Commissioner ups spending in final months of term

By Traci Chapman
Published on June 19, 2008

District 2 Commissioner Don Young spent more than $1.7 million since April 1 on maintenance and operations, more than twice the sum expended the entire nine months prior to that time.

Young, who announced he would not seek re-election June 3, said Monday the increased spending is to pay for “a 15-mile asphalt” project. Appropriations ledgers obtained by Mustang News showed of the more than $1.7 million spent by District 2 in a 70-day period, $1.5 million of it was paid to Schwartz Asphalt.

County staff said the job encompasses filling potholes and laying an asphalt cover on Reno Street, from the El Reno city limits west to Heaston Church and a portion of Airport Road south toward Union City.

District 2 maintenance and operations spending for April through June 10 were as follows:

-April — $808,513
-May — $731,615; and
-June (through June 10) — $200,963.

In fiscal year 2007-2008, Young’s monthly spending had not exceeded $70,000 in any single month with the exception of July and December. His operational expenses for July were $104,297. District 3 Commissioner Grant Hedrick said higher than average spending during July is not unusual because it is the first month of the county’s fiscal year. Records obtained by the Mustang News confirmed that all three commissioners’ spending that month were on the “high end” of the scale, with District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson posting expenses of $119,944 and Hedrick topping $224,186.
Young’s other “high dollar” month came in December 2007 when a major ice storm hit the county, with damage concentrated in District 2. The district’s operational expenses listed for that month totaled $262,962.

Young said he is doing his job and is within his parameters as county commissioner to spend funds “as I see fit.” Gayle Ward, director of the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma, said outgoing commissioners do have limitations on spending for the last six months of their term — in this case, July 1 — and as of that date, Young can only spend 50 percent of the remaining funds in his coffers.
“The balance must remain for the use of the next commissioner,” she said. “This ensures an incoming commissioner does not have an immediate shortfall of funds with which to operate.”

Young first served as a county commissioner in the 1990s. He went on a similar spending spree then, following his defeat in a re-election bid.

Near the end of his first term Young had crews pour a large amount of rock on roads southwest of El Reno. A number of constituents complained that the amount of rock was excessive. At the time Young gave virtually the same response, that as commissioner he could spend funds anyway he wanted.

Some are now questioning the quality of the work being done on the current project including failing to adequately stabilize the base of the road.

Mike Hinkson, a local government specialist with the Local Technical Assistance Program, which provides training and the roads scholar program to counties across the state, said it is necessary to stabilize the road base first, before laying asphalt on it.

“You’ve got to dig that mess out or you’ll have the road falling apart from underneath,” Hinkson said. “If you don’t grind and stabilize the base, it lets the moisture into it, it can’t dry out, and it won’t last, especially on heavily traveled roads.”

Attempts to reach Young for comment were unsuccessful as of press time.

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