Bay County commissioners have approved a new ordinance authorizing county crews to repair private roads during emergencies. The beneficiaries of the work will have to pay for it.
The commission spent more time debating the issue – about 50 minutes – than anything else on Tuesday's agenda and ended up voting on it twice.
The issue arose after last summer's heavy rains washed out dirt roads in unincorporated areas and made some spots inaccessible to emergency vehicles. State law doesn't allow the expenditure of county funds on private property; however, the county attorney advised commissioners they could do so during an emergency situation and have no ongoing maintenance responsibilities.
The ordinance gives the county authority to make temporary repairs to private roads if the chief of emergency services declares them impassable. Chief Mark Bowen told the board the standard for such a declaration would be "very high."
The proposal recommended by county staff called for the cost of repairs to be passed on to the people who benefit. Commissioners expressed concern that not all property owners would be agreeable to the work and money would be difficult to collect.
Commissioner George Gainer amended the ordinance to waive the fee but his motion failed on a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Mike Thomas, Bill Dozier and Mike Nelson opposed the fee waiver.
When the billing provision was added back to the motion, Dozier came on board and the subsequent vote was 3-2 in favor.
After the meeting, Chairman Guy Tunnell said public safety concerns were his motivation for passage and the ordinance would only come into play in extreme circumstances.
"We've got to be very careful that we watch it and make sure it is just a very narrow window of a problem," Tunnell said. "It's a temporary fix... it's not meant to be long term or ongoing."
According to Ken Schnell, Public Works Director, there are more than 100 miles of private roads in Bay County.
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