Newly appointed Starke County Highway Superintendent Stephen “Rik” Ritzler has been staying busy in his new position, having gotten right down to work improving the county and planning for the future. Ritzler spoke with the county commissioners at their regular meeting this week and presented them with a list of projects, at both the state level and local, for the next three years. Ritzler said that some of the projects will require road closures, and said the list includes bid letting dates as well.
Ritzler explained that the County Road 300 East project for the county has been delayed to July 14. He also told the commissioners that he has submitted an application to designate two roads as rural major collectors in an effort to receive more federal funding from eligible roads. He said County Road 400 South, Range Road from U.S. 30 to the Pulaski County line, and 1100 East from U.S. 30 to State Road 23 could be added to their list of rural major collectors, which Ritzler explained would add 50-60 miles to the county’s federal funding-eligible roads.
Ritzler also told the commissioners that he will be moving Bill Crase back to the driver position in order to allow the county to have a fully-assigned driver for each of the 16 areas in the county. Crase served as interim foreman in Scott Dedloff’s stead while Dedloff was serving as interim superintendent for the department. Ritzler said Crase will receive driver’s pay, and requested a $3000 transfer from the overtime fund in order to cover a shortfall in the highway personnel fund. The commissioners approved a motion, pending council approval, to transfer the funds.
The highway department is also hoping to purchase four new trucks, according to Ritzler. He told the commissioners that the highway department’s fleet is in desperate need of revitalization, and he is hoping to replace one truck per year after the three trucks have been purchased, which would allow the
county’s fleet to be replaced one-by-one every 15 years.
As if that weren’t enough, Ritzler said he is also working on five- and ten-year plans and has been investing money into spare parts and other items for their equipment. He said the more the county focuses on preventative maintenance, the more money the county will save; he emphasized that spending $100 per year on each bridge is cheaper than undergoing a massive repair project. He told the commissioners he would have a plan ready to present to them within six months.
Commissioner Kathy Norem said she doesn’t believe the highway department has ever had such a plan, and she’s glad Ritzler has been putting so much thought and time into the department’s future.