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Cleburne commission discusses budget problems

HEFLIN – The Cleburne County Commission on Monday discussed the county’s budget and how they would pay for several upcoming projects and unforeseen expenses.

Cleburne County Engineer Shannon Robbins told the commissioners the road and bridge department budget has been hit hard with environmental remediation of an apparent fuel spill that appears to be coming from the county equipment shed. The county has spent about $75,000 on the cleanup so far, Robbins has said. It still may have to spend as much as $200,000 before the damage is cleaned up, he estimated.

A $50,000 expenditure for repaving County Road 68, which the commissioners approved in February, will be coming up soon, Robbins told the commissioners. The road is part of a joint project with the commission, the town of Ranburne and the Alabama Department of Transportation, Robbins said. Sen. Gerald Dial and Ranburne Mayor Lowery attended the February meeting and asked the commissioners for their approval. At the meeting, Dial and Lowery said ALDOT required approval from both entities before moving forward with the $550,000 road project. Ranburne City Council members gave $75,000 toward the project.

In addition, Robbins said, the wet weather has forced the department to order extra gravel, taking it over budget on that item by $10,600.

“Any wiggle room there was in the budget is pretty much gone,” he said.

Commissioner Emmett Owen asked whether the county could still afford to be part of the road project in Ranburne.

County Administrator Steve Swafford told the commissioners the county had set aside some reserve funds for a grant program to rebuild up to 12 bridges in the county. The county received state and federal grants for those projects, but they haven’t started yet, Swafford said. The funds could be used for current projects and replaced over time, he said.

“It’s a multiple-year program. Realistically, it could go up to five years,” Swafford said. “That would give us a five-year window.”

Work could begin on four of the bridges in the coming year, Robbins said.

Swafford said he would be hesitant to renege on an obligation made to a state senator.

County Commissioner Laura Cobb said the county needs to protect the safety of its residents and if that means going over budget on gravel, that is a needed expenditure.

Cobb said she would like any new hiring in the county to be brought to the commission for approval because of the county’s budget crisis.

In other business the commissioners:

-Took questions from some local residents about a wind farm proposal for the county. One resident asked the commissioners if they were planning to tour a wind farm soon. He also asked if members of Wind Farm Awareness, a group opposing a wind farm on Turkey Heaven Mountain, would be allowed to accompany them. Commissioners said they have discussed touring a wind farm, and they told the resident that they would keep him updated on that decision. Another resident, Mark Truett, presented the commissioners with a list of questions about the project and a DVD about wind turbines. He noted that the DVD might lean toward an anti-wind turbine sentiment.

– Heard that a local resident had requested County Road 111 be closed to tractor-trailer traffic. Robbins said the county put up a traffic counter on the road and found that traffic averaged 511 vehicles a day. There are other routes for trucks to take, Robbins said.

– Heard that Advanced Disposal, the garbage company that serves the county, has presented a new proposal for the next three years of service.

– Pushed back to September a decision to award the bid for a project to clean and remove asphalt tanks near the county’s equipment shed.

The next commission meeting is scheduled for July 21 at 6 p.m.