By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser
CARO — Board members overseeing the Tuscola County Road Commission will keep providing vehicles to six Road Commission workers to drive to and from home and work, though a Millington Township official pleaded with them Thursday to consider any savings that could be realized by making the workers drive their own vehicles and paying them mileage.
“Have you guys ever — just be innovative and to try to save your money — to weigh out what (option) is better?” Millington Township Trustee Robert Worth asked the Road Board at its meeting.
“Be a leader,” Worth urged, telling board members not to provide the vehicles to the six salaried employees just because other county Road Commissions may follow that practice.
Road Board Chairman Jack Laurie had a ready reply for Worth regarding use of the vehicles by workers including Road Commission foremen and County Highway Engineer Michele L. Zawerucha.
“Bob, we’re not gonna change — you might as well quit beating on that dead horse, because we’re not going to change that,” Laurie said. “And write that in the paper, Tom,” Laurie added, referring to an Advertiser reporter at the meeting.
Road Board Vice Chairman Gary Parsell said at a July board meeting that Road Commission foremen take pickup trucks home after work.
“They’re the first responders to accidents, trees in the road and everything else,” Parsell said.
Tuscola County commissioners — concerned about Road Board financial practices — are trying to arrange a small-group meeting featuring two county commissioners, two Road Board members, county Controller Mike Hoagland and Road Commission Finance Director Mike Tuckey.
County commissioners are questioning Road Commission finances including administrative workers’ use of the vehicles, health-insurance benefits received by some Road Commission retirees, “longevity” payments to certain Road Commission workers based on seniority, and workers’ pension plans underfunded by about $1.9 million.
Worth, who has questioned Road Board finances at a number of public meetings, was commenting about the fact auditors have “repeatedly” advised the board to better fund the pension plans when Laurie broke in.
“Let me ask you, Bob — what are you trying to do?” Laurie inquired.
“I mean, you’re the one that’s feeding the information. You’re feeding the information to the county commissioners. You’re feeding it to the newspaper. I’d like to know what you’re trying to do.”
Worth said he hopes to ensure the Road Commission doesn’t “bankrupt itself like other communities.”
Parsell assured Worth that the Road Board is working to improve Road Commission finances.
“Our plan is to work our way out of it, and we’re going to change some things to do that,” Laurie said.
“You know what, Jack?” Worth responded. “You guys had just said, back in the spring, that you were going to be more financially conservative, and I guess I’m just not seeing that Jack, yet.”
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Almer Township Trustee Charles Dennis asked Road Board members if they’re aware they authorized purchase of the Road Commission’s most recent truck and related equipment using the highest of several bids.
“In doing so, you paid close to $11,000 more than the lowest bid (for the truck),” Dennis said.
Dennis added that “I kind of reviewed back into last year and it looks like you probably did the same thing there; on the previous (truck purchase), it looks like you might have paid about $2,600 over low bid.”
Road Board members directed Road Commission staff to seek an explanation relating to Dennis’ claim.
“We’ll come back to you with an answer, but not right now,” Laurie told Dennis. Laurie added “there’s a reason” the Road Board bought the truck it did.
“I don’t have that info yet,” Road Commission Superintendent/Manager Jay Tuckey told Dennis. “We gotta dig it up. We’re not gonna just find it.”
In other action, the Road Board voted to advertise to seek job applicants for two entry-level laborer positions.