Unit system still on delay

Published 11:59 pm Monday, June 1, 2009

Since FEMA has yet to issue disaster-funding payments for March and April storm damage, the county is now behind on two fronts – converting operations from a district system to a unit system and repairing the estimated $3.9 million in damages.

Com-missioners 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. The county voted to changed based on a belief that doing so would save money.

However, the change’s start date was gradually pushed from April to May to now June, and county engineer Darrein Capps previously said the conversion depends on the progress in completing storm repairs.

Last week, Capps said FEMA officials are expected to finish inspecting the damages this week, but Monday, district 3 commissioner Harold Elmore said work in his district “can’t wait any longer.”

“We haven’t heard a thing from (FEMA),” Elmore said. “We’re going to start work (today) in District 3. I’d have to say we’ve got $2 million in damages in District 3. There’s one bridge on Clark Road that has to be replaced and another on Davis Road that’s in bad shape. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it.

“We’ve got to get something done with these dirt roads,” he said. “But (as for the unit system move) I say stay where we’re at until (Capps) is ready. One of the issues to start with was how we were going to handle the dirt roads in district three. We still don’t know about that, so I’d say we’re looking at a couple to three more months before we can do it.”

District 4 commissioner Carl Turman said “that water we got played havoc with the plans” and has continually delayed a paving project that must be completed before the transition.

“Plus with the storm damages – we’re not even on first base with FEMA,” he said. “We’re not ready to do the unit system. It might look like we’re not working on things, but we’re constantly talking and discussing. It was a bad situation when I took office and it’s getting worse.

“There’s been a many a time we’ve had to borrow from ‘A’ to pay ‘B’ to make the budget balance, but we did it,” he said. “Where we are now, it’s a bad situation any way you go. I believe God will help us work things out and we’ll stay afloat. There are some hard decisions to make, and we’re waiting on Darrein Capps to do it.”

Both Elmore and Turman voted against moving to the unit system.

“I voted against (the unit system) and during all this time, I haven’t changed my mind,” Turman said. “But I support it.”

District 1 commissioner David Ellis said progress has been made on the county’s financial situation.

“We’re in better shape now than this time last year,” he said. “Diesel fuel is down and we’ve made some cutbacks. We’re struggling, but I don’t think we’re in bad shape.”

Ellis said the turning point would be later this month when the bulk of the county’s excess equipment is expected to be sold at auction.

“I’m not sure about the market and I worry that we might take a hit on the equipment,” he said. “We can’t afford to sell that equipment for less than it’s worth. We just can’t.”

County officials have said the equipment reduction will generate an estimated savings of $225,000 in annual payments and interest.