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State budget promises more roadwork cash

Tuesday, March 26, 2013
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— Local governments will be able to take on more road projects than initially planned because of an increase in state money for street and highway improvement projects.

The negotiated state budget includes $438 million in funding for Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Programs, known as CHIPS, a $75 million increase from last year and the first increase in the program in five years. Established more than 30 years ago, this program is administered directly by local governments.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, said the 17 percent increase for the county is a positive change. Saratoga County tries to annually pave about 18 miles of the county’s approximately 380 miles of road, but budget constraints in recent years have taken a toll on how much gets done.

Saratoga County will get $2.64 million in the state budget, an increase of about $387,000 compared to last year.

The county’s 2013 budget called for a reduced workload of 14 miles of road repaved, Grattidge said, but the increase in state money changes that. “This means we can take a second look at our road program for this year,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial budget, which had no increase in CHIPS funding, was criticized by the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association and the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways. They noted that inflation on construction work and a new federal highway funding program had meant there was less money available for local road projects.

They noted that local governments are responsible for maintaining 87 percent of the roads and about half of the bridges in the state.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said county and town highway superintendents were stressing the need to boost available funds. “I fought hard for new money during the state budget negotiations,” he said.

The proposed state Senate budget resolution increased funding for CHIPS by $100 million compared to the initial Cuomo budget. The Assembly budget resolution increased CHIPS funding by $15 million.

The final negotiated state budget increases CHIPS funding by almost 21 percent across the state.

In Fulton County, the increase was almost $158,000, which brings their state funding up to $1.02 million. “It’s certainly helpful,” said county Administrator Jon Stead. “It’s not a huge increase.”

He said Fulton County officials will have to determine whether they want to expand a planned paving project for 2013 or whether they’ll use this money to start a 2014 project early.

In recent years, Stead said, the county has relied more and more on state CHIPS money for road projects because of local budget woes. “Predominantly the only projects we’ve been doing have been through CHIPS funding,” he said.

Schenectady County spokesman Joe McQueen said the county’s plans for roads and bridges are constantly under review and this influx of funds will be another element to consider. The county will get an increase of about $233,000 that brings the total funding up to $1.61 million.

“It might allow us to do a little more or pay for unanticipated damage,” McQueen said.

Some local governments, like the town of Charlton, which Grattidge represents, use a matching system with the CHIPS money they receive. They budgeted $170,000 on these projects, as they planned on getting about $85,000 in state money, but now the town is set to receive $108,000.

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said the increase in funding could help spur economic growth, a message also trumpeted by Cuomo.

The CHIPS funding bill has passed the Senate and is expected to pass the Assembly on Thursday.

 
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