Commissioners explain 25-cent pay raise to road workers' union
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2009 11:43 pm
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Jan. 29, 2009) — While the Pulaski County Road and Bridge Department budget is in better condition this year than the general revenue budget, county commissioners told the union representative for the county’s road and bridge workers that they couldn’t afford to give more than a 25-cent hourly pay raise because of concerns that the road and bridge revenues could drop as well.
Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall explained to Pat Lynch of Local 148 of the International Union of Operating Engineers that Pulaski County operations have two main funding sources: a half-cent countywide sales tax that generates more than $1.9 million annually for the county’s general operations, and a property tax that, along with the county’s share of state gas tax revenues, the county’s share of state new car sales taxes, and other smaller funding sources, is expected to generate a combined total of slightly less than $1.8 million in 2009 for the county’s road and bridge department.
Ransdall told Lynch that the property tax money can’t be redirected to other county operations and has to be used only for the road and bridge department. That’s created significant confusion, Ransdall said.
“I have this problem with the press and people who read them all the time,” Ransdall said. “It was all over the internet; they beat me up and beat me up and beat me up all the time asking why we bought a dump truck and didn’t buy three patrol cars for the sheriff. We can’t do that.”
While property taxes revenues remain stable, Ransdall said that may not be the case in 2009 with new car sales taxes and gas taxes.
“What helps us is we had a building boom so we received revenue from the building boom, and we receive our share of state gas tax and new car sales, and we know what is going to happen with new car sales,” Ransdall said. “As gas consumption goes down, our share of gas tax will go down, and as new car sales go down, our revenue from that will go down.”
Ransdall said county commissioners are trying to do what they can to make sure Pulaski County receives its full share of the state gas tax. That’s based on the number of miles of county roads, and Pulaski County receives about $1,200 per mile per year.
The problem, Ransdall said, is that during Pulaski County’s building boom, many new county roads were never reported to the Missouri Department of Transportation and some older roads were misidentified as belonging to cities that don’t actually exist.
“After I came in, we found that there were roads we had for 20 years that were not on the MoDOT list, and with the help of (the eastern and western district commissioners), we turned in lots more roads,” Ransdall said. “One thing that caught my eyes was there was one road in Laquey and two roads out in Swedeborg that were marked as being in a municipality. (Former Western District Commissioner) Dennis (Thornsberry) just threw a fit. We’re grading it, we’re putting the gravel on it, we’re maintaining it, and there is no municipality there to get the money. We found a lot of money and it helped.”
Lynch said it appeared the county’s road and bridge department has a significant surplus. That’s not necessarily the case, Ransdall said, because the county has large road repair projects left over from flooding in 2008 for which the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay most of the bill but which aren’t yet finished.
“We look pretty flush with money now but we don’t know with FEMA until all the work is done,” Ransdall said.
Ransdall also cautioned that a major ice storm in November or December could cause a financial crisis since the county would have to pay to fix the most urgent damage out of the 2009 budget and then wait several months for reimbursement from FEMA which might not happen until the next budget year. Most property tax money comes in during the last month of the year which means the county’s road repair budget is “front-loaded” with significant balances at the beginning of the year that drop considerably as the year goes on.
“If we were to have a terrible storm in November as opposed to the end of December, we would have already spent 90 percent of the county’s money,” Ransdall said. “In road and bridge we have to have more of a cushion than we do in general revenue because of the unexpected.”
Ransdall said the county commissioners are spending significant amounts of money to improve working conditions for the road and bridge workers even if pay raises aren’t as large.
“We’re trying to keep the guys in good equipment,” Ransdall said. “A few years ago we had a truck one of the superintendents wouldn’t let any of his guys operate except himself because he didn’t feel it was safe. We got rid of it.”
Commissioner Bill Farnham cited mechanical problems with a 2004 Ford flatbed truck being used as a snowplow as an example of the need for better maintenance and better equipment. That truck caught fire Wednesday morning while plowing snow on side roads off Highway T north of Waynesville.
“Of course it was insured, but with what you get from insurance, it won’t replace it with a new vehicle,” Farnham said. “We’re having a lot of trouble getting the budget balanced, but we agreed the guys work hard and deserve a raise … We’re telling everybody if they don’t need to buy it, don’t buy it, and the guys have pretty well accommodated us.”
Farnham said he “doesn’t have a clue” why the truck caught fire, and said insurance adjustors from Springfield plan to inspect the truck.
“That’s the same chassis they had on the ambulances that caught fire a few years ago,” Farnham said. “We’re busting our butts trying to get things done and now we’re short on equipment too.”
Ransdall suggested that it may be helpful to have local mechanic Bill Debo inspect the vehicle in addition to Ford mechanics to see if the fire was caused by a problem that would be covered by warranties or recalls.
Commissioners also received several phone calls Thursday morning from residents concerned about conditions on county roads. One resident of Harden Lane northeast of St. Robert called to report that the snowplows weren’t clearing the roads closely enough to the edge so mail crews could deliver mail without getting out of their vehicles and walking to the mailbox, and then made a comment that led to laughs from the commissioners.
“He knew the postal service was looking at laying off people and wanted to know if the county was trying to help,” Ransdall said.
Harden Lane is in Farnham’s eastern district, but Farnham said his road crews aren’t trying to increase unemployment for postal workers.
“You always try to leave enough room so they can deliver the mail,” Farnham said.
Several other weather calls were problematic. A man living on a side road off Highway T north of Waynesville called and reported that his wife was due to give birth and worried that he couldn’t get out of his driveway and an ambulance couldn’t get in if needed; another person called and asked if his road was clear enough so ambulances could take a patient back home from the hospital.
Those are major concerns to the road workers, Farnham said.
“I’ve had dialysis patients, heart patients, people who needed to get ambulances in and out or their drivers to take them to the doctor. We take those calls very seriously,” Farnham said.