LITTLE VALLEY – Driving at dusk or at night can be difficult, and becomes even more so when signs don’t show up the way they should. It also can be costly for the county if it leads to a lawsuit after an accident.

That’s why federal law spells out exactly how signage on roads needs to be checked at least once a year in a process now nearly completed this year by the Cattaraugus County Department of Public Works.

Public Works Supervisor Joseph Pillittere said conducting the “night inventory” is not a job that just anyone can do, if done by the regulations.

“Night inventory has to be conducted by very specific guidelines,” Pillittere said. “It has to be done at regular highway speeds, in either a pickup truck or full-sized SUV, 2000 model year or newer, and preferably using low beams. We are also required to send out qualified and trained employees, age 60 or over. We want someone that might have difficulty in seeing these signs under normal conditions out there.”

The process is not a quick one for crews in Cattaraugus County. The inspectors have 12,000 signs on 398 miles of road. Each sign has to undergo the scrutiny on multiple passes, even up-close inspection if they look to be close to being worn out.

This might sound like something of little consequence, but not to County Legislator William H. Weller, who cites the legal implications along with the safety factors.

“This is very important. If there is an accident on a county road, the signage is going to be the first thing a attorney is going to look at,” he said.

Final inspections of the signs were to be completed by Friday. Next comes an inventory and action plan to deal with any that are worn out.

In other action, members of the Legisalture’s Public Works Committee also discussed the potential of hiring summer help versus having county prisoners doing tasks such as painting, mowing and trash pickup.

The committee has found itself using money from a contingency fund to pay for summer help in previous years. Some of this help is used for painting and other maintenance tasks, but others are trained and conduct such work as being flagmen on road crews.

In an effort to save some of the money in the fund, several members of the committee have asked about using prisoners from the Cattaraugus County Jail.

“The issue we have run into in the past is that the unions do not like us using non-union workers,” Pillittere said. “The unions feel they are losing jobs by doing that.”

The positions, should they be filled, would need to go before the Vacancy Committee and be approved through the committee process to be voted upon by the Legislature. In previous years, funding for the positions has been slashed to cut costs, resulting in the positions themselves being cut.

Last year, the Public Works Department spent $456,430 on the summer help.