Commission responsible for roads

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 1, 1999

When the current Butler County Commissioners took office three years ago, a top concern was to get the county's roads and bridges back up to standard.

Keeping the county's roadways safe and in good condition is one of the top priorities of the commission and it is also where they spend a large portion of the county's money. It is this group that makes the final decision on what roads will be repaired and which ones will have to wait.

The current commission is made up of five newly elected officials. Most of them feel that the roads are in better condition now than when they took office.

"The roads are in better condition overall than they were four years ago," said Commissioner Leroy Johnson (district II). "Butler County was on the verge of losing federal money because some of our roads were close to failing the federal inspection. But now, we have gotten those roads back up to the needed grade level."

Commissioner Tex Kervin (district V) said that the county could be even farther ahead had it not been for severe weather that has struck during their tenure.

"I think our roads are in better shape right now, but everyone knows that we would have been much better off had it not been for the floods and the hurricanes," Kervin said.

Some commissioners feel that they were hurt by a lack of routine maintenance in the past.

"For years it seemed that a lot of band-aiding was done on some of these roads instead of going in and fixing them," said Joe Hendrix (district III). "We have been able to upgrade many of our dirt roads and in 1998 we did 65 miles of striping on roads where you could not even tell they had ever been striped."

Each commissioner has his own needs for the constituents of his district. Kervin and Commissioner Gary Hanks (district I), whose combined districts possess more than half of the county's dirt roads, feel that the county needs to put more into routine maintenance of these type roads.

Commissioner Daniel Robinson (district IV) said he has several roads that have suffered from deterioration over the years.

"My biggest concern comes from roads and bridges that have not seen any attention in a long time. The lower end of County Road 59 is in poor shape and there are other paved roads that need some work. But, I am also concerned about the number of bridges in my district that are not school bus accessible. We have a lot of people complaining about the condition of their roads, but if the bridges were to go out it would not matter what shape the road was in," Robinson said.

Hendrix said that he feels that routine maintenance is where the county has been falling short, particularly at this time, but that some of the programs they have installed have helped cure the problem.

"The biggest thing we need right now is more bushhogging," Hendrix said. "We began the project where county jail inmates pick up trash along our roads and it has been very effective in helping to keep our roads and buildings clean. But, we need to make a better effort in keeping the grass and bushes cut along the roads."

Kervin said he would like to see the county return to a partial unit system which allows each commissioner to be in charge of a small road crew and equipment to be used in his district. These crews would work on small projects while the road department continued to work major repairs and construction sites.

"I feel that many of the county's citizens are being deprived of some dirt road and driveway repairs. Many times now you have situations where road department employees must travel from one side of the county and back or they have to wait for some supplies to be brought to them by someone who is on the other side of the county and all they can do is wait. I think a change to a partial unit system would be better for the commissioners, the engineer and the citizens of Butler County," Kervin said.

In order to change the format of the county government an area representative would have to go before the Alabama State Legislature which is the only group that can make the change.

Johnson said one of the major obstacles to better roads is funding and a key may lay

in the county's effectiveness in obtaining more grant money.

"We are working to improve our road system, but the money is not there for all the projects we need to do. I think this commission needs to learn about more of the grants that we could apply for and that could help us with road improvements in particular areas," Johnson said.

Robinson has begun applying for grants within his district in order to improve some the roads in that area.

"We have to be able to find more funds and applying for grants is a good way to do that," Robinson said. "We need to raise more money without raising taxes. I have members of my district filling out applications and maybe some day we will be awarded one of those grants, but we have to keep on trying until we do."

Each of the commissioners feel that planning for the future will help them remain organized and allow citizens to know what the road department is doing.

"I believe a four or five-year plan would benefit the entire county," Kervin said. "I think that will allow for every citizen to know where their money is going and it will help them to know when a road in their area will be worked on. Right now, citizens do not know if we are going to fix their road or not."

Robinson said playing it by ear and waiting to see what road you can fix is not the best way to serve the county's needs.

"We cannot go from year-to-year. We need a long-range plan to target the roads that are in desperate need of repair. We have to make a plan based upon our needs," Robinson said.

Hendrix feels that by planning the county could save money.

"If we had a plan instead of going in and temporarily filling potholes or bandaidding these roads we would be able to save money for the county in the long run," Hendrix said. "We have already implemented a five-year plan for our bridges and I feel we would serve the county well to set up a plan for our roads as well."

Johnson said that he would like to see the county raise the sales tax by one cent in order to help the county improve.

"I think that by raising our sales tax one penny up to eight cents per dollar could make a world of difference for this county," Johnson said. "That money would only be used for county's roads and bridges and within five years this county would be looking great. We could see a big improvement in our road system as well as maintaining some of the county's buildings."

A raise in the sales tax proposed by the county commission would have to come before the citizenry for a vote.

The commissioners understand their commitment to the citizens of Butler County and realize that road improvement is one of their major concerns.

"We have been able to do a lot since taking office," Hendrix said. "But, we also know that there is a lot more that we need to do. We want every citizen to feel safe and comfortable when they are driving on a county road. We feel we have good roads, but there is always something you can do to make them better."

"Our main concern is the welfare and safety of the people of Butler County," Johnson said. "That makes the conditions of the county's roads a top priority."

But, Robinson said the only way to make the roads better is for all the members of the commission to work together.

"Our ultimate goal is to make the county a better place to live. The only way we will be able to do that is if we all work together and understand the needs of the entire county," Robinson said.