YORK TOWNSHIP — An overheard conversation of the Darke County York Township Trustees might remind one of a war room, as they carefully plan their strategy.
Trustees James Zumbrink, Bill Barga and Roger Heckman said they are accustomed to making ends meet when it comes to their township. Their discussion about snow removal, from the township’s 20 miles of road, sounds something like this.
“Jim keeps one truck at his house and starts at the north end,” Heckman said. “That way if it’s really bad, someone can get out. I live a mile south, start there, and get the alley. I can use my own tractor if it’s bad enough. Some areas don’t get the snow as bad, but once it’s there it doesn’t fall off, it just stays there.”
“It depends on the shade,” Barga added. “Some areas have woods on two sides and the snow melts and freezes, bringing a lot of ice problems. Salt really hurts the pavement and it is expensive. We try to scrape it and let the sun work to our advantage.”
“A lot of townships are spreading salt, but we don’t have the facilities to do that,” Zumbrink said. “At one time Jim (Barga-former trustee, former county commissioner and Bill’s dad) said that a ton of salt costs more than a ton of hot mix. When we get an ice storm we contract to put salt on, but other than that we are pretty fortunate. The darker the roads, the quicker the ice melts; mother nature helps us out. That is why it is nice to have fairly new hot mix.”
The trustees also receive input from the residents.
“One guy says we need to be using salt and grit, and the next guy says people just need to drive slower,” Heckman said.
Heckman became a York Township Trustee four years ago, on January 1.
“And the next day we were plowing snow and continued about twice every day the whole month” he said. “Every time we plow the roads it takes about three hours, and we are burning about 40 gallons of fuel.”
While 20 miles may seem short, each road is plowed twice-up one side and down the other-making 40 miles. In addition, the township roads are not all directly connected, requiring a trip on a state highway or county road to get to the next township road. According to York Township Fiscal Officer Alan Stammen it is a 60-70-mile round trip to clear all the roads in the winter. In addition to snow removal, the trustees are responsible for maintaining the roads, including the 40 miles of ditches; mowing cemeteries and grave-digging.
“If we can pave one mile, we are happy,” Stammen said. “But our expenses have more than doubled, and our income has not matched those increases.”
According to Stammen, the township’s annual income is about $148,000, out of which about $15,000 is a fire levy to maintain the township’s four fire departments.
“We don’t work from any borrowed money and we never have,” Barga said. “We always want to have that emergency fund money. We never know, a township mower can break down and all of a sudden we need $2,000. If we are going to keep mowing; we have to fix it.”
“We have carry-over, because we are very, very conservative,” Stammen said. “We would be in big trouble if we ever had a big expense. The trustees use their own equipment a lot of times; they have to. We just don’t have a whole lot of choices here with a lot of that.”
The township’s biggest source of income is the gasoline tax required for use on the roads, bringing in about $85,000 annually. Stammen said a paved mile costs about $75,000 and chip and seal costs about $34,000 a mile. The required economy to maintain the township roads, makes the conversation about road paving similar to one about snow removal.
“With chip and seal, you don’t take any of the bad spots out of the road,” Zumbrink said. “If there is a little indentation, it stays. In hot mixing, you can start working that out of it, making the roads nice and smooth.”
Between the three trustees and the fiscal officer, a $32,000 annual salary is split between them, Stammen said. He has been a York Township Trustee for 11 years, Zumbrink started in 1981, Barga in 2001 and Heckman has put in four years. Stammen said they are obviously not doing it to get rich. Why do they do it?
“I think providing community service is the root of America,” Barga said. “The trustees really have the best idea of what is going on in the township.”
“I get involved because of the community pride and helping the community ,” Heckman added.
“I enjoy it, and I want to give back to our area-it is part of my civic duty,” Stammen said.
“I still enjoy the challenges,” Zumbrink said. “It keeps me more active in the community. Whenever they get tired of me or I can’t do it anymore, I am going to get out. I get chewed on every once in a while; it keeps the blood flowing.”
With the upcoming winter, York Township residents might feel reassured knowing the snow removal conversation continues.
“We start early in the morning so that by the time we are done, the school buses go out and that is the key,” Barga said. “We want to have everything done so that the school buses are safe.”
EDS NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series titled “Elected Officials” that will address the role of those officials in Darke County.