Cleanup from 2008, 2009 storms put strain on Cape Girardeau County Highway department budget

Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Repairs were made along Highway 25 during the ice storm of 2008. (Kit Doyle)

High fuel costs and the aftermath from multiple storms placed strains on Cape Girardeau County highway department operations in 2009, highway administrator Scott Bechtold said Monday.

To keep spending under control in 2010, Bechtold told the Cape Girardeau County Commission during its meeting that his department will postpone some expenditures in new equipment. Bechtold said he will meet with other staff to determine which expenditures to delay.

"By being tight with our dollars it will get us closer to an even keel," Bechtold said during his presentation of his annual report.

Bechtold said severe storms in 2008 and 2009 increased the need for man hours as well as renting extra machinery to speed the recovery.

After the February 2008 ice storm struck, 4,250 man hours were need to clean up county roads. Bechtold said only 25 percent of that work was completed when nearly 13 inches of rainfall in March 2008 used 1,356 man hours.

And in January 2009, nearly 3 inches of sleet underneath 5 inches of snow exhausted 1,269 man hours. Four months later high winds resulted in downed power lines and a severely damaged power grid for one-third of the county. That recovery effort took 1,941 man hours.

"Disasters, in a single word this would summarize the most significant activities in 2008 and 2009," Bechtold said.

Because of the disasters, Bechtold said some of the planned four or five bridge replacements have been postponed. The postponements could be between one and two years.

"Those bridges that are delayed aren't unsafe," Bechtold said. "Because of the way they were built 50 years ago, they aren't as wide or heavy duty as bridges are now."

Still, Bechtold said in 2009 two bridges on County Road 524 near New Wells were replaced and one bridge on County Road 512 near Shawneetown was widened. Bechtold said an undetermined number of bridges will be widened or replaced this year.

Earlier in the meeting Circuit Clerk Charles Hutson asked the commissioners to approve a temporary worker to replace deputy clerk Sandy Beck, who on Thursday will join a private law practice in Cape Girardeau. The $1,500 request would pay the salary of the worker until a replacement can be hired April 1.

Holding a document from the Missouri Office of State Court Administrator, Hutson said the county ranks 15th among all counties in the state that need additional help in the circuit court. The ranking is based on the number of cases filed in the court divided by the number of employees. Cape Girardeau County currently is 4.6 workers short of full-time employees needed to do the work of the office, not including the employee who will leave Thursday.

"My girls are pulling their hair out now because they're four-and-a-half workers short," Hutson said. "All I'm trying to do is help my people."

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said he was uncomfortable with funding a state position, even if it was temporary.

"The county has concerns about how and where our money is spent," Jones said. "I'm sure there would be some reaction about 'you turned us down on such-and-such' and 'why are you giving state people things.'"

Second District Commissioner Jay Purcell said that with government entities cutting back, it would be difficult to make the case that Hutson's office could do without an employee for a small period of time.

"There's no question that, yes, it may create a little bit more of a hardship for our existing associates," Purcell said. "There's no question that there may be some job sharing. I just think it's a really hard argument to make in saying county government is going to fall apart, or at least this one part of county government will fall apart, without that one person.

Jones told Hutson to explore the matter further and present to the commissioners a more detailed proposal for the funding request.

In other action the commission delayed a decision on approving the exact protocol and procedures for how salaries are approved until after First District Commissioner Paul Koeper meets with the salary committee March 2. At that time, the salary committee is expected to approve its recommendations.

The commissioners had approved during their Feb. 2 meeting placing Koeper on the salary committee and to post salaries of all county employees on its website. The 3-0 vote came a day after Purcell had raised questions about salary increases for three employees that ranged from 10 to 15 percent, compared to the average salary increase of 3 percent for county employees.


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1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

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