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County finds funds for road paving Financial juggling means 2007 repairs will be done

The potholes needn't wait until spring.

Erie County officials said Thursday that by October, crews will repave the 24 miles of county roads that are on this year's maintenance schedule.

County leaders vow that sections of 22 roads -- including Colvin Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda, Mill Street in Concord, Reiter Road in Aurora and Ketchum Road in Collins -- will feature either new coats of asphalt, wider shoulders or better drainage, as needed.

"I am absolutely thrilled they were able to come up with a solution," said County Legislator Kathy Konst, D-Lancaster, who has been hounding the county's money managers to free up as much money as possible for road repairs this year.

"If they had had to wait until next year, what would be the added cost for labor, equipment and everything else?" she asked.

The county's repaving projects were in doubt this year because government officials do not expect to borrow the money they need for capital projects until late September or early October -- the tail end of the construction season.

But Budget Director James M. Hartman said the money for a $6 million repaving blitz will be fronted from the government's operating fund, then returned when the borrowed dollars arrive.

It's a practice used frequently in past years, and occasionally criticized because it drains cash available for everyday bills.
Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz, who manages the county's money, said earlier this week he was reluctant to use the strategy. But his aide explained Thursday that since the county recently received more sales tax income than expected, Poloncarz feels the operating fund can provide the money to repave roads this summer.

Eventually, a state program reimburses local governments for most of the money they spend repairing roads, a fact that emboldens the critics who say Erie County should spend more on its network.

"If you cared for your family the way the county is taking care of your roads, your children would be in Child Protective Services and you would be in jail," said Frank Swigonski, the sales manager for County Line Stone Co., which has sold asphalt and stone to Erie County on occasion.

Since roads become more expensive to repair when neglected, virtually all of the governments Swigonski deals with cherish the state money they receive for road work, he said.

The Sardinia Town Board voted unanimously in June to put the county "on notice" about its unsafe roads there. Matteson Corners Road, Pratham Road, Allen Road, Warner Gulf Road and Chaffee-Curriers Road are in "unsafe and dangerous condition," the board said in a statement. None is on the list of county roads to be repaved this year.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra conveyed a different impression of the county's maintenance effort when he said Thursday that the repaving program would proceed as scheduled.

"Since 2001, this administration has invested over $160 million into our highway system. The most recent state survey shows substantial improvement," he said in a written statement.

He also said it will cost more than $440 million to place the county's 1,180 miles of road and 277 bridges in good repair. For 2008, the Department of Public Works will seek $11.5 million.

The county never delayed this year's "oil and chip" program, a less costly way to improve a road's surface. The oil and chip program is financed by the real estate transfer tax, not borrowed money.

Poloncarz announced Thursday that he is seeking offers from underwriters willing to handle the county's sale of general obligation bonds for its annual "capital borrowing."

The county will seek $33 million for an array of projects, such as road repairs and improvements to Erie Community College, the Buffalo and Erie County Zoo and Ralph Wilson Stadium. The county also will borrow $15 million for Erie County Medical Center's major improvements, and $3.25 million for sewer improvements.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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