County hears road compaints

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Chairman suggests flat tax proceeds are part of problem

When a Covington County resident complained to commissioners Tuesday about some of their previous spending decisions and the condition of the road on which she resides, Commission Chairman Greg White took the opportunity to gently advocate for an increase in the state’s gas tax.

Donna Hendrix had asked to be on the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting, and first asked questions about the county’s 2019 budget.

White said none of the commissioners were prepared to answer.

“Let me mention to you on things like that, I’m not prepared nor do I think any of the other commissioners are to answer that off the top of our heads,” White said. “So some of the questions like that we can answer that for you later, but it is going to be hard to answer those types of questions on the fly. If we can we will.”

Hendrix then listed specific expenditures that the county commission approved that she believed were unnecessary.

“The one thing that I would like to address are some of the expenditures that you had in 2018,” Hendrix said. “I really don’t see that they were all needed, but that’s my opinion. In January of 2018, you approved a travel request for commissioners and other staff to go to the National Association of Counties Conference.

“In March, you approved allocating $9,000 from the contingency fund to replace carpet in the administration building. In July, you approved another travel to the White House Conference. In December, you approved for an app to be installed which cost $8,400 which include a one-time fee, software, meetings and trainings, and then it would be $1,000 a month for one year that way you could text, visit the website and send messages. Then in December again, you also purchased five acres of land for $60,000 for a future economic development project and the public still has not heard anything.”

Hendrix also told commissioners she believes county roads were in better shape 20 years ago than they are now.

“Mr. White you stated this in December of 2017,” Hendrix said. “ ‘The county is operating with the same sum of money for the roads and bridges since 1995.’ Now I live on a dirt road and in my opinion, the dirt road that I live on was in way much better shape then compared to now. So has our budget not gained any money from ’95 until now?”

White said that he stands by his 2017 statement.

“What we call the gas tax monies, the money that funds our road and bridge departments, those revenues have not increased in over 20 years,” White said. “The reason for that is because that money comes from gas tax. Gas taxes, federal and state, are so much per gallon, and the consumption of diesel or gas has not increased during those years. You might think it has because there are more vehicles on the road traveling, but they tend to be a lot more efficient and so the actual number of gallons sold evidently has not increased, or what we get at the county level has not increased. I doubt that there has been a 5 percent change in revenue in a 28-year period.”

He said that several things have contributed to the decline in road conditions.

“Yes, the services that you saw, the shape of the roads that you saw 25 years ago, were better,” White said. “Because during that time the cost of asphalt to resurface a road or maintain paved roads was lower. The cost of our labor has gone up because we keep giving cost of living raises. The cost of our fuel is probably double or triple from that time. So we have less money, at the end of that process, to do our work with.

“We’ve had to cut staff and we don’t have nearly as much asphalt bought in a year because our dollars don’t go as far. So yes, I don’t think you see as good a service as you did back then, but I don’t think it is much less, because we are constantly doing things to improve our efficiencies.”

The technology now is a lot better than it was 25 to 30 years ago, White said.

“We are able to maintain much better equipment compared to 25 to 30 years ago,” White said. “We are able to do significantly better work per hour of operation. So we have done a lot of things to manage our money and stretch it a lot further.”

Hendrix kept restating that despite the equipment, the roads were still worse than 25 years ago, and asked if money had been misused.

White said that since the revenue was not there, they didn’t have the money to misuse it.

“We certainly could debate how we chose to use dollars,” White said. “But if it comes in for a gas tax revenue coming in for our roads and bridges then it is used on roads and bridges.”

The Alabama legislature is expected to consider a new gas tax when it goes into session next month.

In other action, the commission:

• Appointed Commissioner Kyle Adams to the Southeast Alabama Planning Organization Policy Committee.

• Appointed new Sheriff Blake Turman to the E911 Board.

• Awarded a bid for an herbicide truck and steel pilings.

• Approved an agreement for geotechnical services in the engineering department.

• Approved an additional part time position for the sheriff’s department, which will be paid for by the law enforcement fund.

• Approved amendments to the workforce classification for the sheriff’s office.