Commissioners: Road vote driven by priorities

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Pike County commissioners who voted Monday night against the paving of the Pleasant Hill Church road near Brundidge,were unanimous in their opinion that the road would not be high on the Commission’s priority list – if there were one.

The county has a priority list for paved roads but not for the 300-plus miles of dirt roads in the county.

Commissioner Jimmy Barron said that he could not support Commissioner Ray Goodson in his efforts to get the Pleasant Hill Church road paved for several reasons.

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“Pike County Commission has never paved a dirt road with 100 percent county money and that’s what we were being asked to do,” Barron said. “Dirt roads have always been paved with grant funds, which historically pay 80 percent of the project and the county picks up 20 percent. I would vote for paving the Pleasant Hill Church road if we had grant money, but we don’t.

“We’ve got roads all over the county that need to be repaired and it’s our responsibility to maintain the roads for all of those who travel them. What we were asked to do was pave a one-mile road with a church, a couple of houses and a very low traffic count. I just couldn’t justify spending the money for that project.”

Commissioner Robin Sullivan said there are needs in the county’s road department that must be met in order to maintain the county’s roads and bridges.

“There are a lot of roads in worse shape than the Pleasant Hill Church road,” Sullivan said. “And these are higher priority needs and many of them are immediate needs. There’s a big difference between wants and needs.”

Sullivan said that when he was elected to the county commission and saw its indebtedness, he wondered what he had done.

“We had to borrow money to make payroll,” he said. “Those were very difficult times. We’ve come a long way, and it’s been a long and difficult road. I don’t want to see us going in the wrong direction again. We’ve got to provide the money for the road department to operate. They have to have equipment to work with. So, we can’t spend every dime we’ve got. We have to keep some money in reserve.”

The Pike County Commission has $600,000 in reserve, which is to be used only in emergency situations. And, Sullivan said the money needs to stay in reserve.

“Dr. Mark Bazzell (Pike County Superintendent of Education) spoke to us the other night and he said that a few years ago the school system’s reserve was $3.5 million but, because of the downtown in the economy, it’s now down to $2 million. That’s why we have to continue to be good stewards of the county’s money. We never know when we will have to dip into our reserves and once that money is gone, it’s gone.”

Commissioner Oren Fannin questioned whether the Pleasant Hill Road could be paved for $150,000.

“The $150,000 is the amount that was quoted for chip seal, but that’s not the kind of road the church pastor said they wanted,” Fannin said. “He said they wanted an asphalt road and that’s a big, big difference.

“But even if the road was paved with ‘rocks and tar,’ there’s no way that it could be done for $150,000. You’ve got to come in there and prepare the road, got to level it. You’ve got to have a right-of-way on a paved road and the big curve’s got to be straightened some. Prep work is costly.

“I just can’t vote to pave a road to satisfy one church when the whole county is falling apart down the road.”

Fannin said his commitment is to the entire county and paving a one-mile dirt road that is traveled primarily only one day a week by members of one church is not in the best interest of all the citizens of Pike County.

“But, if they can show me that the road can be paved for $150,000, then I’ll vote for it,” he said.