House Government Organization sends two local roads bills to full House

CHARLESTON — Two locally generated roads bills won the approval of the House Government Organization Committee Friday morning and head to the full House for passage.

HB 3044 calls on the Division of Highways to develop and apply a formula to equitably distribute road funds among the districts and counties. HB 2011 empowers the DOH districts to contract out core maintenance work if the districts fail to reach a set threshold of work accomplished.

HB 2001 is lead sponsored by Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, joined by Mon Democrats Barbara Evans Fleischauer, Rodney Pyles, Danielle Walker and Evan Hansen, along with Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, Delegates Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and Terri Sypolt, R-Preston, and three others.

In conversations earlier this week, Williams and Hansen told The Dominion Post that while the DOH has claimed it uses a distribution formula, audit reports and witness testimony indicate it hasn’t.

This means, they said, DOH hasn’t accounted for changes in county populations and traffic loads. While Mon and other north-central counties have grown, others have shrunk, so the allotments aren’t proportional to need.

At Friday’s meeting, under questioning from Hansen, Deputy State Highway Engineer Greg Bailey admitted that DOH hasn’t updated its formula since 2005 and has been basing its allotments on outdated figures.

Those need to be updated, he said. “We absolutely agree with that.” They’ve just completed recalculations, but he doesn’t know when they’ll be applied. DOH has already submitted its Fiscal Year 2020 budget, so updated allotments could be a year or two away.

HB 3044 requires DOH to develop a new formula before the 2020 legislative session. The formula must factor in population growth, road miles, vehicle miles traveled, heavy truck miles traveled, the number of bridges and their conditions.

HB 2011 is lead sponsored by Summers, joined by Sypolt, Buck Jennings, R-Preston, and eight others.

It creates an Enhanced Road Maintenance Program. It authorizes the DOH to direct each district to establish contracts with to perform, at least, core maintenance of pothole repair, mowing, ditching, snow removal and non-core maintenance such as paving.

It requires each district to develop a maintenance plan and review that plan each Dec. 1. If it hasn’t completed 90 percent of that maintenance, it must solicit bids to complete the work to the extent available money makes it possible.

As previously reported, a January Performance Evaluation and Research Division (PERD) report said districts are supposed to spend 70 percent of their maintenance budgets on core maintenance. But only two of the 13 counties have done so during the period 2009-2017, and those two during only a small portion of the years studied.

A PERD report released this week showed that among all 10 districts, none but District 10 achieved the 70 percent threshold during the span 2012-2018, and District 10 managed it only in 2013 and 2014.

During questioning, Bailey said DOH allots $265 million among the 10 district for annual maintenance plan, and all the districts, with rare exceptions, spend it all.

But there are various reasons they don’t spend 70 percent on core maintenance. Other work, such as slide repairs, may divert money away from core maintenance. Districts have labor shortages and sometimes have broken equipment that prevents them from doing work.

Committee chair Gary Howell, R-Mineral, suggested several times that if local crews can’t do some particular job – mowing or ditching for instance – because equipment is broken, they ought to devote their attention to some other core work. People want their potholes filled.

Bailey said he understands, but some prioritizing has to be left to the local supervisors who know their roads. He told the committee the real problem is money. He cited the Blue Ribbon Commission report that says DOH needs another $750 million per year to keep up the roads; they’ve only fallen farther behind since that report was issued in 2015.

Other bills

HB 3105 is a long bill dealing with various Alcohol Beverage Control Administration topics, but its heart is its initial provision to allow ABCA to recruit local law enforcement to enter bars and clubs to enforce liquor laws.

This has long been a matter of interest in Morgantown, where WVU students and other young adults frequent the clubs and underage drinking is a constant issue.

Delegate Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, said this bill will not only help WVU, but Fairmont, where Fairmont State students frequent the bars and clubs.

The committee approved HB 3015 and sent it to the House floor.

Members also approved HB 3131, which should aid in staffing at Hopemont Hospital in Terra Alta. It directs the Department of Health and Human Resources to annually adjust employee salary schedules and streamline hiring practices.

Members talked about Hopemont and the other state hospitals facing nursing shortages because the pay scale is too low, forcing them to contract travel nurses at a higher rates.

Members pointed out the counterproductive absurdity of this practice, as the money spent on outside nurses could go toward raises for state employee nurses.

Division of Personnel Director Sheryl Webb answered questions about pay practices and hiring procedures and said the bill should prove useful to help the travel nurse issue.

TWITTER @dbeardtdp Email David Beard at dbeard@dominionpost.com

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