04/29/10 — Officials: County cannot take on road upkeep

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Officials: County cannot take on road upkeep

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 29, 2010 1:46 PM

Utilizing homeowners associations and benefiting from lessons already learned by other counties are options on the table for the county to explore as ways to ensure subdivision streets are maintained.

One possibility the county has no interest in at all is taking on that responsibility itself.

The suggestions came Wednesday night during the first meeting of a county Planning Board committee charged with finding a way to ensure that streets are maintained and with getting them accepted into the state highway system.

The committee consists of Planning Board members Mike Aycock, who, as board vice chairman, conducted the meeting, David Quick and Charlie Galloway. Also on the committee are surveyor Bobby Rex Kornegay, developer and former Planning Board member Wayne Aycock, county Planner Connie Price and Chris Overman, representing the state Department of Transportation. Neither Overman nor county attorney Borden Parker was able to attend the meeting.

Planning Board member Chris Cox, who is not on the committee, also attended the meeting. His presence created a quorum of Planning Board members even though it was not a Planning Board meeting.

No action was taken and no Planning Board business was discussed during the meeting.

Cox broached the possibility of the county maintaining the streets, but was promptly told by county commission Chairman Jack Best that was not an option.

"I take it that is not an option," Cox said.

"No," Best said. "That would be 20 cents (increase) on the tax rate."

"Is it not an option we need to look at?" Cox continued.

"No," Best said again.

Best said there has been discussion that the state would shift the burden of street maintenance onto counties. Wealthy counties, such as Mecklenburg and Wake, have the population to be able to handle such a shift. Poorer counties like Duplin, Sampson and Wayne do not, he said.

"The population is not there to take care of it," Best said. "You do not want the state to pass down street maintenance. Once they do that, the state is not going to take it back."

Price told Cox the county can do street repair, but that property owners are assessed by the county to reimburse the county for the work.

"But it is a public street," Cox said.

Price said that was correct, but that is how the procedure had been set up.

Cox also asked about using state Powell Bill funds. Those funds are available to municipalities only, Price said. Cox followed up by questioning having the legislature change how the funds could be used.

"Well, the first meeting was to more or less get some ideas from other people," Mike Aycock said. "I think we had good representation of the county. We had homeowners, developers and Planning Board members. I think there were some good ideas.

"What we are trying to do is to help the homeowners. If we can look at other counties and look at homeowners associations and if that is what the answer is, that is what we need to look at."

Aycock said his thoughts would be that a homeowners association would be set up before the first lot is sold in a new subdivision. Those are areas that Parker will need to look at, he said.

"Then, when a homeowner buys a lot, he would know what he is buying," he said.

Homeowners could be required to pay dues with the revenues earmarked for specific areas, such as street maintenance, he said.

Price was asked during the meeting if any regulations resulting from the committee's findings would be applied retroactively. Any changes to the county's subdivision ordinance would require a public hearing before county commissioners and would have to be approved by them.

"You cannot change what has already been done," Mike Aycock said.

Price added that any changes would apply only to projects "from here on out."

Commissioners have been talking about the issue of deteriorating subdivision streets for several months, raising questions as to why the streets aren't being maintained.

The county's subdivision ordinance requires streets with four or more lots to be built to DOT standards. However, it does not require a street to be accepted by DOT for maintenance.

The problem crops up when a developer fails to follow through with applying to the state to take over maintenance of the roads. When that happens, the street begins to deteriorate before being accepted by the DOT.

Price recommended two possible ways to require the developer to have the streets accepted by the state:

* Once a subdivision has a minimum of four occupied homes and an average of two occupied homes per tenth of a mile, no additional development permits will be released for lots on that street until the developer or related agent petitions the N.C. Department of Transportation for maintenance and acceptance of the subject street into the state-maintained road network.

* Once the requirement of paragraph one are met, additional development permits will be released until 75 percent of the development permits for lots along the subject road have been released. Once this threshold has been met, no additional development permits will be released for lots on that street until the N.C. Department of Transportation district engineer has accepted the subject road into the state-maintained road network.

A third option would be a certificate that would be added to a subdivision plat.

"What it does it says are roads are built to DOT standards and that the developer would be responsible for the street maintenance until such time that it is taken over by the state," Price said.

Wayne Aycock reiterated earlier comments that the state has no money and is in no hurry to take on additional streets. Also, there is a lengthy lag time between the time the develop contacts the state and the street is taken into the system, he said.

It can be a costly process as well since the state provides a punch list of things that need to be done to the street before it can be accepted.

The committee will meet again on Wednesday, May 5, at 6 p.m. in the Planning Department conference room on the third floor of the Jeffreys Building on North John Street.