|By Bob Weaver|
The West Virginia Division of Highways say their selling-off a huge surplus of heavy equipment worth $22 million is routine.
DOH engineer Marvin Miller insisted yesterday that the huge sale is not a first step toward contracting out road maintenance projects to private companies.
Several DOH employees, who asked to remain anonymous, have told the Herald they feel outsourcing is in the future for the department, essentially meaning a leaner DOH workforce.
A DOH spokesperson in Charleston told the Herald the agency has always contracted services.
Legislators grilled Murphy over the scheduled auctions of surplus equipment in May and September, indicating DOH employees fear downsizing county road maintenance operations is coming.
DOH employees have said some of the equipment being sold at auction is newer, indicating the equipment would no longer be used for county maintenance.
John Walker, Deputy State Highway Engineer told the Herald in March that "core maintenance" is eliminating some work projects generally handled by county workers.
"There is a downsizing of equipment. We're going to get rid of the old equipment first," said Walker.
"Is this part of a larger plan that includes manpower reductions or manpower transfers?" asked Senate Minority Leader Don Caruth, R-Mercer. "This equipment sale is not part of a larger plan to induce a reduction in work force, is it?"
Murphy responded, "The only larger response is to get more efficient," saying the division routinely auctions off "idle" equipment.
He said the surplus auction is bigger because of a shift in the focus of county-level road crews to "core maintenance plans."
Core maintenance means that county crews will focus strictly on such issues as snow and ice removal, mowing, and minor repairs such as patching potholes, leaving bigger repair projects to heavy maintenance crews in each of the 10 DOH districts.
Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, said he's concerned that the sale of heavy equipment will be used as an excuse for deferring road maintenance.
"Are we going to hear next year that, 'If we had the equipment, we could fix that'?" he asked.
Members of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance suggested there are serious communications problems between the Division of Highways headquarters and its employees in the field.
Allegations have been made that DOH officials have been told they are not to go public, or let the employees know about the department's plans.
"I think you've got a real problem between the [headquarters] building here, and the 55 counties out there," Tomblin told Murphy.
"We don't understand what's happening," added Senate Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas. "We're getting calls from all the division headquarters, and we have yet to hear a positive about this from any Highways employees."
Murphy said "We always have one to two sales a year. It's not something new."
See STATE PLAN CHANGING COUNTY HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE - Equipment Downsizing, Giant Auction