Recently, Clay County Commissioners' President Charlie Brown invited The Brazil Times to tour some of the approximately 700 miles of county roads and discuss some of the other aspects the job brings.
"Everyone wants to see the baby, but no one wants to hear about the labor pains," Brown said. "I don't like to drive on bad roads any more than everyone else, and it's a shame that they have to drive on roads like these."
Brown said the commissioners would like to have all of the roads fixed and maintained to levels residents can safely drive on, but the funds just aren't available.
"One thing people might not know is that the money for road repair comes from the gasoline tax, which is allocated by the state, not from property taxes," Brown said. "When it costs approximately $80,000 a mile to pave a road with hot mix like they do on the interstate, the money we receive doesn't go very far."
For 2009, there was approximately $640,000 allocated for road paving, repair and maintenance for Clay County, which is split between two funds. The Local Road and Street Fund had $300,000 at the beginning of the year for road materials, while the Maintenance and Repair section of the Highway Fund had a total of $339,500 for salt, road signs, hardware and tools and stone, gravel and bituminous.
"We do have other options to fix the roads, but cold mix is just a little cheaper than hot mix, and going with chip and seal is about $20,000 a mile," Brown said. "But no matter what option we go with, the roads still have to be maintained, which takes the same funds available to pave them."
Brown added the commissioners are considering the option of re-rocking some of the little-used county roads that need work.
"There are so many roads in the county that need to be fixed, and it is difficult to determine priority at times with the limited funds," he said. "However, we are looking at using gravel on some county roads because it doesn't seem like an efficient use of county funds to pave a road being used by one, and in some cases, no residents."
One other aspect of being a commissioner is maintaining and updating county bridges, which Brown said he is proud of the work done in recent years.
"In the past few years, we have been able to replace some of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) bridges, and other bridges which have been in place for as much as 90-100 years, with flat cars," he told The Brazil Times. "With the new farm equipment being larger, we have had to widen some bridges so farmers wouldn't have to take the long way around to their land."
By utilizing flat cars to replace bridges, the commissioners essentially get three for the price of one.
"To put in a bridge would cost the county in the neighborhood of $180,000 a piece, where the flat car bridges are about $60,000 each," Brown said. "They are just as strong and we are able to get more 'bang for the buck' when replacing a bridge."
The commissioners began the year with $520,000 in the budget for new bridge work this year, which Brown said is funds which do come from property taxes.
Although Brown is pleased the work the commissioners have been able to do on bridges in recent years, he feels there is still room for improvement.
"None of us are engineers so when we are putting together specifications for the work, we may miss some things," he said. "Although we have done great so far, they can still be tweaked."
During the discussion, Brown outlined a few of the specific projects the commissioners are looking into when it comes to county roads, including:
* Resurface a portion of County Road 800 North, just east of State Road 59,
* Cut back some of the trees and brush on the corner of CR 100 E and CR 600 N to allow better visibility for drivers,
* Keep CR 200 E (Harmony Road) maintained because it is a "major artery" through the county, and
* Re-cut some ditches along county roadways to allow for better drainage during rains.
"Water is the biggest destroyer of roads," he said. "The rains have not been kind to us here in Clay County in recent years."
One major concern of residents recently has been the dangerous intersection of SR 59 and CR 700 N, which Brown said the commissioners have done their part to help.
"We have cut down the brush we are responsible for on CR 700 N," Brown said. "We are just waiting for the state to come in and cut down the section on their right-of-way along SR 59 to make it easier for residents to see cars coming out of the intersection, especially at night."
He acknowledged that a lot of the progress made in recent years on the roads and bridges would not be possible without the hard work of the Clay County Highway Department.
"Those guys do a great job and I have a lot of respect for them," he said. "There are about 22 guys working there with 12 trucks and they do what they can to maintain the county roads to the best of their ability, whether there is 10 inches of rain or snow, or it is a clear day."
Another aspect of the job which affects Brown personally is the presence of junk and trash, not just on properties, but dumped out along the roads as well.
"It really bothers me to see people dump things out anywhere," Brown said as he passed a sink laying just off of CR 200 W. "I've picked up all sorts of things ranging from couches to sacks of dirty diapers."
He said the commissioners have been attempting to enforce its junk and trash ordinance, which was approved in September 2007, but they are not being extremely stringent.
"When we send out the violation notices, the resident has 10 days to clean up the property," he said. "If they know it's going to take longer, they can purchase a 30-day extension from our legal counsel for $70. However, if we see they are making an honest attempt to clean up, we will work with them."
Despite all the struggles that comes with the title of being a commissioner, Brown admits the current trio of himself Jack Withers and Paul Sinders work in unison for the greater good of the county.
"Even though we cannot legally be together without an official meeting, we are only a phone call away to notify each other of a concern specific to our districts," he said.
In addition, Brown said with all the concerns within the county, the commissioners' focus at the current time is the status of the roads.
"Our priority is the roads and the chuck holes," he said. "We want everyone to have a nice road, but the problem is that the funding just isn't there."