewalk until we know it's the right thing to do!”

“-And that may take a while because we know things in government take awhile. There's a process!”

On another paving issues discussed by town leaders on August 8, Councilman Mike Dechene wondered who was responsible for new striping on Stetson Road that the county crew paved last fall. He said traveling the road at night was dangerous without stripes.

Highway Superintendent Bill Dechene said the county crew was planning to do it this fall.

“The county highway superintendent told me they didn't apply the reflective, epoxy paint on last fall because it was too cold,” the supervisor said. Temporary paint was apparently used in it place but it wore off over the winter.

“The county superintendent told me he planned to do it this year,” she added. “He indicated to me he would do it when they came up to pave!”

“When you are driving there at night on a wet highway, without stripes, you don't know where you are driving,” Councilman Dechene stressed.

“The southern part of the county- paying most of the county taxes”- continues to get the poorest service from the county!