Six months after Columbia County officials changed their minds about paving a Harlem-area road, school buses are traveling the road. But now a new problem has emerged.
Because Otis Way is a private road, the responsibility to maintain the dirt road falls onto the neighborhood's homeowners association, which President Nancy Chavis said does not collect enough money from the 53 Otis Way homeowners to keep the private road properly maintained.
Chavis said the neighborhood covenants require each of the lot owners to pay a $7 monthly road maintenance fee, or the homeowners association can pay $65 to place a lien on their property. Only about half of the homeowners are paying the fee, Chavis said.
"Most of the ones paying the road dues are the ones who have children," Chavis said.
Columbia County school buses stopped routes down the one-mile road about five years ago when some residents complained the buses were tearing up the road and wanted the Board of Education to be responsible for the damages, said Charles Nagle, associate superintendent of Student Support.
In summer 2005, the association and school board worked out a contract requiring the homeowners association to be responsible for road maintenance if the buses would reinstate the Otis Way route. Otherwise, children had to walk or be driven to the end of the road for bus pick-ups.
The drivers of the three or four buses that drive Otis Way twice a day make sure to alert Nagle, who calls Chavis, when road upkeep is needed. Recently, three truckloads of gravel were replaced on a hill that tends to get slippery when it rains. That's on top of the $350 spent monthly for scraping and grading the road, Chavis said. But even if the $7 fee was collected for all 53 lots, it adds up to only $371 each month.
"I'm barely making enough to (scrape) the road,'' Chavis said. "... How long can I keep the buses going?''
Nagle said the school system is willing to work with the residents of Otis Way to keep the bus routes running. But a few recent complaints of buses causing damage to the road or waking up residents have been called into Nagle's office, he said.
"She (Chavis) and I have been able to work well together," Nagle said, adding that the buses will continue to run as long as the road is passable. "... They have done a tremendous job in trying to maintain their end of the bargain ... We want to be accommodating for those children."
County commissioners voted in July, at the request of Commissioner Lee Anderson, to pave Otis Way. But that vote was rescinded at the next meeting Commission Chairman Ron Cross said.
"The next day the county attorney said you really can't do that because we don't own that road. It is a private," Cross said, adding that none of the commissioners realized Otis Way was a privately-owned road before the July vote.
Cross said Otis Way can be adopted by the county, which will then pave and maintain the road, if residents can bring it up to county standards.
Those standards include width, drainage and ditches and be in reasonably good condition. Cross said the county will not adopt and maintain a road that needs a lot of expensive grading and other work to bring it up to reasonable condition.
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