HUNTSVILLE — County commissioners on Monday heard from community residents and employees of the county road department on a proposed $10 million loan that will enable the road department to pave more than 100 miles of roadway in Scott County over the next two years.
Kelvin King, the county’s road superintendent, has proposed a $10 million line of credit that will enable his department to pave a total of 146 miles of county roads between March 2022 and March 2024. Commissioners have not yet voted on the proposal, which must also be approved by the state comptroller’s office. The purpose of Monday’s meeting was a public hearing to enable commissioners to hear from constituents ahead of the vote, which will take place on Nov. 15.
One by one, a handful of residents from the county’s 1st, 2nd and 7th civil districts took the podium to speak out about the need for additional funding for the road department.
“We need our roads fixed, so you need to find the money,” said Deanna Wright, who lives on Wolf Creek Road in Robbins. She added that if commissioners reject King’s proposal for a $10 million loan, “You should have some alternative way in mind to raise the money that we need.
“I would rather pay more taxes, or more wheel tax, or whatever, and have a decent road to drive on,” she added. “We have really low land taxes in this area.”
Wright’s husband, Larry Wright, also took the podium to speak, and echoed his wife’s sentiments that additional taxes to fix Scott County’s roads would be preferable to keeping them as they are now.
“You have to keep up with everybody,” he said. “We need roads. Not just Wolf Creek. We need roads in a lot of places.”
King’s plan, if approved, would enable the road department to begin paving in March of 2022. The first roads on his list would be Nydeck Road, Coal Hill Road, Campground Road and Wolf Creek Road in Robbins. He provided a list of roads he plans to pave to commissioners, though 2nd District Commissioner Sam Lyles pointed out that the list was not prioritized.
King said he intends to do what’s commonly referred to as “hot mix paving” on every road on the list, though the rising cost of oil might cause a few of the roads to be cut from the list.
“We’re going to do it right,” he said. “Most of these roads (now) are chip and seal and they just won’t handle the freezing and thawing. We’re going to put down hot mix and put it down right.”
Under King’s plan, the road department would have 20 years to repay the loan, with total interest payments of just over $3 million. County Mayor Jeff Tibbals said that he has asked for — but hasn’t received — a detailed plan for how the road department would repay the funds. Under the proposal, the county government would ultimately be liable for the debt. However, by structuring it as a line of credit for the road department, it would not fall on the county’s maintenance of effort, as it would if the county were to earmark property tax revenue for the road department.
Currently, Scott County contributes less than $300 from its budget every year for road maintenance. In Tennessee, county road departments are funded by the state’s gasoline tax. Anything the county contributes becomes part of the maintenance of effort, meaning the same amount must be provided each year.
Tibbals said talks about how to pave roads in rural communities are a part of ongoing discussions that involve the state.
“I totally agree that it needs to be done, but the matter is how does it get done?” Tibbals said. “This is not just a Scott County problem. I’ve had dinner with a lot of different mayors and every one of them say it’s a major problem. In Hamblin County, the most they can pave is five to seven miles a year. So they can’t keep up. The spiel I’m putting towards the state is that this isn’t just for Scott County. This is something we need for all rural communities.”
There is excess money at the state level, Tibbals said. He pointed out that the state had $276 million in excess sales tax revenue last month.
“There’s money there. We just have to persuade the legislature to make more appropriations for road departments, not just for Scott County but for all rural counties,” he said. “It’s not being neglected. It’s being discussed.”
Tibbals also said that there is hope that once Scott County pays down some of its debt, it could reappropriate funding from the debt service fund to road maintenance. The debt in question will be paved off in two-to-three years.
But Wright said Wolf Creek Road cannot wait two or three years to be paved.
Rick Burke, a former county commissioner who is an employee of the road department, said that discussions about how to find more money for road maintenance has been ongoing for 20 years.
“If we don’t do something, there’s no way we can ever do more than we are right now,” he said. “The people in Scott County deserve as good a roads as anybody.”
Sherman Vaughn, who moved into Scott County and purchased a home in the Toomey Falls subdivision of West Oneida four years ago, asked where the increased property tax revenue is being spent, since a number of new homes are being built in Scott County.
“We have a great school system. We have the best park service. Everything we have here in Scott County is great, but the road department by far is the worst thing we have,” Vaughn said. “When people come here to look for property and this and that, they’ll ask me. And I’ll say the worst thing is we have no money to fix roads with.”
Vaughn added that “It is not (the road department’s) fault. I will not bad-mouth them.”
Seventh District Commissioner Mike Slaven explained that property tax revenue isn’t earmarked for road repairs.
“If we built 10 million homes and had $10 million in property tax, none of that money goes to road departments,” Slaven said. “Once we start that, it never ends. Once we give money to the road department, we’re obligated to that every single year.”
Tim Harris, a resident of Shotoff Cliff Road in the Grave Hill community, said the county is sending a message that it doesn’t support road construction or road maintenance, which is hindering economic development.
“Whether it’s Kelvin King or Tim Harris or anybody else running the road department, you’re gonna have to have more money to have a first rate road system,” he said. “What we have right now is maybe third rate.”
Rick Massengale, a resident of Straight Fork Road, said he was “deeply disappointed” to learn that his property taxes don’t go towards repairing roads.
“I pay $2,000 a year in taxes and I can’t see anything it’s going for,” he said, adding that Scott County has “the worst roads in the state.”
In response to a question from 2nd District Commissioner Jerried Jeffers, King said that he would consider 220 miles of the 536 miles of roadway currently maintained by the road department to be in good shape. After 146 miles of roadway are paved over the next two years, if the loan is approved, about 170 miles of roadway would remain that the road department will have to work on “as time goes on,” King said.
Both Jeffers and Lyles quizzed King extensively about what roads will be paved and other aspects of the proposed loan.