Some commissioners want county to grade private roads

Published 3:45 pm Friday, October 12, 2012

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners recently debated whether or not the county should grade privately-owned roads, for a nominal fee.

At Tuesday’s regular board meeting, Commissioner Russell Smith made a motion to request such a program. Under Smith’s motion, private citizens would fill out an application to request that their privately-owned road be graded by the county’s public works department, and County Administrator Gary Breedlove would then review that application and bring it before the board for approval.

“From time to time, I’ve been asked by some of the constituents in my area, about motor-grading private drives or private roads,” he said. “Presently, we don’t have any provision where they could pay the county and get that road graded.”

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Smith noted that Gadsden County, Fla., has a similar program, and asked Commissioner Oliver Sellers — who works in that county — what the cost is. Sellers said that Gadsden County charges $50-per-hour, but that Decatur County should likely charge more.

“I think it would be a good thing if you set the price to where it’s reasonable and pays for the trouble,” Sellers said. “I personally think [$50] is a little cheap, but we could choose to set that fee to whatever we wanted.”

Smith said that although there are local contractors who provide motor-grading services, they often also request a minimum workload of three hours. He said it would only take about 30 to 45 minutes to grade a dirt road. In addition, he noted that a citizen would not be able to schedule road grading for just any day, but only for days when the county was already planning to do some normal road work near the citizen’s property.

Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry said he had some concerns about the county potentially starting to grade private roads.

“I’m very much opposed to this, for two reasons,” Perry said. “First, we have seven vacancies in our public works department right now. I continue to get phone calls from my constituents who live on [public] dirt roads, who are asking for motor grading to be done, and we don’t have the manpower to take care of it.

“Second, we have several contractors in this county who are capable of handling this kind of work. The economic situation is bad, and I don’t think the county needs to be competing with private contractors.”

Smith eventually withdrew his original motion, but then made a new motion where he asked County Administrator Gary Breedlove, County Attorney Brown Moseley and Public Works Director Dennis Medley to research whether such a program could be implemented. Moseley said it would likely require a resolution voted on by the commissioners, as well as a complete fee schedule.

“I’d like to do more study on it, and have it be brought up again at the next meeting,” Smith said.

Breedlove said he would research the potential of such a program, but also addressed his concerns with it. He noted that he was concerned about liability issues if the county’s equipment were to damage something on private property, and was also worried that the application process might be time-consuming and cumbersome.

Perry was the only commissioner to vote “no” on Smith’s motion asking for the matter to be brought up at a future county meeting. Smith, Sellers, and Commissioners Dr. Charles T. Stafford, Frank Loeffler and Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely all voted in favor.