Who needs a County Engineer anyway?
We all do!
Roads. Sidewalks. Pathways. Sewer & Water. Drainage. Electricity. Cell phones. Trash. Recycling. The Teton County Engineer plays an important role in all of these aspects of your daily life – many of which you probably take for granted.
Why care about the Teton County Engineer job position?
Because it is in imminent danger of being eliminated starting October 1st. At their July 28th budget session, Commissioners Kunz and Park discussed eliminating County Engineer Jay Mazalewski’s job position, which was met with criticism by County Clerk Marylou Hansen who stated that they had “no basis to remove him” and noted that Commissioner Rinaldi was absent. Commissioner Kunz agreed to hold off on making a decision: “It would look bad to do this without Kathy here.” Here is the audio. With a balanced county budget that includes one new Sherriff’s deputy and $60,000 in merit raises, Commissioner Park cited “cost savings” as his reason for eliminating the position. Commissioner Kunz agreed there had been “management issues” with Mazalewski.
The entire line item budget for the engineer’s department is $104,000 which pays for a $74,000 salary, benefits, professional licenses, certifications, and professional supplies. Since being hired in 2011, Mazalewski has procured over $265,000 in grant funds for county projects (approximate $88,000 annually) with other grant applications already submitted for this year.
What happened when Teton County didn’t have an engineer?
Teton County hired its first engineer in 2008. Facing a wave of subdivision applications and a citation from the Department of Environmental Quality for an out-of-compliance landfill, a bipartisan Board of County Commissioners (Trupp, Young, and Stevenson) voted unanimously to create this job position. Before then, there was no county engineer providing any oversight during the real estate boom of the last decade. This lack of professional oversight during this critical period has resulted in many lingering and costly problems:
- Some subdivisions have private infrastructure and landscaping built in the public right of way.
- Taxpayers are set to shoulder the cost of the $1.6M remediation project for the landfill, which was not properly sealed the first time around.
- Some developers failed to complete their infrastructure “punch list” as originally promised. For example, the 2000S/1000E intersection was never completed as promised by the Driggs Centre developer because it was omitted off the project punch list – an error that a county engineer would have caught.
- Some subdivisions have sub-par roads that are inaccessible for emergency services.
- Many county plats are riddled with substantive errors.
- Inadequately designed public works projects have cost time and tax dollars, such as the year-long delay in delivering fire water to the Teton County Transfer Station.
- Many subdivisions have poor connectivity because there was no engineer to look at a comprehensive transportation plan.
If the Teton County Engineer position is eliminated on October 1st, consider the following 10 questions:
- Who will oversee the installation of the $1.6M landfill cap, and the 30 year monitoring and maintenance plan for the cap?
- Who will oversee and advise the Commissioner on how the $1M in annual road levy funds are spent?
- Who will review the engineering in all land use and development plans and plats?
- Who will review the engineering of all conditional use permits?
- Who will write grants on behalf of Teton County for roads, bridges, trailhead improvements, and public works projects?
- Who will coordinate with the Idaho Transportation Department on all issues related to our highways?
- Who will oversee implementation and updating of our county transportation plan?
- Who will oversee the design, engineering, and construction of all roads, bridges, public infrastructure, and public works projects?
- Who will oversee all waterways and floodplain issues in our county?
- How much will it cost to have all of this work done by another engineer on a contract basis?
What happens next?
The Commissioners will discuss the future of this important job position on August 11th, right after the newly-appointed citizen road committee presents their recommendations to the BOCC on how roads should be prioritized, maintained, plowed, etc.
Please note: Brent Robson, the Chairman of the road committee has now publicly called for the resignation of another county staffer, Dawn Felchle, the Risk Manager and Assistant to the Board of County Commissioners. Commissioner Kunz has also expressed his opinion that Felchle violated his “trust” (start listening at 40:00 min) when she recently fulfilled a July 24th public records request to VARD and the media by providing copies of the Road Committee’s draft report, even though it was already publicly noticed. Read this draft report (which notably does include a footnote about eliminating the county engineer position), as well as the written opinion of the Teton County Attorney and the Idaho Association of Counties, commending Felchle for doing “a fantastic job of complying with the law and its intent. No one should be able to complain about that!”
What you need to know about the August 11th Board of County Commissioners agenda:
- 9:30am Morning Mic: This is your opportunity to speak directly to the Board of County Commissioners
- 1pm Citizen Road Committee Presentation
- Immediately thereafter: The BOCC will discuss the future of the county engineer position.
- Attendance by the public is very important at all of these events. They will be on the first floor of the County Courthouse in Driggs.
What YOU can DO:
- Talk to your friends and neighbors about this shortsighted decision-making by the Commissioners and the need for this critically important job position!
- Share your thoughts in an editorial:
- Write letters to the County Commissioners:
- Attend the August 11th events at the Teton County Courthouse.
(see schedule in BOCC agenda above)