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TELL CITY – A brand-new county commissioner and brand-new county-council member spoke out Monday against a $100,000 pavement-management system the commissioners are considering for purchase.
Bill Amos voted at his first meeting since being elected in November against pressing ahead toward a contract with the Bernardin, Lochmueller and Associates engineering firm, represented at the meeting by David Goffinet and Judy Thomann.
As The News reported Monday, Goffinet provided the commissioners information about the company's Street and Road Management System at a Dec. 18 meeting. The commissioners opted to wait for the new year before approaching the county council to seek funding for it.
Commissioners Gary Dauby and Jody Fortwendel voted to buy the system. The county council has to approve the initial $100,000, and Goffinet said annual maintenance would cost $11,000 to $12,000.
"Some people had questions, and I'm not sold on it," Amos said Monday before asking Goffinet to explain the system again.
It will provide a means to objectively analyze road projects, Goffinet said. Linear distances and traffic counts would be factored to provide cost-per-vehicle-mile ratings. "This puts all of the fixes that need to be made on an equal playing field," he explained, adding that projected repairs can be mapped out several years into the future.
Amos asked why the county highway department, with its wealth of experience, can't do that already. The $100,000 could be used elsewhere, he noted before adding, "I'm trying to convince myself that you can save us money."
Highway departments in general have done poorly in performing preventive road maintenance, Goffinet replied, spending money to fix bad roads while permitting others to deteriorate.
"How can I shift the money more to the middle, where I'm fixing bad roads, but I'm also making darn sure that the pretty-good roads aren't getting there, too?" he asked. "The money goes so much further."
The county leaders should keep a substantial amount of money available for preventive maintenance, Goffinet told them, for the same reason it's wise to keep oil in a car. "If you don't, it'll do something that you don't want to happen."
Perry was the first of several counties to begin using the system years ago, Goffinet said. The company inventoried roads, identified problems, prepared a plan, provided software and handed it all over so "you can run the system all on your own, and it's fallen flat on its face," he continued, "because … the staff couldn't justify all the time to run all the software and do all the analysis, and eventually it just fell away."
County Highway Superintendent Ed Feix and his staff are very knowledgeable, Thomann said, but don't have time to drive and evaluate all of the county's roads.
Goffinet said someone from his company will make quarterly visits the first year "and help you with development of next year's budget." Perry County doesn't experience the freeze-thaw cycles common in areas farther north, he said, and wouldn't need plan reviews as frequently.
"We've been looking for a tool like this to manage our road system for a long time," Fortwendel said, adding it will benefit any incoming commissioners or highway superintendents to already have a plan in place to follow, and objective figures will replace politics as drivers of repairs or pavings.
"When people come in or call and ask, 'what's your three- to five-year road plan for northern Perry County?' … we've got it on software, we can tell them. That's why I really like this. We've needed it for a long time," he said.
Feix "has been here ever since I've been here," Canada Road resident Bill Crockett observed from the audience. "If he's not capable of knowing what roads need to be worked on, then I don't think we need him. He's driven these roads for years. He knows how they are."
The system's purchase and maintenance price could go toward road repairs, he added.
Dauby said he doesn't think any human can keep the conditions of 520 miles of road in mind, but a computer could easily track them.
Phyllis Crockett asked how much money had been put into their road two years ago, but the county officials didn't know offhand. The couple was told culverts were to be installed and the road built up one year, "and the next year they would blacktop it," she said. "That was two years ago, and when we questioned why the road wasn't blacktopped, we were told that the money was used for fuel and for trucks."
Funds were never appropriated for the paving, Feix said.
"Where are we going to come up with $110,000, approximately, to pay these guys to tell us that we need our roads fixed?" Bill Crockett asked.
Fortwendel said money to buy the system would come from the county's economic-development-income-tax fund, which he said is dwindling because people are not working as much as they have in the past.
Phyllis Crockett deviated from the topic to ask that microphones be installed in the commissioners room because from the back row where she sat, "we hear a bunch of mumbling … how many thousands of dollars did this building cost, and they didn't put any (microphones in)?"
"There's the guy right there who spends the money in the county," Fortwendel said, pointing to new County Councilman Ron Crawford, seated several chairs down from the couple. Elected in November, Crawford had attended his first council meeting earlier in the day.
"I just started this morning; I'll have to check that out," he said, adding that he suffers a hearing problem, but wasn't having difficulty understanding the commissioners.
After Fortwendel and Dauby approved a motion to pursue the purchase, Goffinet said he'd draft a contract for the commissioners' review. At County Auditor Connie Berger's suggestion, the same commissioners approved a $110,000 additional appropriation from the EDIT fund, also over Amos' nay vote, to fund it. It will go to the county council when they meet at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 29.
Dauby asked whether Crawford thought the commissioners should present information to the county council before its members are asked to approve the funding.
"If I was to vote on something like that and I hadn't been to a meeting," the councilman responded. "I'd be awful ashamed and embarrassed to even vote on it, so somebody needs to do some work on this if they want an approval, I think. Right now, I'm not fired up myself."
Council members were invited to the commissioners' Dec. 18 meeting, but only three of the seven showed up, Crawford said. "The majority has no concept of this, and I don't know how you can spend money if you don't know what's going on."