News Perspective

The agreement emerged in 2006 as a compromise after a storm of controversy among commissioners about an equitable way of dividing the pot. For at least 10 years before 2006, there had not been a routine formula. It changed every year.

In 2006, a strong argument was advanced that allocation should be based on road miles, with each district’s cut equalling that district’s road miles as a percentage of total county road miles. It wasn’t a new argument, but one often repeated, like a chorus in a country song, over the years. Advantage District 2, with the greatest number of road miles, at 358 out of a total of 1115 countywide.

Another rationale advanced was that road deterioration was more rapid in districts that had the highest traffic volumes on roads. It just so happened that the district with the highest traffic counts, and incidentally the highest incidence of construction activity involving heavy vehicles and attendant road wear (District 1), also had the highest fuel and time costs for hauling chert, since trips to the chert pit were nearly twice as long for District 1 as for the other districts.

In a burst of altruistic spirit – and to resolve an acrimonious budget impasse– over how to divide the pot of money, the commission voted to favor District 1 with a larger piece of the pie to help offset its higher cost profile.

That compromise has held without a serious challenge for the last eight years. However, it gave signs of unravelling last Thursday as Commissioners Allen Armstrong and Dean Calvert of districts 1 and 3 respectively, tangled furiously over whether to extend the formula again for the coming year or transition to dividing the pot equally between the four districts. Guess who wanted what?

The question remains to be answered, either by compromise among the commissioners, or a vote on the existing or some other version of an allocation plan that may be offered by the administration. Another point to consider

The budget proposed for the commission to consider maps out a route for financing county road improvements via the state-provided ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program) plan using internal county financing for the required matching funds, without the need to borrow money. It does so, as Commission Chairman Chris Green noted, without depleting county reserves – the fiscal year “ending balances” for the several gas tax and other accounts involved in funding the county road program.

By incorporating the county matching funds requirement for two more years of ATRIP projects – without borrowing money and without exhausting reserves – the budget represents a substantial accomplishment in both planning and budgeting, a feat few other counties can claim to match, according to Green.

“It’s a good budget. It’s a great budget,” Green said.

But it hasn’t been adopted yet by the commission.

In the meeting Thursday, Green raised a matter for commissioners to consider beyond the immediate budget discussion. The budget provides a map to complete ATRIP projects now in the pipeline for the immediate future. But what about after ATRIP? How will the county continue the program of farm-to-market road improvements when state funding support through ATRIP runs out?

“I’m concerned that there are still going to be roads needing attention when ATRIP runs out,” Green said. “We need to plan for some way to continue the momentum ATRIP has given us after it’s gone. I’m not against a bond issue to get that continuity – if there is a revenue source to support it. We need to be thinking about that.”

The question was raised, but the subject was not engaged in the remainder of the budget meeting. Like the matter of the district road budget allocation formula, it remains to be resolved in future meetings.

Budget meetings remaining in the 2014- 15 planning cycle are scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 14, and Wednesday, Aug. 27. The budget could conceivably be adopted in the Sept. 8 business meeting.