August 28, 2019Following a 40-minute discussion and a motion that was later withdrawn, the Crawford County Council, at its regular meeting on Aug. 13 at the judicial complex in English, tabled a request that would allow the county to share Harrison County's highway department engineer so that the council could get more information.
District 1 Commissioner Daniel Crecelius told the council that the county has an opportunity to get ongoing engineering services at a fraction of what it would cost to hire its own engineer. That is because the state is subsidizing counties $40,000 each annually if they enter an agreement to share an engineer.
"It's something that would be helpful to the county," Crecelius said, noting that bringing an engineer on staff has been a goal of county officials during his 21 years as a commissioner and councilman before that.
Crecelius said he has been in contact with the Harrison County Board of Commissioners and county engineer Kevin Russel, who was in attendance at the council's meeting, and both are agreeable.
While the state would provide the $40,000 annual salary Crawford County would pay Russel, Crecelius noted the county still would be responsible for additional expenses associated with the position.
"The only thing that we would have to come up with … is the retirement benefits, Social Security, FICA and all that kind of stuff and a little bit of (travel) expense for him, which amounts to about $15,000 (per year). That's a good deal for a county engineer," he said.
The interlocal agreement between Crawford and Harrison counties, which includes a 30-day out clause executable by either county, calls for Harrison County to get first rights to Russel's services. Russel said that wouldn't be a concern, because he understands that he would be expected to get the work done for both counties as requested.
Councilman Jerry Brewer said having an engineer to supervise projects, even ones that call for the hiring of an outside engineer, as would still be the case on occasion, according to Russel, would save the county money.
However, Morton Dale, the president of the board of commissioners and who abstained from that board's 2-0 vote last month to forward the request to the council, wasn't certain, saying the county already has engineering contracts in place for various projects.
Councilman Chad Riddle worried that between existing needs, including new trucks for the highway department and another ambulance, along with pay increases for those already employed at the highway department, it doesn't make sense to add the expense of an additional employee.
"I don't think right now is the time to do anything like this. We don't need to create more jobs. We need to take care of what we've got," he said.
Russel, who has been with the Harrison County Highway Department for 20 years, including the last 14 as county engineer, said a benefit of a county having an engineer is the ability to attain federal aid.
"Over the last 14 that I've been county engineer, I think I've brought in about $23 million or something to the county in federal aid and outside funding," he said. "I'm not going to sit here tonight and tell you that I can do that every year for Crawford County. Some of that is related to being able to provide matching funds, too."
Crecelius, saying he believes having a county engineer would pay for itself in savings, said he would be willing to pay the $15,000 out of the highway department's budget, which the commissioners oversee, even if it meant not filling an existing open spot elsewhere in the highway department.
"I'd rather have an engineer and be one employee short, to tell you the truth," he said, adding the highway department has been able to operate without a full crew in 2019.
William Breeding, the council's president, said while the highway department has money available from operating shorthanded this year, he questioned whether that is sustainable.
Riddle added that, if the pay for the current employees is not increased, keeping them will be difficult.
Crecelius, however, said he believes it would still be possible to give current employees a pay increase in the 2020 budget.
Noting that no additional money is being requested, Brewer made a motion to fund the prorated amount of the $15,000 to cover the rest of 2019. While Councilman Lucas Stroud noted that having an engineer may pay for itself, he, nor any of the other council members, seconded the motion.
Wanting time to think about things, Riddle asked Russel if he would come back to the council's next regular meeting, to which Russel answered he would.
Brewer then withdrew his motion.
The council's next regular meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. at the judicial complex.