Commission begins work on road department budget

Published 3:00 am Saturday, August 19, 2017

County Engineer Russell Oliver said this year’s road department is an “unusual one” due to FEMA projects consuming so much of the crew’s time.

“The way I look at it is we have basically a two-year backlog of projects,” Oliver said.

Oliver presented the department’s requested budget to the Pike County Commission at their first budget hearing Monday, detailing expenses and potential revenues.

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“By far, our biggest tickets are payroll, materials, contracts and equipment,” Oliver said. “There are also some equipment requests in there to operate more efficiently. By the end of this upcoming fiscal year, that will enable us to be more efficient. There are a lot of small special projects we haven’t been able to do that it will help us maybe to accomplish.”

The biggest expense in the $3 million budget is payroll, which comes in at over $1.5 million.

“As far as payroll, it is what it is,” Oliver said. “The battle that we fight is trying to keep a balance. We’re down from 40 employees to 25 full-time and 3 part-time.  This is the lion’s share of our budget and it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for materials and equipment.”

“If we can be fully staffed and don’t have an adequate amount of money for equipment and materials, everyone is going to end up sitting around the shop and looking at each other all day,” said Russell Johnson, District 6.

“If you didn’t have FEMA money and you couldn’t sell equipment, would you be able to make your budget?” asked Chad Copeland, District 4.

“No,” Oliver said. “I’d have to cut until we balanced it. If we didn’t have the FEMA reimbursement or equipment sales, our budget would be based on our dedicated revenues– the gas taxes that have to come to us. If y’all chose not to put any of the public building bridge and road fund, our total budget would probably be less than $2 million.”

Johnson and Copeland had previously spoken during the budget hearing about needing to more adequately fund the road department, cutting other less necessary line items if necessary and proposing plans to tackle debt to free up more money.

“When you came in here and asked us for help, I’m assuming this is what you saw  and you wanted us a little more hand-to-hand with you on how we attack this,” Johnson said, referring to Oliver’s request earlier this year to form a road committee to set priorities for the department. “You’re teetering on your budget with disaster. Personally, I feel like when we hit, we’ll have a big shortfall and the chickens are going to come home to roost.”

“For the last eight or nine years, y’all are aware we’ve been skipping along like this the whole time,” Oliver said. “That’s why we have three motor graders instead of six. Selling off equipment one at a time, those things have helped us float along.”

“Somehow, we’ve got to get on the road to showing folks we’re on the road to making progress,” Johnson said. “So we can say we’ve done everything we can do, here are the things we can’t perform without help. I think we could make a plan to cut out some of these wants and deal with the needs. Letting road mowing out is going to be a start.”