The Ashley County Quorum Court approved the county’s 2020 budget even though two of the nine members disagreed with portions of it.
Justice Rhonda Pippen said she had concerns with adding both a 3 percent raise and a 2 percent insurance increase to employee benefits.
Pippen said with the uncertainty of the economy right now, referencing the recent layoffs at Georgia Pacific, she didn’t think it was wise to do both.
Justice Carlton Lawrence said that he understood her concerns, but that the budget committee had taken those concerns into consideration before recommending the budget to the full court.
Lawrence pointed out the county’s various reserve accounts and said the county has somewhere around $3 million in budgeted accounts, or reserves.
“I for one am convinced that we can afford these two things because the fiscal state that the county is in,” Lawrence said.
“I agree with you. There may be some changes long term, but I think we have sufficient reserve to cover what we are recommending in the budget, and like the one we had this year, there will be some slack, some things that that aren’t spent, so I feel comfortable voting for this budget,” Lawrence said.
He said he wanted to encourage Pippen to vote for the budget, but he also wanted her to vote how she felt.
“I wish that you would, but if you can’t, you have to vote how you want to,” he said.
Justice Ronnie Wheeler said he had concerns with both the financial statement the Quorum approved at the beginning of its meeting and with the budget, in both instances concerning county roads.
Wheeler said the county was a substantial amount over on the asphalt budget for the current fiscal year. County Judge Jim Hudson explained that one of the new machines purchased to repair roads did not have certain maintenance items listed in the budget, specifically, oil for a patching rig. The judge said $150,000 was budgeted to purchase the rig, but there was no budget for the oil and it took a substantial amount.
The budget was also over on culvert expenses, but the judge said way more culterts than expected have needed repair this year.
“This year, just for everybody’s information, on the hit list this year is (Ashley) 14 and GP Lake Road and what we can do in Berlin,” Hudson said.
Wheeler said the GP road is torn up because of a logging contractor and pointed out an ordinance that requires that contractor to be responsible for damages.
“They were asked to use other roads, and there is an ordinance on the books for when individuals do tear up roads, they are responsible for some of that,” Wheeler said. “They were ask to do a new route and they wouldn’t do it.”
No motion was ever made, but the discussion went on regarding the county roads and maintenance and that other parties were responsible.
Hudson and Wheeler also discussed that two individuals hauling gravel had torn up another road, but no names were ever given.
Following the financial report discussion, the topic of the roads carried over into the budget discussion. Wheeler said that he never got a list of roads that he requested and he was concerned about the fact that Hudson was maintaining private roads.
“I know you’ve brought on more roads since you’ve been in office,” Wheeler said.
Specifically, he mentioned Deal Road and a road by Cloverdale that he didn’t know the name of. The judge said there are 1,736 miles of road that the county is responsible for and that anyone could get a specific list in the courthouse office.
The judge also said he only maintains roads that a school bus or mail carrier needs to go down. However, Wheeler said he didn’t think that to be the case.
“We as a Quorum Court can request of a reporting of all of the roads and I did that in writing,” Wheeler said. “I never got a copy of it and I’m bringing that to your attention now that we would like to get a copy of the roads that weren’t being maintained that are now being maintained.”
Pippen said there is a farmer’s turn road at “the bottom” of Montrose that has a county sign.
She said that no one lives down that road.
“I seen a county road grader at the bottom of Montrose on a farmer’s turn road and it has a county sign on it now and I was wondering about that,” Pippen said.
The judge said there were a lot of county roads in the Delta that no one lives on.
“Every road that we’ve done has a mailbox or a school bus route,” Hudson said.
Pippen said she could add her road because people live on it.
Wheeler questioned why his driveway wasn’t maintained because he has a mailbox. Hudson explained that his mailbox is at the end of his driveway. The county maintains roads that the mail carriers actually have to drive down to deliver mail. If the mailbox is at the end of a driveway, then it wouldn’t fall into the category.
Following the road maintenance discussion, Justice Jeff Langley made a motion that the budget be put on third and final reading.
The court voted 9-2 in favor of adopting the new budget with Wheeler and Pippen being the two no votes.