Starke County Highway Superintendent Rik Ritzler has the blessing of the county commissioners to seek funds for a third mechanic. Right now the two mechanics maintain 106 county-owned vehicles and pieces of equipment, with top priority given to those used by EMS and the sheriff’s department. Highway vehicles are third on the list, and those used by other departments are fourth. All of the money for repairs comes from the highway department’s budget. The mechanics are also responsible for completing all of the necessary paperwork.
Ritzler told the commissioners adding a third mechanic would allow the department to more quickly perform all regularly-scheduled routine maintenance, which he says will lead to a savings of about $25,000 per year for the county. Also, having a third mechanic to dedicate to servicing other departments’ vehicles would free the lead mechanic up to perform large repairs for which he is trained. Ritzler says two trucks could be put back into service if he had time to make fix the engines. He adds the highway department spent about $20,000 on outside repairs. Also Ritzler says the mechanic would be able to tackle “big projects” like property reorganizing the garage and parts room and rehabilitating some equipment like the big grader and second roller. Both still have value, but the mechanics haven’t had time to fix them.
Ritzler advises the biggest drawback is the cost. Between salary, overtime and benefits, he says it will cost the county about $50,000 per year. He’s proposed other departments pay the highway department $18.50 per hour, starting in January, to cover labor for their repairs. That would cover about $14,000 of the mechanic’s salary cost, according to Ritzler. Additional savings would be realized by turning repairs around faster and not having to replace costly equipment. Meanwhile, Ritzler says he can cover the approximately $24,000 for six months worth of employment from his current budget. Before he can proceed, the Starke County Council must approve the proposal. Their next meeting is Monday, March 16.