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County gas fund hit hard by economy

Rising fuel costs – no doubt a major strain on the average consumer’s pocketbook – is also having an affect on county government as officials struggle to make ends meet in the face of an uncertain economic future.

For the 10th consecutive year, Butler County Commission Chairman Jesse McWilliams reported a lower gasoline fund budget, which funds the county’s road maintenance. Lower funding for rural roads has been a major concern for county officials for years.

Sonny Brasfield, Assistant Executive Director of the Association of County Commission of Alabama, recently wrote: “In the county road and bridge departments, the cost pressures caused by rising fuel costs are pushing from every angle. Obviously, the costs associated with the price of the fuel consumed by county road department equipment is a major problem… one must remember the largest source of revenue for the county road and bridge department is a county’s share of the statewide gasoline tax.

As the price of gasoline goes up, consumption declines. As consumption declines, so does the revenue from the consumption-based tax. Like they said, “the hits are coming from every angle.”

Brasfield sounded the alarm bell in 2007 when he wrote: “Any effort to raise additional revenue will be a difficult journey in today’s political climate. That’s just stating the obvious. The rising cost of gasoline certainly makes the challenge even more substantial. However, more than 300 people lost their lives on county roads in Alabama last year.”

In the face of such adverse economic conditions, we’re glad county engineer Dennis McCall and assistant engineer John Mark Davis have taken efforts to ensure problems with the county’s road system are being met. Granted, barring a major economic upswing and an increase of major funding through state and federal avenues, the condition of our rural roads is sure to be a hot topic for years to come.

But by pulling in $6.2 million in federal money over the last four years, the road department has shown it will explore all funding sources when it comes to the upkeep of rural roads in Butler County.

And in today’s economic climate, that may be the best we can hope for.