Gas tax discussed at town hall meeting

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pike County could have approximately 60 miles of roads resurfaced over the next 15 years if the state Legislature decides to pass a 3-cent gas tax.

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) devised the plan and asked for county commissions to pass resolutions to support the proposal.

Instead of coming out and supporting the bill immediately, the Pike County Commission held a town hall meeting Monday so Russell Oliver, county engineer, could share some numbers with the commission and the public.

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He said 118 of the county’s 764 miles of roads needed resurfacing, adding those are just the “worst of the worst.” Oliver showed that no money is given in the annual budget for resurfacing local roads. Instead, the department is able to resur-face about 3.5 miles of road a year using funding it gets from the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised in 25 years.

“Revenues have been flat and we’re experiencing inflation just like every-one else, so every year the gap between what we have and what we need is getting wider,” Oliver said. “Over the years, we’ve had to make pretty significant cuts to operate without that revenue. We used to have over 40 employees; now we have less than 30. Our most expensive piece of equipment would be a motor grader. We used to have 12, but now we only have three. We just can’t afford the equipment or the personnel.”

Some commissioners aren’t jumping on board though, and are instead call-ing for local changes to be made to fix the underfunding of the road department.

“Working over the last two or three months, I don’t think that we can con-tinue to look at Montgomery to solve all of our problems,” said District 4 Commis-sioner Chad Copeland. “If we continue to just throw a little bit of money in that hole, 30 years from now it’s going to be just as bad or ten times worse.

“The most important number that Russell [Oliver] gave us is that there is ze-ro funding in our budget for local roads… We’re only kicking the can down the road and leaving this problem to whoever comes after us.”

District 6 Commissioner Russell Johnson also voiced his opposition to passing the resolution.

“I feel like its time to start addressing these problems locally as best we can,” Johnson said. “We need to open a discussion greater than ATRIP-2 on how to deal with this problem. I don’t want to just take the first piece of candy that’s thrown at me and be told to chew on it for the next 15 years.”

District 5 Commissioner Charlie Harris said that the ACCA may exclude Pike County from the benefits if the commission fails to support the bill, but Copeland and Johnson said that it is an empty threat.

“They threatened us that if we did not pass the resolution that we would not receive any portion of these funds,” Copeland said. “Politically, there’s no way they can follow up on that threat.”

“There’s no way you can do that,” Johnson said. “That would be called extor-tion and I believe that’s illegal.”

Later Monday evening at the regular commission meeting, the commission tabled the resolution for the next meeting.

The next meeting of the Pike County Commission will be held on Monday, March 13 upstairs at the Pike County Health Department. The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and the regular meeting will be held at 6 p.m.