County highway crews working through storm-related backlog
Joel Davis | (email@example.com)
Highway Superintendent Bill Dunlap is asking for patience as crews work through a backlog of repair work related to this summer’s storms and heavy rains.
There are about 10 to 15 sites left for cleanup or repair in the county, and Dunlap expects those to be finished this week.
“We’ve got so much going on with all the rain,” he said. “... If we’ve not made it to one yet, we’ll get there. We’re trying to do our paving — trying to get that wrapped up, trying to do the clean-up from trees that have been downed, driveways that have been pushed out. Mother Nature has given us a tremendous amount to do.”
Crews from the Highway Department checked eight sites off the list on Tuesday. Dunlap said the completion of work on Morganton Road means he can allocate two more crews on cleanup detail starting today.
“We will probably have one crew picking up limbs and trees, we’ll probably have another crew on plugged-up pipes and drains, and another backhoe crew will be doing some pipe installation.”Dunlap said he has trimmed employee positions during the county’s budget problems of the past few years, which does have an effect on the department’s ability to respond to requests.
“We have cut people trying to save dollars for the county so we can put down more money in asphalt and maintenance, and it’s taking away from some of the jobs we’ve done in the past,” he said.
About 17 positions have been eliminated through attrition — by not replacing retiring employees and eliminating open positions — and layoffs. Actual payroll has dropped from about 70 employees in 2011 to about 58 employees now, Dunlap said.
“It’s putting more and more on everybody else,” Dunlap said. “Everybody there is having to pick up the slack. We’re trying to do summer maintenance. We’re trying to do storm damage cleanup. It’s just taking a little time to get things cleaned up.”Through the payroll cuts and additional funds approved by the Blount County Commission in 2012, Dunlap has been able to beef up his maintenance budget and double the amount of repaving his department can do each year.
“We put in more than 16 miles of paving last year compared to eight miles in 2011. What I’ve done has contributed a whole lot more to our maintenance, it’s just taking a little bit longer to do. Hopefully (Thursday and Friday), we will see the backlog we’ve got wiped out to nothing or almost nothing.”