Davis: More state funds needed for roads

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District 1 Walker County Commissioner Keith Davis is noting how the state needs to give more funding for district budgets, while Chairman Jerry Bishop said he was willing to listen to suggestions from the public about raising more revenue. 

During Monday's commission meeting, the commissioners were handed their district budgets for the year. The commission also determined to approve the entire Fiscal 2019 budget at the Oct. 1 meeting, as that falls on the first day of the new fiscal year. 

Davis said before and during Monday's meeting that each of the four county districts receives $848,543.81. He noted he has 10 district employees, six part-time and four full-time, whose salaries with benefits cost $383,550. That only leave $464,993 to maintain 222 miles of roads and 10 bridges. 

County Engineer Mike Short told commissioners it costs up to $100,000 to pave a mile of road with asphalt. 

"Right now in District 1 alone, I have close to 30 miles of roads that need to be resurfaced," Davis said during the meeting. "I have $465,000 left to do everything else in my district — maintain the rights-of-way, keep the grass cut, fix the potholes, stripe the roads, do what little bit of chip seal paving we do each summer based on what funds I've got left. 

Davis said said he allowed several retired workers to work part-time for 29 hours a week to keep the experience without having to pay health insurance, which costs $10,000 an employee. 

"So if I had 10 full-time employees, then I would have $60,000 more just in health insurance," he said. 

District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burrough said he has full-time employees except for one part-time worker, which leaves him with $390,000 after payroll.  District 3 Commissioner Ralph Williams was absent, and District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt did not address his budget during the meeting. 

Davis said the districts receives money from the RRR fund, secondary funds, a gas fund, and a coal tax, the last of which has dwindled in revenue to only $50,000 or $60,000 annually. It had been five times that amount at its height.

Randy Dodd, the part-time commissioner employee who recently retired from the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, told the commissioners that a study showed the other revenue Davis referred has been flat over four years, while costs increased. That, in turn, "creates a very serious challenge to all of you." 

"It's not sustainable," Davis said. "Our infrastructure will continue to crumble and our bridges will continue to fail, if we don't have some funding for infrastructure, period. You can say there is plenty of money. Well, someone show it to me because it's not here." 

He said the county's road and bridge budget is $1.8 million.

"By the time you get through paying the $600,000 PB&R debt coming out of there, and you pay for the road and bridge staff, you pay for signs and sign materials, and this, that and the other, you are left with with probably $220,000 or $250,000." 

Those funds are being transferred into the General Fund "to keep the lights on, so we are back to district funds to maintain 1,200 miles of roads and 100 bridges," Davis said. 

Until proper funding is given for the county's roads and bridges, he said their condition would continue to decline. 

"Funding for this comes from Montgomery," he said, noting after the meeting that even an attempt for a supplemental local funding fix — a 1-cent tax that failed at the polls last August — had to be approved first by the state Legislature.

"That is where additional funding will have to come from," he said, referring to the state.

He noted after the meeting the gasoline tax would have to be raised in Montgomery, an idea that some state leaders are considering. 

Davis, "But if you look at government, we're just an arm of Montgomery. Really, if you look how the government is structured, the majority of our funding and things of how our revenue comes is set in Montgomery. We don't have home rule like cities do. So we can't just raise whatever ... The legislation has to come from Montgomery to give the county the authority to do what it needs to do," as well as revenue figures from the state. The county only has a limited number of fees it can raise on its own. 

Burrough said during the meeting, "Not all of our districts are exactly the same, but we all get the same amount of money. "Revenue has to come from somewhere" to obtain help. He noted coal and logging trucks are constantly traveling the county, and they will eventually have to cross a bridge that is distressed. 

"It is just a time bomb waiting to explode," he said. 

Davis said in his case, he has had to set priorities that limit him to cutting grass, striping, replacing metal pipes and repairing potholes. "It's an ongoing battle" that is going on across the state with other county commissions, he said. 

"There has been no increase in funding, and yet the cost of paving a road has increased three times what it was maybe 10 or 12 years ago," he said. 

Bishop also talked about budget constraints under his direction in terms of maintenance, including repairs for air conditioning that stretches over as many as seven county buildings. "It's outdated and we have no money to replace it with," he said, saying the county faces similar problems with security at the Walker County Jail with little funding. 

"That's what we do here, folks. We have seven buildings. We have to maintain them. We have a staff of two and a couple of people part-time," Bishop said. 

Bishop said in being voted into office two years ago, he was asked to find revenues for the county. 

"Some folks are not going to like what I've come up with," he said. "That doesn't mean it will be passed. It just means I'll bring it up. But we need the revenue. Sooner or later it has to come from somewhere. If any of your friends have some ideas, I'd be willing to sit and listen. We were elected by the citizens to take care of this. Some citizens don't like passing revenue. I understand it. I don't, either. But it is something that has got to be done." 

The commission has talked of looking at long-term funding solutions in January or later, including a possible stripped-down version of the 1-cent sales tax that failed in August 2017, which would raise $7 million a year. The tax failed by more than 500 votes out of more than 12,600 votes case. Some officials have talked of concentrating more on bond debt and road and bridge needs in a second attempt. 

The commission made a number of cuts to get through Fiscal 2018 as a result as a result of principal that had to be paid on a bond issue starting this year. County officials said the cuts allowed the county to make payroll through the end of Fiscal 2018 on Sept. 30. 

Bishop also discussed raising business license revenue by $700,000 at a recent budget session, although the idea was not brought up during Monday's meeting.