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Committee reviews 2010-11 W.C. highway budget

Committee reviews 2010-11 W.C. highway budget
Based on last week’s review of the yearly highway budget, Weakley County officials may be looking for a new way to tackle road sign theft that doesn’t involve increased funding for replacements.
Last Thursday the Weakley County Finance, Ways, and Means Committee held a review for the 2010-2011 Highway Fund Budget. Some major topics at the review – part of a series of reviews for the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year’s budget – included vandalism of county signs, funding for emergency response systems and bridge construction for Weakley County.
Early in the meeting local officials began discussing ways to suppress thievery and vandalism for road signs in the county.
“I do think we have a serious issue with the road signs,” said Weakley County Commissioner Jimmy Westbrook. “When we started trying to crack down on stealing road signs 17 years ago, we hoped that the issue would abate.  Throwing more money at it is not fixing it.”
Westbrook proposed one method for reducing road sign theft that would involve a $500 reward for anyone who turned in an individual known to have stolen a road sign.
“I thought about having some sort of amnesty period,” Westbrook said. “Anyone who has road signs has a couple of months to turn them in. After that there can be a $500 to $1,000 reward for anyone who turns someone else in.”
Westbrook added that an absence of road and traffic signs can create liability issues for the county.
Jamison Peevyhouse, 911 Emergency Response Director, suggested a method that may cut costs for the county in replacing vandalized and stolen signs.
“I found a way that we can actually have inmates manufacture signs themselves,” Peevyhouse said. “We buy the signs blank, they’ll provide the pre-stamped lettering. From what I judge we can easily make 3-400 signs for $15,000.”
Weakley County Road Supervisor Kermit Hopper, on the other hand, believes the best budgetary resolution for the road sign issue is to eliminate spending on some signs.
“They’re stealing them, tearing them up and painting them just as fast as we can put them up,” Hopper said. “With stop signs we don’t really have a choice. With 911 signs we really don’t have to put them up.”
According to Hopper, purchasing new street sign plates without lettering goes at about $15 for each sign. New stop signs are roughly $27 per sign.
The 2009-2010 budget for road signs was $9,500 with an estimated spending of $8,996. There is a proposed budget of $10,000 for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
The county must replace traffic signs – such as stop signs and yield signs – although signs with street and road names do not have to immediately be replaced.
“We’ll continue to put up new signs if we get the money,” said Hopper. “Right now signs are just as likely to be down as they are up. It’s a problem and throwing money at it won’t fix it.”
Peevyhouse later commented that street sign theft can cause problems for volunteer responders who don’t have GPS equipment to lead them to their destination.
“Most of the folks who are doing volunteer work for first responders can’t afford the equipment they need to have to go to the call anyway,” Peevyhouse said. “Very few use GPS’s. They rely on us to walk them through it, turn-by-turn.”
Peevyhouse suggested a possible proposal for next year’s fiscal budget that would use online map programs – such as those on Google maps – with cellular phones to get directions for emergency responders as the call is occurring.
Peevyhouse also noted that responders are having issues with TomTom navigation systems because not all companies use common nomenclature for roads, making it difficult for responders to get the coordinates they need.
Currently ambulance service drivers in Weakley County do not use GPS systems.
The committee lastly discussed cost of construction for a new bridge on Ross Road north of Latham, Tenn. The bridge – which has been out for at least a year and a half – will cost an estimated $485,000 and is set to begin construction on July 6.
While Hopper did remind county officials that the bridge on Ross Road had been a problem for some time, Commissioner Westbrook cited concern over escalated prices during the last few years.
“I had hoped to get two bridges replaced this year,” Hopper commented after the meeting.
Hopper said the highway department is uncertain at this time if funding will be available to replace an additional bridge in the county until after bids for the Ross Road project are revealed July 6.
The State of Tennessee provides 80 percent of the funding for bridge replacement projects in Weakley County under a State Bridge Grant program, according to Hopper.
The current proposed budget for bridge construction in 2010-2011 is $633,981. Last year’s bridge construction budget was $250,000 with an estimated usage of $16,236, indicating an increase of $383, 981. This is a change of over 150 percent from last year.
Hopper later noted that after the completion of the wood bridge on Ross Road, three other bridges will be built at McClain Levy, Powell Levy and Bear Creek.
WCP 6.22.10