OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — Supervisors on Tuesday approved a resolution setting up clearer guidelines and more oversight for the county maintaining bus turnarounds on private property.
The vote was the conclusion of discussion that spanned the board’s last four meetings on the scope of the work the law allowed the county to perform at those turnarounds and the process for how work requests were being submitted.
The county maintains 60 bus turnarounds on private property, which includes five spaces where bus drivers park buses at their homes, according to a list Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Director of Transportation Kelvin Gibson provided the board at its Tuesday morning meeting. By state law, the county can repair, maintain, grade, gravel or shell areas on private property designated as bus turnarounds.
With Tuesday’s resolution, the school district — either through the school board or Gibson’s office — must submit to the county a full list annually of proposed bus turnarounds to designate. SOCSD must also submit work orders to the county road department with specific parameters for any turnaround that needs additional maintenance, and the county road manager must include costs incurred maintaining bus turnarounds in his monthly reports to the supervisors.
“Our road manager was getting requests and came to us wanting to know what the limit was on what he could do,” District 4 Bricklee Miller, who led the charge for the stricter guidelines, told The Dispatch after the meeting. “That sparked conversation about what exactly we were doing, and there were honestly a lot of unknowns. We needed clear legal guidance and clear procedures, and I think we have those in place now.”
Gibson, whom the supervisors requested speak at Tuesday’s meeting, told supervisors he surveys the bus turnarounds each summer before submitting his list to the county to evaluate which ones need work and which ones “are still relevant.”
“We want to make sure we’re not asking you to repair something that isn’t even being used (as a turnaround) anymore,” Gibson said.
County Administrator Emily Garrard, however, said the fruits of that labor rarely make it to her desk.
“I have never seen where we have gotten a complete list but (this) time,” Garrard told Gibson. “We’ve never gotten anything about taking a school bus turnaround off, only letters to add them.”
Miller expressed concern over whether work done at bus turnarounds was adding value to private property or otherwise exceeding the county’s authority. Many turnarounds, for example, are on 911 roads (private roads with three or more residences that are required to have names and addresses for emergency services purposes).
One example Garrard mentioned at the board’s Feb. 1 meeting was Bibbs Lane, a 911 road where the bus turns around at the end. A resident on that road requested work that would cost the county an estimated $3,000.
Further, Miller wants to make sure the county isn’t building turnarounds or bus pads for drivers on private property. It’s the school district’s responsibility to do those things, she said, and the county’s responsibility to maintain them once they are established.
“We were building bus pads, removing trees, doing things not within what I believe the law says should happen,” Miller said at the meeting.
When The Dispatch asked after the meeting for Miller to cite specific examples of when those things have occurred, she did not.
Gibson said residents request bus turnarounds from the school district, which in turn communicates with the county road department.
However, Road Manager Fred Hal Baggett said Tuesday the requests are often too vague, and he pressed Gibson to include more specifics.
“I need to know if the requests justify the materials being used,” he said. “The requests need to be more detailed so I know exactly what to use.”
Gibson agreed to provide that information moving forward.
Board of Supervisors Attorney Rob Roberson, who attended the meeting remotely, said a better papertrail showing all requests coming from the school district to the county should keep the county’s hands clean with the State Auditor’s Office. If the auditor disagrees with the scope of the work done at a bus turnaround and the county has a written request from SOCSD to perform it, he said, then the school district would be liable.
“Honestly, I think it’s the best protection I can give y’all,” Roberson told the board.
District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer voted along with all his colleagues on Tuesday’s resolution, but he told The Dispatch after the meeting he thought the debate over bus turnarounds had “gotten more complicated than it should have been.”
He said the two primary purposes for bus turnarounds were to help buses maneuver through the county and to help protect children waiting for buses at the turnarounds. He said he didn’t know of any instances where maintaining the turnarounds took more than “a little grading and a little gravel,” adding he did see that work as “anything exorbitant.”
“I don’t see any change to what we were doing (with this resolution),” Trainer said. “We were already following state law.”
In other business Tuesday, supervisors voted to sponsor a Community Development Block Grant application for the Center Grove Water Association’s effort to build a second well to serve its customers.