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Commissioners field added challenges to $100k purchase

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County residents object to price of road-management system

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY – The Perry County commissioners "have been telling us stuff for 15 years" about how county roads would be maintained or improved, Tim Huff told them during their regular meeting Wednesday, "and you haven't done anything. You've been telling us for 15 years that you've been doing studies and road counts, just to get people to shut up."

"We've been looking for something the last two years," Commissioner Jody Fortwendel responded, noting that he wasn't a commissioner 15 years ago.

Huff was talking about a road-maintenance-tracking system described by Bernardin, Lochmueller and Associates representative David Goffinet at two previous meetings.

Fortwendel and Commissioner Gary Dauby voted at a Jan. 5 meeting to make the $100,000 purchase, and Commissioner Bill Amos voted against it.

"I personally think the program will save money in the long run," Fortwendel said.

The Street and Road Management System offered by the Evansville engineering firm will provide an objective method of prioritizing road projects, according to a brochure on the system.

Company representatives will inspect the county's roads and record their findings and data from geographic-information and global-positioning systems in laptop computers. Map coordinates, photos, maintenance and accident records and other relevant information all be incorporated to provide a means of responding to taxpayer inquiries or complaints, the brochure notes.  

The News suggested in a Jan. 19 editorial county officials should seek information on similar systems offered by other companies to determine if they could save money on the purchase.

When asked if competitive bidding was required for a purchase of that amount, County Auditor Connie Berger said she hadn't considered that and would look into it. She called back later and explained the purchase is considered a service (versus a product), for which bidding isn't legally required. It would also fall under a state statute for "special purchasing," she said, for which bidding is also unnecessary.

An Internet search located a California organization that provides a similar system that serves many cities and counties in that and other states. The Oakland Metropolitan Transportation Commission's Street Saver has been in use since 1987.

When The News told MTC representative Sui Tan Perry County officials were considering a $100,000 system, he said that price sounded high, but implementation could run from $50,000 to $100,000. An online Street Saver demonstration is available at www.mtcpms.org.

"We should never send money out of this county when there are people here who can do it," audience member Jim Carter told the commissioners.

He suggested they go to J.H Rudolph Paving Co., to ask if they can evaluate the county's roads. Money going to that company "can be put back into the county," he said. "For any contract, you should ask if anyone in the county has the ability to do the work."  

County Highway Superintendent Ed Feix is capable of assembling information about the county's roads, Huff told the commissioners. "We have a lot of people who can report problems, such as bus drivers and the people who plow the roads."

"It's amazing that when something like this comes up, everyone becomes an engineer," Fortwendel said.

"I don't know if we have $100,000 we can spend or not," County Council President Pete Franzman told the commissioners. The council will have to approve the spending. "We had an early version of this program," Franzman said, "which included a red box in every foreman's truck. It worked very well until they jerked the boxes out of the trucks and it became obsolete."

The system could save money in the long run, he said, but "if we use it for a couple of years and then scrap it, that's money down the drain. If enough money can be saved to pay for the program ... maybe it's worth it."

Dauby was absent from Wednesday's meeting and said after a Perry County Recycling Management meeting Thursday he'd spoken to someone in a Utah company that offers a road-maintenance system, but it was difficult to make comparisons between them and "they're too far away; we can get it from a local guy and a company we've dealt with before."

The Utah company wouldn't provide a price "either because it's scary" or because the price depends on what options are selected, as when buying a car, he said. The company does serve a couple of Indiana counties, and Dauby said he told County Administrator Charlotte Rogier to call Jefferson County, and would find out which other counties he could check with.

The $100,000 "is not expensive for a pioneering program," Dauby said, adding that anything new is likely to be priced higher than products that have been on the market.

He said politics can easily become the driver behind road-maintenance decisions.

"I'm a county commissioner, and I can do any road, tomorrow, that I want to do," he said. "That's the problem." If someone can convince two commissioners to improve their road, their property values rise, he said, "but who wants to go to jail? ... I don't want any part of it."

"And we're not breaking the bank out there," he continued. The county has $320,000 in the economic-development-income-tax fund from which road work is paid, he said, and the $100,000 would provide a good tool.

"If the program can save money," Huff conceded, "I'm willing to spend money where it needs to be spent. I agree the concept is what we need."

Fortwendel invited the audience members to attend another demonstration of the system, scheduled for a county-council meeting that will begin at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the county courthouse. The meeting is open to the public.