Commission decertifies engineer’s budget

Published 10:00 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

It hasn’t happened before in recent memory, but it happened Wednesday: The Lawrence County Commission agreed to unappropriate the Lawrence County Engineer’s budget as a way to get Engineer David Lynd to explain why his office began applying chip-and-seal on top of asphalt on a three-mile stretch of County Road 107 last week.

The move has angered residents who live on that roadway; they are now threatening legal action over the matter. Lynd said he is considering his own legal options in light of the commission’s action on his budget.

Gary Murnahan, permits coordinator for the engineer’s office, attended Wednesday’s county commission meeting and explained that the road, which needed to be patched, was chip-and-sealed to keep moisture out of potholes.

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“Even the best patches let water in,” Murnahan said. “It (chip-and-seal) stays better; it’s more cost-effective.”

But commissioners and one resident who attended Wednesday’s meeting questioned the wisdom of chip-and-sealing an asphalt road that was in good condition, thus downgrading the roadway instead of improving it.

“The road has existed as long as I can remember, well over 40, 50 years and was maintained by the state,” eastern end resident Tom Burcham said. “You can’t tell me its suddenly deteriorated in two years (since it became a county road).”

“The big issue is, when you lived on a blacktop road and you bought a home on a blacktop road, I think everyone can understand the frustration of coming home on chip-and-sealed road when you used to live on a blacktop road,” Commissioner Doug Malone said.

More frustrating than the road condition itself was Lynd’s sending an employee rather than coming to the commission meeting himself.

“I appreciate you coming in. We’ve been trying to get a hold of David Lynd for four or five days,” Burcham told Murnahan. “He’s an elected official, he is accountable to the taxpayer and he should be available to the taxpayer.” Murnahan said he and others have tried to contact Lynd within the last few days to discuss this matter but he has not been available.

The commission voted 2-1 to unappropriate Lynd’s $1.2 million budget, meaning effective at 11 a.m. Wednesday, he had no money for supplies, equipment and contracts, even though most of this money comes from the state and not the county general fund.

“By doing this, there has got to be some way to make the point that we’d like to hear — and I think the people deserve to hear — from an elected official on this,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said.

Commissioner Les Boggs cast the one dissenting vote. He said two wrongs don’t make a right, and the unappropriation leaves intact money for salaries, meaning Lynd will still have money to pay employees, even if the employees have no equipment to work with.

“I can’t agree to have someone sitting beside the road with no materials to work with,” Boggs said.

In a fax to The Tribune Wednesday afternoon, Lynd said he is “currently reviewing the legal implications of the actions taken today by the Lawrence County Commissioners with respect to the engineer’s budget.”

Lynd was unavailable for comment but his administrative assistant Michelle Collins said the commission’s action not only stops work on County Road 107 but on other projects throughout the county as well.

“The problem is, with the action taken yesterday, we have to look at what we can do as far as the whole county,” Collins said.

Burcham said residents are considering what, if any, legal recourse they have to prevent Lynd from going any further with his chip-and-seal plans and to force him to fix the portion of roadway that has already been chip-and-sealed.

“At some point he needs to be compelled to fix the road,” Burcham said.

Malone said in the future, he plans to scrutinize more closely the project list Lynd sends each spring to the county commission, to make certain so-called road improvements are in fact that— improvements.