Tuesday, January 03, 2012

TOP STORY >> County judge stresses efficiency

Leader staff writer

Doug Erwin, a Republican, became Lonoke County Judge in January 2011 after defeating Charlie Troutman, the Democratic incumbent, in November 2010.

The county judge is by state law the chief executive officer for county government in Arkansas. In that role, the judge authorizes and approves the disbursement of all appropriated county funds, administers ordinances enacted by the quorum court, has custody of county property, accepts grants from federal, state, public and private sources, hires county employees except those employed by other elected officials of the county, and presides over the quorum court without a vote but with the power of veto.

But county judges are perhaps best known for their responsibility for the county roads. They send out the crews that maintain the roads and they alone decide how the money in the road and bridge fund will be spent.

In Lonoke County, that fund contains about $5 million.

Erwin said this week in a prepared statement about his first year in office that it was a time of learning, challenge and change.

“This first year we have focused our attention on being more efficient with our taxpayers’ dollars,” Erwin said.

“We have used management techniques, transparency and accountability to improve efficiencies throughout the areas of the county the judge’s office is responsible for. And through the improved efficiencies we have been able to make the most use of every tax dollar spent.

“For example, by realigning duties and responsibilities and allowing our employees to work to their full potential we have saved over $140,000 this year in payroll cost as compared to the year before I took office.

“By allowing our county employees to utilize their skills, we have greatly reduced the use of outside contractors. That has saved the county over $1 million.”

Specifically, Erwin said in a phone interview that he cut road and bridge workers from about 30 to about 20 and the ones he has left are doing more than they did in the past.

“If the guys are going to work for me, they’re going to work,” Erwin explained.

“In the road department we have reduced monthly fuel bills by over $8,000 a month for almost $100,000 in savings this past year,” his said in his prepared statement.

How did he do that?

Erwin said that one of his first official acts on Jan. 3, 2011 was to stop his workers from driving their work trucks home at night. Then, he got rid of the bulk gas tank that all the workers had access to. Now the county buys gas from a local supplier one tankful at a time with gas cards that show who buys how much and when they buy it.

“Our decision to become a dues paying member of Metroplan has resulted in a net gain of almost $400,000 in additional revenue for the county,” Erwin said in his prepared statement.

Asked to elaborate, he said Lonoke County wasn’t paying its Metroplan dues when he took office and was not getting a share of the federal road money that Metroplan administers. He paid $14,000 for 2010 and $19,000 for 2011 and got $400,000 in exchange.

“I’ll trade that all day long,” he said.

Flooding from numerous storms damaged roads across the county and kept workers from concentrating on routine maintenance, he said in his statement.

But the county has secured more than $700,000 in federal aid to help pay some of the cost of repairing the storm damaged roads. And the hope is that routine maintenance will be the priority in 2012.

“I look forward to serving the citizens of Lonoke County in 2012,” he said in his statement. “This year I plan to continue the transparency and accountability that has given us the cost savings while still giving you the service you deserve. And as a major goal we plan to continue resurfacing of our roads, improving the shoulders and addressing the drainage issues throughout the county.

“Please feel free to offer me your thoughts for the county for the New Year,” he said.