Stats on county road expenses useful as unit/ district hearing approaches

As public interest over county road expenditures continues, with a public hearing on the unit system versus the district system of organization set for Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the courthouse, The Blount Countian is providing the figures below as background for consideration.

One criticism of the district system is that it institutionalizes wasteful duplication of road equipment with four separate work crews and pools of equipment. Another is that it engenders lack of cooperation among commissioners as they compete for budget and other resources.

On the other hand, some long-time observers of county government say the present county commission is one of the best in recent memory, an opinion supported by the current sound financial position of the county during times when many counties increasingly struggle with finances.

Proponents of the unit system say it is a more efficient way of allocating resources while reducing duplication and increasing utilization of equipment. While some costs under the unit system would likely increase – employment costs, for example – others such as equipment purchases for road equipment would decrease, with the overall effect likely being somewhat lower operating costs, according to District 4 Commissioner Waymon Pitts who has done a comparative analysis on the two systems.

Another factor would be removal of district commissioners from the road maintenance and improvement process, and consequent loss of the commissioner as an effective avenue of appeal for citizens on road issues. Under the unit system, commissioners become part-time employees with road maintenance responsibility centralized under a separate road department. Unit system supporters say increased efficiency and productivity through equipment pool and workforce consolidation would offset the loss of local control in the districts.

Figures below provide an idea of the size of the operation at issue in the unit system/district system debate.

County road statistics, 2000-2008

Total county road Federally-funded Total county plus federal Road miles
budgets 2000-2008 projects 2000-2008 funds 2000-2008 by district 2003
District 1 $6,076,054 $1,263,779 $7,339,833 288
(1 project) (21.7 % of total) (26.2% of total)
District 2 6,124,925 4,789,639 10,914,564 356
(10 projects) (32.3 % of total) (32.4% of total)
District 3 5,392,938 1,069,388 6,462,327 205
(5 projects) (19.1% of total) (18.7% of total)
District 4 5,589,903 3,446,475 9,036,378 248
(6 projects) (26.8% of total) (22.6% of total)
Totals $33,753,101 1097