Coping with cuts
An occasional series examining the fallout of more than $11.5 million in cuts to Hall County’s fiscal 2012 budget.
Quicker response times isn’t what one would expect to come out of a massive round of layoffs.
But Hall County’s public works department might just have the roadsides mowed a little bit faster now.
The budget approved for this fiscal year cut the appropriation for the Public Works department by 22 percent, knocking department spending to just $4.04 million.
There wasn’t much to say about it that was positive.
The new budget forced the layoff of 41 employees, and after the budget was passed June 30, Public Works Director Ken Rearden warned the time it would take county crews to respond to road maintenance requests, clean up roadside debris and review engineer’s plans would lengthen.
Commission Chairman Tom Oliver, on more than one occasion, has said the budget cuts will be evident in Hall County’s ability to react to the next snow or ice event.
The budget cuts also meant that road maintenance projects funded with special purpose local option sales tax monies would be privatized.
That decision left the remaining road maintenance employees with fewer projects to tackle, said Jimmy Hightower, the superintendent of the county’s road maintenance division.
Dealing with the new budget reality, Hightower said department officials reconfigured the routes on which road maintenance crews mow the county’s hundreds of miles of rights-of-way.
Barring no breakdowns of tractors or rain events, Hightower said county crews may be able to get to all the county’s roadsides in as little as six weeks.
Before, a complete round of roadside trimming took as much as 10 weeks, he said.
“What we’re hoping is that through the restructuring of this, we can do a little bit better, because we’re getting down to maintenance,” Hightower said. “We were doing a little more than just maintenance; we were doing other projects that have gotten put on hold. We had SPLOST projects that we were doing out of our department.”
Now, there are four crews responsible for mowing county roadsides — two in the north end of the county, two in the south end.
Those crews mow five days a week, unless there is rain, a holiday or a furlough day.
A furlough day kept crews off the roadsides Monday.
“Those three things are what really set that mowing schedule back, if anything does,” Hightower said.
Problems with tractors also slow the roll of lawnmowers across the county, he said.
And since breakdowns with tractors are expected, Hightower said his six-week goal of mowing all the county’s roadsides could be stretched to about eight weeks.
Only time will tell.
“It’s going to be something that, once you try it, you might have to tweak it,” Hightower said.