Officials: County benefited from work

Published 3:41 am Saturday, February 4, 2017

Questions were raised earlier this week after area residents observed county employees removing topsoil from property near Rose Hill where the property owner is said to be installing additional chicken houses.

But county officials said despite the perception of work being done, the county employees were actually removing topsoil that was being donated to the county.

State laws prohibit county and city governments from doing work on private property.

“The county commission is prohibited form authorizing or performing any work on private property with the exception of work performed on church, school or cemetery property.” (Code of Alabama, Section 45-4-130.14) The Code also prohibits work on private property in Section 45-36-180.06.

County engineer Lynn Ralls said Friday that the property owner offered the county the topsoil, and he got a crew of county employees to load the dirt and move it to a central location. He estimated that the county removed 2,000 cubic yards of dirt, and valued it at approximately $10,000.

Both Ralls and Commission Chairman Greg White said the work is common practice, and said it was no different than going on private property to load dirt being sold to the county.

“Every day, we have crews on private property obtaining dirt,” White said. “We go to borrow pits like Rhett Butler’s pit, Billy Green’s pit, and Jimmy Wages’ pit. The county owns no dirt. We purchase by the yard.”

The dirt removed this week was taken to Rhett Butler’s pit, the men said, where the county had permission to store it, they said.

“We’ve done this in the past,” Ralls said. “We do this for Rayonier some. We recently did some for Micah Garner.

“It’s very hard to find topsoil these days,” he said. “If they want to give it to us, it’s a good deal. I look at it as a benefit to the county.”

White, who took office as commission chairman in November, said while he generally knew this to be the practice, he first learned of the dirt being moved this week when a commissioner called him.

“I contacted the county engineer and he said a property owner had topsoil he needed to dispose of and would donate it to us if we could use it,” White said. “We put an excavator up there, and removed only topsoil.”

White said the county buys “hundreds of thousands of yards” of dirt every year.

Asked if the property owner also received a benefit from the soil being moved, White said while the property owner might have some ultimate interest, the county still benefitted.