Despite urging, county stalls

Published 11:45 pm Monday, March 9, 2009

Covington County commissioners did a lot of talking Monday, but took no action on their top subjects: setting a deadline for implementing the county’s move to the unit system, and stopping the illegal practice of burying dead animals on private property.

Instead, they agreed the weather would dictate how soon the county can move to a unit system, and to research whether they can legally charge residents for burying their dead animals.

In January, the commission voted to move the daily operations of both its current district road departments under the direct supervision of the county engineer — instead of the districts’ elected commissioners. At the time, they agreed the move could be accomplished in three months.

Now commissioners, who approved the change on a 3-2 margin, are going along with county engineer Darren Capps’ plan to delay that change until June.

District 1 commissioner David Ellis, the commission’s strongest proponent of the unit system, proposed an April 1 deadline, but Capps said he didn’t feel it was possible to make the move that quickly.

“We’re halfway into our fiscal year, and if we could get going by April 1, that would give us a good comparison with the second half of the year,” Ellis said.

Currently, the road crew is in the middle of two large paving projects — one in District 1 and another in District 4, which need to be finished before the June equipment sale, Capps said.

“The biggest savings we’re going to see is the reduction in equipment, which will be at the sale in June,” he said. “There are a lot of things that need to come together (before the move). “

Ellis said he doesn’t want to wait to June, adding that changing to the unit system is as simple as telling employees where to report to work..

“What if we shoot for May 1? I’d hate to see it be slammed in June,” he said, but no other commissioner voiced a similar desire to set a deadline for the move. Instead, Commissioners Carl Turman and Harold Elmore, supported Capps’ plan. Both men voted against moving to the unit system.

Elmore said Capps should “take his time and do things right the first time, ever how long it takes.”

The 90-minute meeting also included a discussion of the county’s practice of burying dead cows on private property.

Commissioners were presented with an Attorney General’s opinion stating it is illegal for the county to bury dead animals on private property. Under the current law, the county can only dispose of dead animals when the health department declares it a public nuisance and when the owner of said animal cannot be determined.

“Which says to me that we shouldn’t be burying dead cows on private property,” said Capps, who gathered the information in response to several questions concerning the county’s practice.

County attorney Julie Moody agreed.

“Of course, in instances of natural disasters, a whole new set of rules applies,” she said. “But under normal circumstances, the animal has to be on the right of way. The county has to use public funds to do public work. It’s the same reason you can’t go and clear an individual’s land.

“It’s the same principle,” she said. “You are providing a service. You’re using equipment the public owns, gas the public bought. You just can’t. It goes back to general principle, and you could be held liable.”

Ellis said he thought his district “probably has more dead cows than most of the county.”

“It seems we do a lot of services in this county that seem illegal, and we need to address them,” he said. “I’ve got 12 to 15 people I do this for, five or six all the time.

“It doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “We can’t clear a fence row or work down someone’s driveway.”

Despite urging by Chairman Lynn Sasser to cease the practice, commissioners agreed to table taking action until they could determine if they could legally charge for the service.

“I just worry about the liability issue of things,” Moody said. “And then there’s the ethics part of it. The five of you have to worry about that, not the landowner. The five of you can be locked up or kicked off the county commission.”

In other business, the commission appointed Linda Sconiers to the Organized Community Action Program Board and voted to solicit bids for the courthouse roof project.

The next commission meeting is March 23 at 9:30 a.m.