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Anderson County exceeded its road paving budget by nearly $100,000 this year, and Magistrate John Wayne Conway is blaming Judge-Executive Steve Cornish for the mistake.
“I guess he wasn’t watching what was going on,” said Conway, who is seeking to knock Cornish from his seat in the May Democratic primary.
Conway opened what turned into nearly an hour-long debate during the work session that preceded last Tuesday’s meeting of the Anderson County Fiscal Court.
Conway, who has needled Cornish repeatedly about the county’s budget, questioned why the contract paving portion of the budget was overspent. That prompted a flurry of discussions as magistrates repeatedly asked Rick Waddle, the county’s finance officer, for documents to show where the money was spent.
Waddle spent most of the time retreating to his office, only to appear with more documents and hand them to magistrates, Cornish, County Treasurer Dudley Shyrock and even County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis.
At one point, magistrates estimated that up to $700,000 had been spent, although no firm figure was ever agreed upon during the work session.
“These numbers just don’t add up,” Conway said, looking at Cornish.
Cornish said he wasn’t sure how the county overspent, adding that he must have miscalculated how much was available following meetings he said he had with Shyrock and even Conway.
The issue wasn’t discussed during the fiscal court’s regular meeting later that night, but Conway said he’s sure who will get the ultimate blame for the overspending.
“He says he was going by the numbers Rick [Waddle] and Dudley [Shyrock] gave him, so I’m sure it will end up being their fault,” said Conway. “He has said a number of times in open meetings that ‘This is my budget,’” Conway added. “Then why wasn’t he watching ‘his’ budget?”
Cornish said the amount that was overspent is actually closer to $90,000, but insisted that the overall road department budget is in good shape and that, barring any major weather events, should end the year in the black.
He also questioned why Conway, an ardent supporter of fixing the county’s roads, has taken such exception to spending extra money paving them.
“Magistrate Conway has been one of the most vocal magistrates about taking care of the roads, but now all of sudden, spending additional money to pave them is wrong,” Cornish said.
“That’s a shame.”
Road Supervisor Chip Chambers, the Republican candidate for judge-executive, concurred that the overall highway budget is in good shape.
“It is, with the exception of road paving, which I have no control over,” he said. “I don’t make the decisions on how that money is spent.”
Chambers added that the amount of money spent shouldn’t have come as a surprise, because Conway was consistently made aware of what was being paved.
Cornish said the county originally planned to spend around $500,000 on paving, but that figure likely was exceeded because of the county’s efforts to fix the worst spots on the county roads.
“Instead of paving from start to finish, we tried to get to the bad places and save what we have,” Cornish said. “We had to repair more than we initially thought we had to.”
Cornish said the county planned to fix a portion of Duncan Road, but ended up paving nearly its entire length because of damage the trucks did to the old blacktop.
“Mays Road was getting bad, so we decided to do a little bit extra, which was an overrun on our part,” Cornish added.
Cornish said he plans to plug about half of the $100,000 hole with $53,000 that was not spent in the patching and paving portion of the budget. He said more will likely be able to be shifted from $25,000 available for equipment repair.
Conway said Cornish is also eyeing money set aside for highway department overtime, an issue that surfaced last week when highway workers were reportedly sent home early on a weekday after plowing snow over the weekend.
“That’s why he wants to keep them to 40 hours,” Conway said. “He wants to have $35,000 left in there to shore up his deficit.”
“It’s my job not to spend more money than we have to,” Cornish said, “but he wants to spend overtime when it’s not necessary.”
Cornish said when the highway workers aren’t plowing roads or treating them for ice, there usually isn’t much for them to do this time of year.
“I guarantee you that right now, they’re not doing much up there today,” he said.
E-mail Ben Carlson at email@example.com.