CLEARWATER — It is not just in motorists' imaginations; there are more potholes in the roads.
Complaints about potholes shot up 45 percent in Pinellas County this year compared to last. Public works operations director Jorge Quintas attributes the spike to budget cuts and heavy rains that cracked asphalt.
Besides reducing staff and equipment, a $2.6 million allotment for road repairs was eliminated when the County Commission passed the budget last fall.
County commissioners recoiled at the report during a meeting last week.
"I will tell you there are certain things that our citizens do expect, and potholes (repair) is one of them. This is just a basic, basic need — not a want," said commission chairwoman Karen Seel, who called in a few complaints herself after seeing more than usual.
As of early April, the county had received 401 pothole complaints. By comparison, the county received 509 during all of last year.
There are two two-person asphalt crews for the county, a third of the workers the county had doing the same work in 2005. Emergency response crews do small patch work, but the actual asphalt being laid is half of last year's rate.
The commission spent Tuesday and Thursday hearing reports about the effects of reductions in this year's budget, which began in October.
The pothole spike is among the most noticeable, causing some commissioners to fret about deeper cuts in next year's public works budget. The county wants to trim $60 million overall to solve a shortfall in 2011.
Quintas said the cuts are having an effect on his department in terms of morale and general distrust of management.
As jobs became tougher and positions were lost — 27 layoffs last year — employees became skeptical of management, he said. In fact, several former or current employees have complained to commissioners in meetings about facing too many layers of management on highway projects.
But Quintas said extra management is needed when money is tighter. More thought and planning is needed to decide how to approach projects.
Other department heads expressed similar frustrations. In utilities, more customers were giving up waiting for service calls to be answered. Publicity about park cuts has prompted offers of help from volunteers, but there's not enough staff to supervise them.
Animal services director Welch Agnew lamented that as he retires this summer, he is leaving amid cuts that have been "terrible" and "gut-wrenching."
But not every case turned glum. Environmental management director Will Davis said he hasn't seen any "serious consequences" from cuts so far.
On Tuesday, the commission will talk about potential fee increases for parks and other services as a means to raise new revenue.
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779.