Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker speaks at the Cullman County Republican Women meeting this week. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)
CULLMAN – Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker was the guest speaker this week at the Cullman County Republican Women’s January meeting. He touched on a variety of topics including county roads, the annual budget, insurance costs, last year’s hailstorm and the expanded boat ramp at Smith Lake Park.
Walker opened by talking about the widening of Alabama Highway 157, saying, “Now they have to get new preliminary drawings because of the new laws about interchanges. Hopefully that’s done in 2019 and they start bidding in early 2020. Then, hopefully, by late fall 2020 they start moving dirt to widen 157. That was a huge grant for, and of course it was for the City of Cullman, but we in the county had a lot to do with it along with neighboring municipalities. We’re very thankful for that. We need that very bad.”
On the condition of county roads and the challenges that exist for repaving them, Walker shared, “The road department-the roads, it’s been wet, we’ve had early snow, we’ve had early freezing and there’s a lot of roads in bad shape. I know that. I knew it when I came into office. From 2015 until today, we have spent $19,437,000.23 on repairing roads and nobody can tell it. So this is a bad problem. We know it is. We do all we can do with the revenue we get to pave our roads. The way the gas taxes are and the way the gas taxes fall back on us, we have the number two most miles of roads in Alabama. We are 17th out of 67 counties, which is $2,700 per mile, is what we get back per year on gas taxes. There’s no way to fix these roads with gas taxes. There’s no way.”
Walker said he hopes new equipment purchased by the County, including a milling machine expected to arrive next week, will allow for a proper base to be put on roads when repaving.
Touching on the annual budget, he said, in 2018 there were 469 County employees and 143 working for the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, compared to more than 550 County employees and 160 at the sheriff’s office in 2012.
Walker boasted, “We are getting the work done with fewer employees.”
The Cullman County Commission is currently self-insured. Walker said the County’s 2012 insurance bill for 572 employees was $4,638,427, with employees also paying $728,000. Today’s insurance bill with 469 employees is $6.6 million, he said.
The hailstorm in March 2018 caused $7.6 million dollars in damage to County properties and an additional $900,000 in damage to County vehicles.
Walker stated, “We had roof damage to the sheriff department and jail with 1,300 holes that went through 6 inches of roofing and busting out the ceiling tiles. It’s terrible.”
Recently bids were awarded to begin repairing roofs damaged during the hailstorm.
Walker said, “We’ve spent the last eight months dealing with insurance companies.”
Insurance also covered the repairs of 50 vehicles and the replacement of 44 vehicles totaled in the storm.
Finally, Walker updated the group on the expanded six-lane boat ramp at Smith Lake Park. Walker recalled when his boys were in school that two slips were very problematic.
He laughed, “It was like 300 boats waiting on the two slips. Might take you four hours just to get out of the water. The ramps were a goal of mine since I came into office. Glad that’s done. There are lots of fisherman in Cullman and around. I hope the county can host some tournaments now.”
The Cullman County Republican Women meet on the second Tuesday each month at the VFW. Next month’s meeting will be Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. with special guest speaker Cullman County District Attorney Wilson Blaylock.
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