Commissioners have flap over road issue

Douglas County commissioners agree that new county roads need to pay for themselves by the income they generate in property taxes.

But they had a dispute this morning how that message gets out to the public.

On a 2-1 vote, with Commissioners Bob Johnson and Jere McElhaney in favor, the commission adopted a charter resolution that makes it easier for someone to petition for a new road.

Commissioner Charles Jones voted against the resolution, calling for language spelling out within the resolution itself about any new roads being self-supporting roads.

“My concern is that accepting roads is accepting the long-term costs associated with those roads,” Jones said after the vote. “I just want to make sure we’re doing our math at the beginning and making sure we’re making smart decisions in terms of whether the roads that we accept are going to be self-supporting.”

Jones had suggested that an economic study be done by a petitioner wanting create a new county road to make sure the property taxes generated around it would pay for it.

However, Johnson and McElhaney said they preferred instead having self-supporting roads be a “guiding principle” for the county’s public works department.

Johnson said that anyone petitioning for a new road would need to go through the public works department anyway, which would then see to it that it paid for itself before the petitioner brought the matter to the county commission for approval.

McElhaney said he feared requiring landowners to provide an economic study on the road would be an undue hardship, particularly for “old farmers” selling their land for development.

However, Jones wasn’t buying that argument.

“These are not poor old farmers,” Jones said. “They have land to sell.”

Under the old county resolution, 12 household owners “in the vicinity” of a proposed road would need to petition the county. Under the new ordinance, that would be reduced to one petitioner.

Keith Browning, the county’s public works director, said the new resolution is an update to reflect a change in state law made three to four years ago that reduced the number of petitioners needed to create, alter, relocate or vacate road right-of-way.

The resolution will be effective in 60 days, subject to a protest petition.