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Budget cuts would mean less road maintenance

Roads budget history

The following chart is the budget for Bulloch's road maintainence department since 2004:

2008 (proposed) – $3,020,000

2007 – $2,735,725

2006 – $2,932,040

2005 – $2,662,886

2004 – $2,343,839

 

 

            With almost 800 miles of dirt roads and 450 miles of paved roads, Bulloch County Road Superintendent Eddie Smith stays very, very busy.

            And when county commissioners asked him (and a host of other department heads) Thursday whether he could cut his budget, he said to do so would be "devastating" to his department.

            Smith's budget covers a vast array of things from heavy equipment, a fleet of vehicles and the personnel to operate them. With 24 details going out four days a week (on a rotating basis, with one day a week when the equipment – and crews – are rested), the work is steady and never-ending.

            Commissioners are reviewing a recommended roads department budget of $3,020,000 – including a supplemental request of $85,745 – for fiscal year 2008.        

            The budget for this year, fiscal year 2007, was $2,735,725. In fiscal year 2004, it was $2,343,839; in 2005 it was $2,662,886 and in 2006 the budget was $2,932,420.

            Smith is faced with some pretty hefty expense needs this coming year, he told commissioners. "We need four new pickups and a van," he said.

            With 24 road crews covering the miles and miles of county roads daily, the wear and tear on vehicles is major. Add to that the exorbitant fuel prices, and expenses go through the roof, he said.

            "Fuel prices are hard to project," he said Friday. "You don't know what they're going to do. That's another thing that adds to our expenses."

            While the recommended roads department budget is higher than in years past, the money isn't funding new positions. The work load may be rising, but the work force is not. "We have the same number of employees we had 210 years ago," he said.

            Smith is now transportation director, and supervises two assistant road superintendents who split the county into two sections, thus reducing the amount of travel each would have to do in covering the county, he said. But, with his promotion, there is no one to handle a vital part of his former duties - training.

            "I need my old position filled .. for training," he told commissioners.

            Personnel for the road crews is short, and while the county uses inmate labor, "it is hard to find (inmates) with licenses," he said.

            Workers operating heavy equipment and performing flagging duties must be trained and certified, and there is no one to do the necessary training, he said.

            On top of that pressing need, the road maintenance must continue. This includes blading dirt roads, but there is much more to the job, Smith said.

            "We do all the litter pickup, grass cutting, spraying and general maintenance" of roadways, he said. "We patch pot holes, do the signs for the roadways ..."

            And there are crews who only do road blading. There are crews that pull ditches.  Other crews lay culvert pipes and do back hoe work. Some do paving, such as parking lots and other work for county construction projects such as the new Central 911 Center and Bulloch County Jail expansion, he said.

            There is always something going on, and "right now, what is eating us up is beaver dams," he said Friday. "We have 50 sites. It ties a back hoe up one day a week" to destroy the dams, which  the beavers promptly rebuild.

            There are also crews that respond to storm cleanup, such as the ones who worked to clear roadways a week ago after a violent storm. "We're pretty reactive to that," he said.

            Smith and some other county workers do drive county vehicles home, because "We are on call every day," he said. If an emergency arises such as a road washing out or trees fall over a highway, Smith and the road crews respond even if they have the day off or whether it is after midnight.

            If his budget were to be cut by 10 percent, much less 20 percent, a great deal of road maintenance and repair would not take place. "A cutback would be devastating to my department," he said.

 

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