County tightens public comment rules

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 11:25 PM

The Union County Board of Commissioners approved a change in their public comments policy during their Monday meeting.

Commissioners approved a change to the board's policies, allowing the chairman to stop speakers during informal comments if the subject is repetitive. The change applies to comments during the same or over multiple meetings.

Commissioner Frank Aikmus pulled the amendment to the commission's rules of procedure from the consent agenda to explain why it was being proposed.

"The reason I had asked to pull this from the consent is I think in an effort to create more transparency we kind of deliberate this a little bit," Aikmus said.

Changing the rules could be construed by some as an effort to limit freedom of speech, Aikmus said. It was meant to present information to the public without being redundant or repetitive by streamlining the system, he said. The change passed by unanimous vote. 

Then, N.C. Department of Transportation District Engineer John Underwood presented the county roads eligible for state-funded work for the upcoming year. State law created a program for certain unpaved roads to be paved through the state highway trust fund, Underwood said.

"Each road is evaluated using certain characteristics such as land use, number of homes, schools, businesses, (average daily traffic) and other aspects," he said.

Those characteristics create a paving priority of all the state's unpaved roads. If there are no environmental issues and NCDOT gets right of way from nearby landowners, they move forward with paving, Underwood said.  

Until 2010, state law restricted use of the NCDOT money to paving unpaved roads. But the N.C. General Assembly added provisions to include work on already paved roads, but some areas of the state had no more unpaved roads.

"The paid secondary road improvement projects are selected using guidelines established by the board of transportation when they made this change," Underwood said. "We evaluate traffic volume, pavement lane widths, crash data, things like that to establish priority."

In Union County, there are only 2.2 miles of eligible unpaved roads left. They are portions of Rorie Road, Old Still Road, Reid Dairy Road, Old Williams Road, Bow Hill Drive and Earl Duncan Road.

A recent bill changed how NCDOT prioritized secondary road projects based on a statewide inventory, Underwood said. Those changes delayed the state's process of beginning improvement projects by several months, a reason Underwood said he was only now approaching commissioners with the 2012-2013 plan.

"(These roads) are still sitting there in priority and as soon as the fiscal year 2013 is over and there's no new house bill that says we can't pave them, then we'll turn in a program next that will pave those roads," Underwood said.

A bulk of the money this year will be spent on improvements to Chambwood Road, Friendly Baptist Church Road and Baucom Road.  On Chambwood from from Potters to New Town roads and Friendly Baptist Road from Lawyers to Ridge roads, crews will strip the asphalt and repave. On Baucom Road from N.C. 200 to Sikes Mill Road will be widened a foot on each side and resurfaced. A third phase will lower a hill profile on Rocky River Road south of Poplin Road to increase sight by more than 550 feet.

"That's been a bad location for some time and we're hoping to take care of that issue with the safety improvement project," Underwood said.

All planned work amounts to a total of $1.5 million, he said.

Commissioners adopted a resolution supporting the NCDOT secondary roads project by unanimous vote.

County Finance Director Jeff Yates briefed commissioners on a proposed non-supplanting policy. Often, the county initiates a program paid for with state or federal money. But with the bad economy, higher levels of government have withdrawn that funding.

"We thought it appropriate that the county adopt a policy position that, if funding is withdrawn from a program, that there can't be the assumption that the county will pick up that cost automatically. That each of those individual cases will be evaluated and brought back to you for consideration," Yates said. 

The change was approved by unanimous vote.