08/15/08 — Wayne County says 'no' to state's proposal for secondary road work

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Wayne County says 'no' to state's proposal for secondary road work

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 15, 2008 1:36 PM

Wayne County does not plan to get into the road business, and a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Mike Easley allowing voluntary county participation in secondary road work is simply a "bad idea," County Manager Lee Smith said.

It is a bad idea, he said, that could translate into a minimum of a 6-cent hike in the local property tax rate to fund just the current level -- about $2 million -- of secondary road projects in the county.

That is just for the contract work and does not include the administrative costs that could add several hundreds of thousands of dollars on top of the actual cost of the road work.

"Paving roads is expensive, keeping them up is even more expensive," Smith said. "I don't think the county should get into the business of paving or building roads. My board said strongly 'no, we are not interested.'"

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is facing deteriorating roads across the state, limited funds and revenue sources that are being depleted, Smith said.

"They are looking for ways to pay for major highways," he said.

However, Smith said he did not see it so much as an effort by the DOT as he did certain legislators who see local control of roads.

"I think it is a bad move that will eventually cost citizens," he said.

If Wayne County is responsible for "X number" of roads in certain parts of the county, where are subdivision roads going to be placed, he said.

"I think there will be major political pressure on county boards around the state to get involved in that and it is going to get expensive," he said.

"The DOT does a good job in maintaining the roads," Smith said. "They are the experts and I think they should remain the experts. I don't think counties should get into paving and maintaining roads."

Smith said his feeling are shared by county managers across the state with whom he has spoken.

"They don't want it either," he said. "There are too many unanswered questions and that is why I am scared of it. I think it will be a huge cost and that is what I am hearing from everybody else."

Smith cited South Carolina as an example. Counties in that state are in the road business, costing millions of dollars, he said.

"It did not start that way, but (it) shifted and now counties are responsible for many roads, not the major corridors, but the secondary roads," he said. "The road quality is not that good. It is very bad. What I think happens is that it does not get equal treatment. Right now the DOT has the same interest across the state to maintain the roads it is responsible for. You also get into the question of what about poor counties. What are they going to do if they have no money to do things they need to do to maintain their roads."

And those questions make the plan a bad choice for Wayne County.

"If you look at what was presented (in the new law) it was very generic -- it scares me," Smith said. "Give me specifics -- what does it mean. I just don't like it when the state says 'we are going to voluntarily let you get into this business.' That seems they may have cracked the door to what may be mandated in the future and that is what I am afraid of."