County faces hard times

Published 8:44 pm Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When County Engineer Russell Oliver began planning this year’s budget, he knew it wasn’t going to be good. But, what he didn’t know is that it was going to be this bad.

“We’re in bad shape,” Oliver said. “I don’t think we’re going to have enough money to pay all our bills this month.”

After cutting back on nearly a quarter of its workforce and planning to sell equipment, Oliver said he is at a loss as to how to keep the budget balanced through the rest of the year.

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“We’re already shorthanded, and coupled with that, we’re being forced to sell off some of our equipment this year,” Oliver said. “If our work force is down, and we have to sell equipment, then somewhere our level of service is going to go down.”

In the last four years, Oliver said work force has dwindled from first 40 to 35 road department employees, and in the last six months alone, another six have been cut or retired.

And they haven’t made a sale yet, but the Pike County Commissioners approved to allow Oliver to sell two pieces of equipment to come up with grant match money.

“We have federal funding every year, and we can only use that money on certain roads,” Oliver said. “In order to get that money, we have to provide a match, so selling equipment is just to match those funds. If we can’t match them, we will lose the federal money.”

Federal funding, Oliver said is needed to work on more traveled roads in the county, like the Gardner Basset Road, Smart Road or Elm Street Road.

But, aside from these Oliver said the list of potential repairs stretches on for miles — about 400 miles to be exact.

And those are 400 miles that not even federal economic stimulus money will fund.

With some $600 million expected to fall in the Alabama Department of Transportations lap, Oliver said the county could see around $300,000 locally based on estimations from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

That amount, though, hardly dents the more than $24 million in road and bridge repair needs in Pike County.

“That $300,000 is not going to go very far. It might replace one bridge or resurface three to four miles of roadway to put in perspective,” Oliver said.

The majority of Pike County’s Road Department funds are produced from the state gas tax revenues, which have dropped so far 2 percent since this time last year.

Oliver said other than borrowing money from an already suffering Pike County general fund, he isn’t sure how they will continue to operate through the next year.