Discussion on public-private roads continues

Published 2:39 pm Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., said that only a small amount of tax money paid by taxpayers into county coffers goes to road maintenance and improvements, and most taxes paid by county residents goes for other concerns, such as schools and law enforcement.

Hales’ statements were the latest comments in a continuing discussion about what constitutes a public versus a private road, and what procedure is in place countywide that would turn a private road into a public road. If an unimproved road is designated a public road, the county would have to maintain, and hopefully, eventually have pave it.

The issue is expected to be addressed again when supervisors meet at 9 a.m. Monday.

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The discussion came up at the April 18 meeting among county officials when District Three Supervisor Dennis Dedeaux asked if the county had a policy, or procedure, on “grandfathering in” to the county’s maintenance program some dirt and gravel roads in the rural areas. He wanted to know what is the county’s obligation when a resident, living on an unimproved road, requests that the county maintain their road. Is there a procedure for addressing the request?

Two instances were discussed, East Meadowlark Road and Golden Pond Lane. Supervisors on April 18 turned down the request of Golden Pond Lane homeowners, who requested their private road be upgraded to a public road. During the discussion, County Planner Ed Pinero, Jr., told supervisors that Golden Pond Lane, after an inspection by county officials, was determined not to meet “county specifications,” and could not be “grandfathered in” to the county road maintenance system, or adopted as a public road.

Then District Two Supervisor Joyce Culpepper reminded supervisors of her problem with East Meadowlark Road, which did pass an inspection, but, said Culpepper, was never adopted as a public road by supervisors, even after her request and petitions from homeowners along the road requesting that the board do so. She said her request was ignored.

Tim Lewis, who lives on the road and has headed efforts to get it placed into the county system, told the Item in an interview that he had turned in three petitions and worked with three District Two supervisors in efforts stretching over 12 years to get his road adopted, all efforts being unsuccessful. He said residents along the road, who average paying $2,500 in ad valorem taxes annually, are at the “end of their rope,” and don’t know what to do next.

Hales pointed out that although the residents along East Meadowlark might pay that much annually in taxes, only a small percentage goes into the county road fund. He said county road department officials estimated it would cost $54,000 to pave East Meadowlark and that the county, if it did take in the road and improve and pave it, would never recoup the project costs.

Hales said residents should be aware that developers, who subdivide a piece of property, are supposed to bring up to county specifications roads constructed in any development, no matter how small, and the county is not obligated to adopt a road, or a partially built one, into the county system, if it is not constructed to proper specifications to begin with.

Said Hales, “How many years of taxes would those along that road have to pay to pay off that job. The fact is you would never pay it off with the small amount of funds going into the road fund. So that is why it is so important for land developers, the people who break up these lands and sell them, to properly install roads in their projects,” Hales said.

He added,” I am not saying the taxpayers and homeowners don’t deserve it, but when we take on a road that a developer has made a profit on and not installed properly, that means that every other taxpayer in the county has to take on the responsibility of paying for a road that the developer should have paid for.

“Actually, we already have a policy,” the longtime supervisor said. “If you go in there and buy land and a house on a private road, the county is under no obligation to make it a public road. We can set a board policy any way we want to, but it makes no sense to add undeveloped roads to your road system list on a constant basis. You never will catch up.

“I have nothing against developers, but when we as county officials are trying to be fiscally responsible, the county cannot keep taking in these undeveloped roads,” he said.

Supervisors are supposed to take up the discussion again at its regular, first-of-the-month meeting on Monday. It had directed Pinero to brief the board at its next meeting, and perhaps present a coherent board policy that would address the issue.

Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith said he thought that the board had already decided not to accept anymore undeveloped roads because the county doesn’t have any money to bring them up to acceptable standards or pave them. Supervisors suggested that Pinero’s staff could research the supervisors’ minutes and see if any resolutions had been adopted addressing the issue.