Unit system could save $268K

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2009

If his plan for converting to the unit system works, the county will see an immediate savings in excess of $268,000, County Engineer Darren Capps said Tuesday.

He said that while the unit system moved date was pushed back because of damages sustained in recent weather, he does have a plan to make the move “as smooth as possible.”

Commissioners voted in January to change from a district system to a unit system, in which the maintenance of all county roads and bridges is the responsibility of the county engineer.

Overview of Capps’ plan

Under Capps’ plan, the county will be divided into two work areas — North and South — with U.S. Hwy. 84 and County Roads 53 and 42 acting as the dividing line between the two areas.

Each area will have the following:

A superintendent who reports directly to the assistant county engineer and is responsible for the work performance of the men under his direction.

Two maintenance work order crews, each headed by a foreman who reports to the superintendent, whose primary responsibility will be performing “light maintenance” on the county’s roads. Examples of work would include the installation of driveway pipes, unstopping culverts and repairing shoulder wash.

A heavy maintenance crew, headed by a foreman who reports to the superintendent, whose primary duty will be the major road construction and maintenance projects.

Additionally, there will be a central shop crew, a sign crew and a bush hog crew.

“Basically, the supers in the north and south are responsible for all the work in their work area,” Capps said. “They are over the foremen. The foremen will get the work order that’s been turned in from the commission or citizen and it’s up to them and their men to get the assigned work done.”

Capps said no plans have been made to assign any of the 27 road department employees to a specific crew.

Changes in operation

Currently, there are four district shops — Straughn, Red Level, Florala and Opp — and a central shop in Andalusia. Under the unit system, the need for the district shops is eliminated, as is the need for numerous pieces of equipment, Capps said.

The total basic operational costs — including electricity, telephone and heating and cooling costs — for the four district shops combined is budgeted at $33,650 annually.

In a previous interview, Chairman Lynn Sasser said, “The thing of a road commissioner is a thing of the past … The county commissioners’ responsibility is to handle the administrative portion of county business.”

As a result, Capps’ plan will utilize a work order system for road projects throughout the county. Any “job” will be put on a work order and performed in priority order. Citizens will be able to either call their county commissioner or the county engineer’s office to make a work order for their project.

Those work orders are then distributed to the superintendents, to the foreman and then to the respective crew, depending on the size and type of the project, he said.

With the consolidation of the county shops, the need arises to consolidate equipment — not only to prevent duplication but also to save money, Capps said.

“We have two or three pickups we’re going to be able to sell,” he said. “We can reduce our excavators from six to three; dozers from five to two, graders from 10 to eight and dump trucks from seven to six — all in all, that’s going to save the county, just in interest and principal payments, $225,000.”

The surplus equipment will be sold at auction in June.

A fuel truck will also be utilized under the unit system. Capps said county workers overhauled an existing county truck to avoid purchasing a new fuel truck.

“That in itself will save mileage and gas by bring fuel to the work site,” he said. “Plus, the city of Opp, during its venture with Perihelion, purchased these huge tanks. Opp had donated them to the county for us to use as diesel and gas tanks. Now, we can buy fuel by the tanker load and get a cheaper price — which should save us anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000 a year.”

As for the upkeep of county roads, Capps said grading in the North and South area will follow a specific route and timetable and will be done on a continual basis and tracked on a computer database.

“All of these things that we’re going to do are going to give us universal accounting,” he said. “We can account for the fuel that we’ve used, the maintenance that has been performed on our equipment, the performance of our men and the progress of our projects.”

Loose ends

There are many loose ends and unknowns to be worked out with his plan, Capps said.

“We’re going to have growing pains,” he said. “There are so many variables and questions out there.”

One such variable is the Florala shop. Capps said traveling with emergency management officials to visit damaged roads in the south end of the county made him realize the distance between Andalusia and Opp and how it might not be feasible in the long run to close the shop entirely.

“There’s a lot of unknowns and the specifics (of the plan) aren’t ironed out,” Capps said. “A lot of people wonder why we are waiting to go to this move. With the recent disaster and floods, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in this county. It’s going to take some time, but we’re going to get there. It’s my opinion that if we start out behind, people aren’t going to think (the unit system) is working.

“I know we can make it work, and it’s going to take time to adjust,” he said. “I’ve heard it said it takes two years after you put (the unit system) in before all the kinks are worked out.”