Wednesday, Nov. 9


Still no county highway engineer

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[NOV. 9, 2005]  Try as they might, and try they have, the county still has no highway engineer. There have been three committee meetings and two whole board meetings in the last month where the issues relating to the position were discussed extensively.

The time is drawing nearer when the county will be in violation with the state. Following the resignation of Tom Hickman, who left on Aug. 17, the county had 100 days to get someone hired. Road and bridge chairman Terry Werth said that he is not sure what would happen if they do not meet the Nov. 25 deadline.

Logan County has set the engineer's salary at $65,500. But in this day and age, highway engineers are getting paid more. Even those who are just out of college and taking assistant positions are getting paid close to that amount.

Because counties were finding it difficult to attract and retain engineers in this position, the state of Illinois set up a program to help. Through the program the county can draw the salary out of state and federal tax funds that traditionally were reserved for major road construction projects.

Under the program the engineer must have licensure as a professional engineer, and the state sets the salary. The P.E. designation means you are getting a more experienced engineer, Werth said. It is the engineer's equivalent to becoming a doctor, he said.

Last month Werth distributed to committee members copies of the engineer salaries that the state of Illinois has set for participation in the program. The salaries are calculated using county statistics such as number of miles of county roadways and bridges. The salaries range from $101,400 for St. Clair County to $60,100 for Pope County. Logan County is No. 50 of the 102 Illinois counties and is set at $83,800.

However, the committee's recommendation to participate in the program was rejected by the board last month. The major reasons it was rejected were that it would jump the salary considerably over the past salary, it would give the state too much control, and it dips into road fund reserves.

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The committee had three applicants for the position. One of those applicants withdrew interest when the board voted not to participate in the state salary program. Another was said to be wavering.

On further examination it can be seen that the salary program funding is not far removed from how the highway department already operates. At a recent finance meeting where the new computer system was discussed, Hickman explained how he would not be able to make the department budget fit into the financial report set up on the new system. He explained that their whole budgeting process is very complex, with funds coming from or paid to this source or that fund. Almost nothing is straightforward single-sourcing in the highway department.

As an example, he said that road projects may be paid in part by a township, the county might pay part, and possibly state or federal funds are supplied. Each project or process is different, and the sources of payment differ.

Salaries are supplemented in part in the same way. Some comes from this fund, some from that source for particular work that is done.

During the process of looking at the state salary program, the committee has learned that funds used to support it are also available to pay a portion of the salary without participation in the program. Werth said that the committee would be looking more closely into that.

Werth said he hopes the committee will have a candidate to recommend to the board on Thursday evening.

[Jan Youngquist]

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