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Commissioners hope to get full-time ERC position funded

Officials say millions of dollars of federal bridge aid at jeopardy

March 02, 2016
Having first approached the Crawford County Council last summer about the need for a full-time employee to oversee the mandated paperwork associated with several multi-million-dollar federally-assisted bridge projects for fear of losing the funding, the president of the Board of Commissioners last month returned with the same request. Just like before, however, the council balked at funding a full-time position.

Reading an email from Brandi Mischler, local programs director with the Indiana Department of Transportation Vincennes District, he and the other two commissioners received, Jim Schultz at the Feb. 9 meeting noted the urgency of having a backup. Currently, county highway department superintendent Perry Leonard has taken on the ERC duties since former employee Dennie Stroud died unexpectedly three years ago, but he has had some health issues.

"It has been brought to our attention that you only have one ERC certified for Crawford County, which is

Perry Leonard," Schultz read. "With the recent health issues with Perry, we urge you to have another person at Crawford County to be certified as ERC, even if it's a backup for Perry. Crawford County has a lot of projects coming up for letting, and you must have a certified ERC on staff, or your federal funding could be in jeopardy."

When they approached the council last summer, the commissioners said they had been told by INDOT officials that if local governments make mistakes on the required reports, they not only would have to pay the remaining balance of the projects, but possibly also would be required to repay grant dollars already expended.

Currently, the county has four bridge projects in the works estimated at more than $2 million each for which it has been awarded 80-percent federal grants.

Besides the bridge projects, the ERC must sign off on the county bridge inspections and complete the paperwork for a mandated county-wide sign project.

The commissioners last summer said there were enough monies available in various funds within the highway department budget that could be transferred to pay for the position for the remainder of the year, but the council, which would have had to create a line item in the budget for the position, would have needed to address it when planning the 2016 county budget.

The council, however, declined the request, with only Jerry Brewer and William Breeding in favor, partly because the commissioners had failed to bring a detailed job description. The board then discussed other alternatives, including hiring someone on contract, but was told that INDOT requires the person to be an actual employee. The council then noted that money for a part-time position, at an hourly pay rate of $8.92, had already been appropriated.

At the Feb. 9 meeting, the council noted that funding for a part-time position still remained. The board's president, Steve Bartels, said another option would be for one of the three foremen at the county highway department to receive extra pay while taking on the ERC duties, as INDOT doesn't consider ERC duties to be enough for a full-time position.

Schultz and District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius, who also was present, didn't believe any of the foremen would be interested. They added that they didn't believe the foremen would have the time. Instead, they talked about the new ERC person also serving as an assistant superintendent at the highway department.

Joey Robinson, who served on the county council from 2007 through 2014 and works in road construction, was in the audience and suggested that the ERC person could also be responsible for bridges, conducting preliminary inspections, which, hopefully, would save the county money by catching problems earlier.

Brewer made a motion to allow highway department funds to be used for an ERC/assistant superintendent position that also would be responsible for all of the bridges at the same pay rate as the three foremen. However, it died for the lack of a second.

Councilman Joe LaHue, who had wanted to see a formal job description when the commissioners first made their request last year, reiterated that he would like a complete listing of job duties.

"That's my hang-up," Councilman Lucas Stroud agreed.

At a special commissioners' meeting on Feb. 18, Schultz said that, while he appreciates the council providing part-time funding, after talking to Leonard and other officials, he learned that the ERC duties cannot be performed by a part-time employee. The ERC duties also can be performed by an elected official, and, in some counties, the auditor is the ERC.

"It's very important that we have a backup," Leonard told the commissioners. "Almost every county has two, at least two."

The commissioners voted 3-0 to have Leonard get with county attorney John E. Colin to begin work on a job description. At the board's regular monthly meeting on Thursday, Colin said he has begun working on the matter, and read the lengthy list of responsibilities of an ERC as outlined by INDOT.

"As soon as we can get a job description together, we will be approaching the council," Schultz said.

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