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Supervisors mull public road policy

Some county residents live on a dirt road, have been paying taxes for years, but have to maintain their own road, because the road is not up to what county officials call “county specs.” What would those living on such a road have to do to bring it up to the proper specifications, and would the county be obligated to accept it for maintenance, or could they turn down residents requests? In other words, are they obligated to accept the road if it meets county specifications for acceptance. Supervisors seem not to know either, a discussion at Wednesday’s board meeting revealed. One of their main functions, though, is to take care of county roads. After an extended discussion on the issue on Wednesday, supervisors told county planner Ed Pinero, Jr., and his department to do a study on the matter and brief them on what he finds out. This has come up before at supervisor meetings. But it seems never to get settled. Said Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith, “We need to develop a policy and implement it now and get this over with.” The topic came up at Wednesday’s meeting. Pinero told supervisors that an inspection of Golden Pond Lane showed that the road was not up to “county standards” to be declared a public road and taken in for county maintenance, and he asked supervisors to acknowledge that officials had looked at the road and found that it did not comply for acceptance into the county’s road maintenance plan. He said that county road manager Mike Mitchell had inspected the road, which is in Supervisor Joyce Culpepper’s District Two, and Mitchell determined the road did not meet “county specs.” Pinero said that county officials should, at some future date, meet with the residents who live on the road, and tell them what they would have to do to the road to bring it into compliance with “county specs” so it could be taken in and maintained with road tax money. Pinero’s suggestion was approved by supervisors. However, the action prompted a simple question by District Three Supervisor Dennis Dedeaux: “Could I ask a question? Do we have any criteria set for taking in roads? I mean, what do we go by? I have heard this, and I have heard that. Is there anything in black-and-white that we can all go by?” Nobody said there was a set policy, but Pinero explained what is usually done. Pinero replied: “The first requirement is that it has to meet with county specifications, and we do have a black-and-white engineer’s rendering of that. Secondly, a committee has to inspect it and make sure the measurements are correct and within required boundaries. Thirdly, after the board makes sure everything is met, there would be a verbal policy by the board at what time and what road would be brought in. The first priority, however, is that the board would determine that the road does meet county specifications.” Pinero said the inspection is to make sure the road is not a “pig trail” and is “substantially a road.” Replied Dedeaux: “In other words, it does not have to be a paved road?” Pinero said he wasn’t for sure, but that he did not recall taking in an unpaved road in the last four years. “I might be wrong on that, however,” added Pinero. Supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., who’s been on the board for 16 years, told Dedeaux: “Dennis, they have done several things over the years. It just depends on who the supervisor is and how he wants to push it. When we started talking about this, when our new subdivision regulations were adopted, I knew we had problems, and I tried to suggest that they do certain things a certain way. We tried to enforce our subdivision regs after 1998-99, and everything built after that date, should have been up to specifications.” Hales added: “If that had been enforced, that would have solved that problem. However, before that date, the county regulations were not enforced by county officials properly, and roads, in some cases, were not brought up to specs by developers,” said Hales. “That goes all the way back to the 1960s, and I always felt that the county had to share in the fault,” said Hales. He said some developers would sell parcels with substandard roads and, in some cases, the residents would not have “good access” to their homes. “It wasn’t all the homeowners fault,” said Hales. “I felt the way to handle this was to draw a line in the sand and say from this date forth, we will strictly enforce the requirements for roads in a development, and would not accept the development, no matter how small, unless the roads were brought up to county specifications,” said Hales. Added Hales, “Then I felt we should work out a program to go back and recover those roads and help people with their roads before you actually started enforcing the thing. In other words, help those people out who are paying county taxes but live on a substandard road that they have to maintain themselves. “There are set rules and state laws, but someone comes in here and says they want this and they want that, and if they are persuasive enough, they usually get it. That’s basically what happens,” Hales added. Said Culpepper, “I thought the road had to be up to county specifications. As you all know, last year I tried to get East Meadowlark Road in. I was told it had to be up to county specs. And I believe that Sandy Kane (Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith) and Ed (county planner Ed Pinero, Jr.) went out and inspected the road. Well, it is up to county specs but it was never taken in.” “We need to make some rules here,” said Culpepper. “I agree,” said Dedeaux. Added Culpepper, “I don’t know what to tell people when they ask me. I tell them they have to bring it up to county specifications, and then I bring the road in here and the board acts like they don’t want to approve it.” Said Supervisor Smith: “I don’t think the county is in any financial condition to take anybody’s road.” Said Culpepper, “The people need to know what they can expect.” Said Hales, “I agree. I am being honest. If some people want it, and they get their supervisor to push it, and he pushes it real hard, they usually get it. That’s the way it’s been working. If a supervisor wants to take a road in, he’ll push and push, but if he doesn’t, he’ll make some excuse as to why it can’t be. That’s the way it has been done in the past.” Said Dedeaux, “Well, I think we need to draw up some guidelines.” Said Culpepper, “We don’t need to be unfair to one person and fair to another.” Hales suggested setting a definite policy, setting a deadline and following it with “iron-clad” discipline. He also suggested that the board should look into gradually trying to incorporate those roads that are not up to specs. Said Smith: “I thought we had already made a decision not to bring in any more roads. I have turned people down. All we do is talk and talk, and never do anything. Let’s get it done ASAP. We need something we can hand homeowners and say this is the board policy and we follow it, no matter what.” Said Hales, “No one supervisor should have the authority to say whether or not a road should be taken it. It should be a board decision.” Hales also said there had to be a legal description of the road that would hold up in court if challenged. Supervisors directed Pinero to come up with a written policy, or research the issue and see if the board has actually already adopted a policy in the past. They said they plan to discuss it at the next board meeting. Said Hales, “We might already have a policy on the books, and we are just not enforcing it.”