AUBURN — Since being elected road agent in 2006, Michael Dross has been paid close to $1 million out of his portion of the town budget while overseeing a department that has had its expenditures nearly triple since 2005.
According to town officials, Dross owns two pieces of heavy equipment, a truck and a pick-up truck, which he bills the town for using; he does not need approval from the Board of Selectmen to hire anyone. The road agent is responsible for snow plowing, road patching, gravel work, sanding, salting and more for the town's roughly 60 miles of roadways.
"The town is not spending any more money than a town of similar size. We get good work done this way, and we get more for the dollar instead of supporting a department of public works, which would have employees and equipment to maintain," Town Administrator Bill Herman said.
However, the town of Chester, with 63 miles of road and an elected road agent, spent roughly $477,000 on highways and streets from 2011 to 2012. Candia has roughly 45 miles of road, and the town spent $365,000 on highways and roads, while Brookline, also a road agent town, has about 50 miles of road and spent roughly $375,000 for 2012.
In 2012, Dross' department spent just over $913,000. In 2005, Dross' predecessor, Emerson Heald, had expenditures for Auburn's highway department that totaled roughly $371,000.
Dross also oversees a separate budget for road reconstruction, which has seen expenditures more than double in the last eight years. In 2005, the town's road reconstruction expenditures totaled roughly $306,000, while in 2012 Dross' totaled more than $780,000.
In 2005 Heald spent $675,000 out of his highway and road and road reconstruction budgets combined; Dross spent roughly $1.7 million in 2012.
"No, I have no comment, no comment on the budget. We will be doing budgets in a month or two, but I don't have a lot to say," Dross said.
For fiscal year 2013, the highway and road reconstruction budgets accounted for 36 percent of the roughly $5 million town budget. Selectman James Headd said that he hasn't heard anyone expressing concerns about Dross, his budgets or expenses.
"Mike Dross does an outstanding job for the town," he said.
Herman said the town has faced a larger number of natural disasters in recent history, and that Dross has been very proactive in trying to mitigate any potential hazard areas.
"Dross has been excellent; he has gotten rave reviews from both the budget committee and the Board of Selectmen," Herman said.
He said the town does not typically put projects out to bid, relying on Dross to assign the work to himself or a subcontractor. "We haven't put out a project to bid in about three years," Herman said.
Currently, the department's largest subcontractor is former road agent John Rolfe. Since 2006, his company, JH Rolfe, has been paid roughly $3,300,000 by the town for work it has been assigned to perform by Dross. In 2005, before Dross became road agent, JH Rolfe billed the town for roughly $75,000 worth of work. Herman said that no contract exists between Dross or JH Rolfe and the town for the work. Instead, vendors charge the town based on rates set by selectmen for equipment and labor.
The position of road agent is a three-year term. Dross's current term is set to end in 2015.