The resolution was introduced during the commission’s March 17 meeting and then tabled.
County engineer Mike Short asked for the change. Short said it has been at least 40 years since any publicly funded projects were completed on the roads, and they are not currently eligible to receive ALDOT funding because of low traffic counts.
“Right now the only roads that are available for funding are major collectors. We have very few of those in the county. So I would like to take some of the minor collectors and local roads that are being graded off the list because the only thing that they can contribute is preventing us from getting our annual allotment of federal funds,” Short said.
The five roads and three culvert projects in question are in districts two and three: Campbellville Road, Bryan Road, Pumpkin Center Cutoff, Pleasantfield Road, Coal Valley Road, Wolf Creek Road, Dogtown Road and Byler Road.
Commissioner Steven Aderholt further clarified why it is to the county’s advantage to be graded on fewer roads.
“The same amount of money comes in as long as we pass all of those roads. Basically, we’re just making the test easier for the county to receive the money. The amount of money doesn’t change, and it doesn’t mean all the money goes toward any particular road. We have to spend the money where it is needed,” Aderholt said.
Commission chairman Billy Luster added that the reclassification does not give county officials permission to neglect the roads.
“They will still be roads in the county, and they will still be maintained by the county,” Luster said.
Also on Monday, commissioners discussed District 2 representative Dan Wright’s request to distribute $42,000 of his district’s funds to the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, Walker County Solid Waste Department and Walker County Emergency Management Agency.
Luster said a state auditor has not responded to an inquiry from the commission regarding whether Wright’s request is legal. However, the legal counsel of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama has expressed reservations because the money is tied to the Road and Bridge Fund.
“I think the money can be transferred to a different fund, but it still can only be used for the purposes that are authorized uses of Road and Bridge Fund money. I do not believe that fuel costs to the sheriff’s deputies would fall into that proper use for this money. The Solid Waste Department would certainly not be an appropriate expense for Road and Bridge Fund money,” Luster read from a written response by the ACCA attorney, Mary Ponds.
Wright said the opinion from Ponds was skewed because she was told that Wright wished to move the money from a certificate of deposit into the county’s General Fund.
He clarified that his request was to move the money back into the Road and Bridge Fund and to distribute it as budget amendments through a vote of the commission.
Short described the criteria for spending Road and Bridge money as “broad.”
“There is a loophole in there that the county commission can take a portion of that which is not needed and spend it through the General Fund,” Short said.
County administrator Jill Farris clarified that the county must have met its debt service for the year in order to use the money for general purposes.
Commissioner Bobby Nunnelley voiced concerns about Wright’s plan.
“You put it in a CD like Dan did and then you come back and put it back in Road and Bridge just to put it wherever you want to. I’ve got a problem with that,” Nunnelley said.
Aderholt added that he would be hesitant to use the money for anything other than its intended purpose.
“Even if you do it correctly according to a loophole — which I will not do anything according to a loophole — the question still remains and it takes us down the road of somebody raising the issue in the future, ‘Did they do that correctly?’ I’m not in favor of doing things that are even gray,” Aderholt said.
Wright, who made the motion to table his request until a definitive answer is received from the state auditor, insisted that his proposal is legal.
“The loophole was made so that county government could keep operating. Every year since I’ve been here, we have borrowed money from Road and Bridge to keep this county afloat,” Wright said.
In other action, the commission
•approved a franchise agreement with Charter Communications. Luster said the agreement won’t change any fees or services for local residents.
“This is just an agreement that if they work inside our county, they do provide some revenue to the county for the opportunity to have one of the franchises here,” Luster said. He estimated that the county received approximately $70,000 from Charter last year. The agreement approved Monday was a 10-year, non-exclusive contract.
•agreed to accept two Homeland Security grants that were awarded to Walker County without any match requirement. One for $5,000 will be used to enhance the capabilities of 9-1-1 vehicles, and another $50,000 will go to the Walker County Sheriff’s Office for laptops and tactical equipment.
•approved an agreement with ALDOT for a project at Dovertown Bridge. Short said the project has been on the table for several years. The county will provide 20 percent, or $60,000, of the $300,000 needed to complete the project.
•met in executive session.
•Luster encouraged local elected officials to attend or send a representative to a hazard mitigation meeting to be conducted by Walker County EMA and scheduled for Tuesday, April 15, at 5:30 p.m.