Lowndes County supervisors are still grappling with how the county will deal with damage to roads caused by a drought.
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith raised the matter during Tuesday’s board meeting. Smith said county road manager Ronnie Burns has already spent about $200,000 on road repairs because of the drought — nearly half of the county road department’s $500,000 maintenance budget.
“This weather has dramatically affected his budget and created a lot of stress on his crews who maintain the roads,” Smith said. “I think it is the board’s responsibility to get more behind Ronnie in terms of making some monetary commitment due to the fact that he’s spent money that was unanticipated due to the drought.”
Smith said the drought has damaged several roads, including Whispering Pine Road, Minnie Vaughn Road and Chat And Chew Road.
The drought, which has gripped much of the southeastern United States since early fall, is drying out the ground. Burns said roads crack as the ground beneath dries and contracts. The issue is particularly pronounced in areas where trees are close to roads because their roots absorb more moisture from the ground.
Burns said the roads west of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway are most vulnerable to the drought due to the type of soil in that part of the county. However, Burns noted the issue is spreading throughout the county as the drought persists.
The drought has forced the county road department to use more money and faster than usual. Burns said much of the maintenance money is normally used for preparatory work before county paving projects. With his maintenance fund already nearly halfway gone about seven weeks into the 2016-17 fiscal year, Burns said he’ll likely have to request more money from supervisors.
“This is a tough situation for the board as a whole, but we have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Lowndes County that we do our best duty to address the road issue,” Smith said.
Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders said Smith could reallocate some of the money form his district’s paving budget to make fund repairs on the streets. Smith ultimately agreed to do so, after a sometimes-contentious discussion, though the move will likely hamper paving work that was planned for the spring.
“You have a paving budget, and you have a maintenance budget,” Sanders said. “There’s no reason in the world why Ronnie and you can’t get together and take some of your allocation of the paving budget today and fix your roads. …The money’s in the budget. You just need to go use it.”
Smith said he was disappointed with the tone of the discussion but thankful to have clarity on what to do on the matter.
After the meeting, Burns said he’ll work with supervisors to identify roads that most need attention.
“I’m going to get with the supervisors in each district, mainly 4 and 5, and we’re going to go out and look to just find the roads that are in the worst shape,” Burns said. “We’ll start using some of our road plan money to try to repair the most dangerous ones to get them back to where they need to be.”
In other business, supervisors appointed Sanders and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks to a parks and recreation transition committee.
The committee, which Brooks suggested the county form with the city and Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, will review considerations as the city and county approach their split on the recreational body. Supervisors issued a resolution of intent to withdraw from the organization in September.
The county must wait one year before it can formally leave the inter-local agreement with Columbus that oversees the recreation authority.
Brooks said the city will likely appoint two representatives for the committee, and he’d like to have CLRA Director Greg Lewis work with the committee. The city council didn’t take action on the matter at its meeting on Tuesday.
Both supervisors said during Tuesday’s board meeting that the committee won’t start meeting until the new year.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.