County committees discuss roads, salaries for sheriff’s office

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On July 12, members of the White County Board of Commissioners met together in their committees to discuss issues that concern their constituents as they begin the new fiscal year.

During the meeting of the members of Steering Committee A, the conditions of several White County roads was discussed.

Commissioner Terry Alley told the committee that some of his constituents had called him to request a three-way stop be implemented at the intersection of Jerry Parker Road and Smithville Highway.  The committee discussed the possibility of a speed limit sign or a children at play sign as an alternative as a study showed that in the past two years there had been a minimal number of traffic incidents at that intersection, however, no official action was taken during the meeting.

A resident in attendance at the meeting asked the committee to look into issues at the Liberty Road/Hutchings College Road intersection, stating the weeds had grown so high that vehicles on Liberty Road could not see oncoming traffic on Hutchings College Road.

“Also, on [Highway] 70 and Liberty Road it is a dangerous situation,” the man’s wife, who was also in attendance, told the committee. “They dug a hole there. If you turned sharply, you would lose your whole car there.”

Committee members discussed  the hole could possibly be a result of recent utility work that had been completed by DeWhite Utility District, and County Executive Denny Wayne Robinson agreed to visit the area to see if he could determine what safety issues might exist.

White County resident Chuck Knowles told the committee the road he lives on is in bad repair and is a combination of gravel and mud.

“What can I do to get my road paved?” he asked, stating that the road in question is approximately 500 feet in length, and Robinson agreed that he had visited the road, and it was in poor repair.  “They've paved the other side of the river and fixed the bridge right there by me. They've paved several miles. I’m just asking for 200 to 300 feet.”

Robinson asked the committee if they would consider sending the issue of designating more funds to paving county roads to the budget committee for their consideration as well.

"Our bid came in this year cheaper than it's been in 10 to 15 years for paving,” he told the committee. “I’m asking you to consider giving Clay [Parker, the county’s road superintendent) some more money to pave roads.”

Commissioner T.K. Austin asked how they could appropriate the money to Parker without it coming out of the maintenance budget they had already provided for in the 2021-2022 fiscal year’s budget.

"Debt service. Borrow the money, then issue a note to pay it off,” Robinson explained. “Then it doesn’t come out of his budget.”

Ultimately, Steering Committee A voted to send the issue to the budget committee that met later the same evening. The budget committee approved a motion to send expenses for paving to the financial management department as the next step in attempting to appropriate funds and make an amendment to the budget. 

During the steering committee meeting, Robinson also reported on the state of the elevator in the county courthouse, which is now out of order, meaning there is no disability access to the second and third floors of the building.

“It was installed in 1976, and we are having a hard time finding parts for it,” he said, adding that he had received an estimate of $35,000 to fix it. “We would be better to get a new elevator.”

Robinson said he found a company that would rewind the motor for $9,800.

“We need to get this one up and running and then look into getting bids for a new one,” Robinson told the committee, stating that the American Legion installed an elevator for what he recalled being approximately $130,000.

In the budget committee meeting, which was held after the steering committees met, the reallocation of salaries for deputies and correction officers was discussed.

Sheriff Steve Page had submitted a request to reallocate salary from a position that was no longer staffed and redistribute it to other sheriff department staff members. He also requested permission to reallocate funds from two correction guard positions to increase the salaries of 34 other jail staff members.

“Although I sincerely appreciate the 3 percent cost of living salary adjustment, it unfortunately still makes our staff underpaid in comparison to our neighboring counties. We continue to lose talent to outside agencies due to our insurance costs and salaries,” Page wrote in a letter sent to the budget committee. “This reallocation will make us minimally competitive with surrounding county jails.”

The committee voted to send the decision to the full court, which meets on the third Monday of every month, for consideration. The decision is contingent upon the sheriff entering a letter of agreement with the county as well as approval from the county’s attorney as there was some concern that a lawsuit stemming from the jail’s previous administration would prohibit the county from reducing the number of employees at the jail.

Before the budget committee adjourned and ended the meetings for the evening, commissioner Robert McCormick asked the group to reconsider providing Sharon Langford and the Friends of White County Animals with additional funds for the care of the feral cats in the county.

“She was asking for a higher amount, and I wish you guys would reconsider giving her what she was asking for,” McCormick said.

McCormick said the $2,500 the county had agreed to give to the organization would actually have to be used for a matching grant and therefore could not be designated for use for the cat population.

“These cats are way out of control,” he said.

The decision was made to get more information about what is needed and to revisit the matter, with the possibility of making an amendment if it is decided that more funds could be given to the Friends of White County Animals.

White County Board of Commissioners, which will make decisions based on items sent to them from the committees, will meet at 6 p.m., July 19, in the third-floor courtroom of the White County Courthouse.

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