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TELL CITY - The two Perry County commissioners who wanted early this year to buy a $100,000 road-maintenance-management system said at a regular meeting Wednesday they'll not pursue the purchase in the near future.
Commissioner Gary Dauby said after a Feb. 2 meeting a community assembly was to be scheduled on the issue. He and Commissioner Jody Fortwendel had announced during that meeting they were withdrawing their funding request to the county council "due to poor timing," Fortwendel said, "not due to the fact that we don't need the program, because we do."
Dauby said while it wasn't their usual practice, the commissioners would seek public comments because "we feel that there are more people in the community who want some input on that."
Their plan had encountered resistance from Commissioner Bill Amos, who assumed office in January, and from people attending meetings to question the price.
Offered by Bernardin, Lochmueller and Associates representative David Goffinet, the program is intended to catalog the county's roads and their conditions, facilitating decisions about where to spend repair and paving funds. After the initial purchase, the system would cost $11,000 to $12,000 to maintain, Goffinet said.
County Auditor Connie Berger said competitive bidding wasn't required for the purchase, because the county would be buying a service, not a product. She also said rules for "special purchases," for which competitive bidding is also unnecessary, may apply.
County residents appearing at commissioners' meetings have questioned whether the system is necessary, saying county highway department workers and others, like school-bus drivers, have intimate knowledge of local road conditions.
Eugene Heckel, 616 10th St., Tell City, had questions along those lines Wednesday.
"I thought we were going to have a discussion on that (system) this morning," he told the commissioners after they went through the few items on their agenda.
"That issue's been kind of tabled for now, Mr. Heckel," Fortwendel said.
Dauby had said a public meeting could be scheduled to allow Goffinet to present information on the program to anyone interested, but said Wednesday, "that's not on our drawing board ... I'm not going to instigate one."
Pressed for information, Dauby said he doesn't plan to look further at road-maintenance systems.
"We need this plan so bad," Fortwendel said, "but you know, the way the economy has turned out ... if we could somehow find some money left over in this stimulus package that we're going to be receiving from the state, I am all in favor of having any and all kinds of meetings necessary to get public input. There are people out there who want this plan, and they're not speaking up. The people who are against this plan, they're always the ones who speak up. The people who are for something, they lay back and (don't) say anything."
A tremendous number of people "want to see us move forward with a county-road maintenance plan," he continued. "This has not been a good year for expenditures of this nature because of the lack of money. I hope that some time in the future that we can implement this plan."
Heckel asked if Fortwendel thinks the program would be worth the initial and annual expenses.
"Personally, yes, I do," the commissioner responded.
"I would have no problem with shopping around" for other programs, Fortwendel said when prompted. "You know, if we had our own engineer, which we don't have, which most counties have, that individual could probably do this." An engineer would cost the county $60,000 to $70,000 a year, including benefits, he added. "No matter how we go about it, it's going to cost money."
The Perry County engineer's position was cut in 2001, when county leaders determined not enough work existed to justify it.
"What about some of our own people that have experience with the county roads?" Heckel asked.
"That's a possibility," Fortwendel answered. "It's going to take input from everybody ... there's a lot of people that could put input into the system."
Instead of hiring someone from outside the county, Heckel suggested, someone who is familiar with its roads could be employed to catalog their conditions.
While Fortwendel indicated an engineer could best do the job, Amos said after the meeting he feels "we have qualified people to do it."
Dauby has said the system would help ensure roads are maintained in the best interests of the county and not for political reasons, but Heckel said Thursday he's not sure it would prevent that. Even if it would, "I think it's an awful lot of money to spend on getting politics out of it," he said. He also noted "the stimulus money won't last long, then taxpayers will have to pay for it."