The proposed project would replace Smith Chapel Bridge and Brown’s Bridge as well as rehabilitate Price’s Bridge.
The county is expected to spend slightly more than $1 million if all three applications to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program are approved.
Prior to the vote, Commissioner Dan Wright expressed concerns about how the county would pay for the project with payments on a 2002 loan set to begin in 2018.
“I’m not against borrowing money for a bridge. Bridges last 100 years,” said Wright, whose district includes Smith Chapel Bridge.
He added, “I just want to make sure we don’t overload our wagon.”
Chairman Billy Luster alluded to an agreement in the works that would cover the county’s match for the work on Smith Chapel Bridge and Price’s Bridge.
Wright said he had not met with representatives of the other party but was skeptical of the deal.
Wright’s comments led commissioner Steven Aderholt to make a motion to table the resolutions concerning the bridge project.
Commissioner Keith Davis then asked Wright to clarify his stance on the bridge resolutions.
“I don’t like depending on somebody else to tell us whether we’ve got the money to do it or not,” Wright said.
Wright offered instead to take out a loan on behalf of his district to pay for the bridge replacement if necessary because he said it would not affect the General Fund.
“I want to make sure the General Fund doesn’t go under in 2018,” Wright said.
Aderholt asserted at several points during the discussion that Wright should have sought answers to his questions before a special meeting was called on the matter.
“All of this stuff was supposed to have been investigated before this time,” Aderholt said.
Davis said he has spoken with bond company representatives to ensure that the county will be able to meet its financial obligations when payments begin in five years.
The commission recently approved a refinance of the 2002 debt that is expected to save the county $3.8 million over a period of 14 years.
Davis said he has also crunched the numbers on a current debt that is set to pay off in the near future.
“We can borrow this $1 million off that same gas tax, which can only be used for rehab of roads and bridges, and it would probably only extend the life of that debt probably by five years,” Davis said.
Wright reiterated that he would find a way to pay the $270,000 the county would spend for Smith Chapel Bridge but questioned whether commissioner Bobby Nunnelley would be able to do the same for the two bridges in his district.
After Aderholt’s motion to table the resolutions died for lack of a second, Wright asked that the resolutions be voted on separately and made the motion to replace Smith Chapel Bridge.
The motion passed unanimously at first, but Aderholt later requested that his vote be changed to a “no.”
Aderholt also voted against the Brown’s Bridge replacement.
The resolution concerning Price’s Bridge passed unanimously.
Aderholt also asked for an assurance that the commission would spend a similar amount of money in the other districts.
“The question I’m going to be asked by folks in District 4 is ‘Where is our $1 million worth of projects?’” Aderholt said.
After the vote, Davis noted that the three bridges were chosen after engineers were asked to come up with a list of projects most likely to be approved for ATRIP funding.
“Nobody, including myself, likes to borrow money, but when you can borrow money and receive almost $5 million worth of projects for a 20 percent match, that’s hard to say no to, especially when the need is in District 3 and District 2 for these projects,” Davis said.
Before the meeting adjourned, Nunnelley chastised his fellow commissioners for the tone of the meeting.
“We’ve always said we’re going to work together. Well, these bridges are in bad shape and here we come up arguing if we’re going to try to fix them or not,” Nunnelley said. “If they fall in, who’s going to be responsible for it? They’re going to look to me in District 3. You know, a lot of these guys have got money to do their things. I don’t have any money.”
Aderholt replied that he only intended to vote against bridges that were in Wright’s district and again asserted that Wright should have been more prepared for the meeting.
“I’m willing to work with everybody here, and we come into a meeting and then we start questioning things that we’ve talked about and issues that we’ve pushed through for the past six months. I can’t run everybody’s district,” Aderholt said.