Chairman tosses gas tax idea

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Saying that he wanted to “stimulate thinking,” Commission Chairman Bill Godwin suggested to local Kiwanians Monday that the county needs a gas tax, reapportionment, and possibly a full-time chairman.

Gas taxes – which are used to fund roads – are flat, the chairman said. And the need to repair and pave roads is unending.

Godwin said he believes local voters would support an additional gasoline tax for a specific period of time.

“Only if we had a list of agreed-upon roads to do, and a definite end (to the tax),” he said.

At the present, he said, there is no prioritized list of dirt roads to be paved in the county, although a number of paved roads will be resurfaced with the help of ATRIP funding.

Godwin said the county’s current form of government – a chairman with four commissioners – was set up in the 1940s, and the boundaries of those original districts have not changed.

“There have been significant changes in population,” he said, adding that the result has been unequal representation in county government of county residents.

Commissioners run county-wide, but must live in the geographical district represented.

Further, he said, there is no stipulation in state law for the role of the chairman or the county administrator, he said.

Commission policy does not designate any one person to whom all departments report, he said.

“Since I have taken office, many people have spoken to me indicating they think departments report to me and I to the board.

“That is a logical presumption, but it is not so,” he said.

And while the job of the Covington County commission chairman is part-time, Godwin said it appears counties with full-time chairmen do better.

“I have made a review of counties with a fulltime chairman, and they seem to be more progressive,” he said. “Then the chairman is CEO of the county.”

His job, he said, is to conduct commission meetings, sign checks, and vote in case of a tie.

To change the form of government, the county would need a local bill passed in the legislature. There is no move to do that at this time, he said.

Asked about the efficiency of the county’s move to a unit system of managing roads and road repairs, Godwin said he believes there is work yet to be done to achieve possible saving. The system was changed from years ago.

“My observation is it’s not being observed,” he said, adding that the paving of Sasser Road and Cotton House Road at the end of the last administration are examples of how the unit system procedures were not followed.

“My opinion is no, there are still traces of the district system left,” he said. He said he believes the unified county road department could be operated with less equipment and perhaps less personnel.

“Have we achieved the savings we can,” he said. “No.”

“A lot of people might be upset with me talking about what the situation is,” he said.

“I’m not running for another term,” he said, adding the qualifier, “But if the people draft me, I will run.

“If we do the job, people elected us to do, and the county moves forward, they may see no need to change at that time.”

Godwin, who took office in November, said it has been a challenge to accumulate the knowledge and data needed to make good decisions.