Bulldozer vote stirs debate on commission

Published 8:29 am Friday, February 3, 2012

At least one commissioner says politics are getting in the way of progress for the Pike County Commission.

At the last Pike County Commission meeting, County Engineer Russell Oliver presented a needs assessment to the commission, much of which centered around failing and aging equipment.

One of the items in need of replacement that Oliver pointed out on his slideshow presentation was a 1985 bulldozer that requires a new $10,000 undercarriage.

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“We are nervous about investing that kind of money in that machine,” Oliver said to the commission.

Oliver explained that the bulldozer was old and there was no way to guess what might break next on the piece of equipment.

He also noted the dozer was the only one owned by the county, so there is no back-up plan.

The county commission recently had the opportunity to fund the purchase of a bulldozer half the price of a new model and did not.

One commissioner believes that “politics” are getting in the way of making smart decisions for the county.

“We can’t fix any road if we don’t have the equipment,” said Commissioner Jimmy Barron.

Barron said that Oliver approached the commission with a proposal to purchase a Caterpillar D5N that was in “very good condition,” according to the equipment request submitted. New, a dozier could cost $115,000 or more, but Oliver’s find came in at $55,000 with only 1,673 hours of use on the equipment.

Oliver noted in the equipment request that he was asking “this purchase be made using Pike County’s Public Building, Road and Bridge Fund.”

Previously, the commission had approved a $170,350 equipment expenditure from the fund. Oliver noted in his request that he believed there was a way to save about $20,000 to reduce the original expenditure and be able to purchase the other items needed, as well as the dozer by only taking $35,000 more from the Road and Bridge Fund.

“We have the money and they voted ‘no,’ ” Barron said.

“This is hurting the whole county.”

While both Commissioner Homer Wright and Commissioner Ray Goodson said they voted against the purchase of the $55,000 bulldozer because it wasn’t in the original budgeted amount for equipment, Commissioner Charlie Harris had another reason.

“Until we get the votes to pave Pleasant Hill Church Road, I’m not voting to spend money on anything else to do with roads,” Harris said.

Harris said there was money in the Road and Bridge Fund totaling “$600,000 or maybe more” and he didn’t understand why the commission wouldn’t approve funding to pave that road.

At previous county commission meetings, commissioners deadlocked twice when voting on whether or not to pave one mile of Pleasant Hill Church Road. Commissioner Oren Fannin, Commissioner Robin Sullivan and Barron voted not to fund the paving project.

Wright, Goodson and Harris voted for the project. Paving one mile of the road was estimated to cost $150,000 for contract work and out-of-pocket expenses, but adding in-kind work by the county brought the total to $383,000, according to Oliver during a commission meeting in December.

Until that paving happens, Harris said he’s keeping a close watch on the money distributed from the Road and Bridge Fund.

“You can find dozers for sale anywhere, all the time,” Harris said. “There’ll be another.”

Oliver didn’t seem to think so when he wrote out the equipment request, saying, “This type of opportunity rarely presents itself to us.”

The dozer became available through the Alabama Department of Transportation in early December, but ALDOT held the dozer for at least a month to give Pike County a chance to inspect it and vote on the purchase.

“We didn’t vote on Pleasant Hill Road. This is all politics and we lost that machine,” Barron said, adding that he felt as if Crenshaw County would probably take advantage of the purchase, now.