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County sign thefts putting public’s safety at risk

By Sean Dunlap
Franklin Advocate

The theft of directional road signage across Franklin County is increasing at an alarming rate — and is putting the safety of area residents and property owners at extreme risk.

During the Franklin County Board of Supervisors’s business meeting on Monday, Oct. 4, the sign theft topic took center stage, again, as it has during the past two years.

“About as fast as we can get a sign made and put up, it’s being taken and that’s frustrating to say the least,” District 4 Supervisor Pat Larkin said. “We can get 30 signs at any given time and then 41 turn up missing the next day or two and that’s unacceptable.”

Board President Jimmie “Bodi” Bass, who represents District 5 on the panel, cited numerous incidents where he has been called because signs have disappeared from his area.

“Those green signs particularly are not just for looks and serve a very important purpose,” Bass continued. “They are installed to help our emergency services personnel find locations when our citizens call for help.

“If a sign is taken and first responders miss a road because they can’t find it, that can put lives and property at risk because seconds count in any response.”

District 2 Supervisor Henry “Eddie” Stebbins agreed with Bass’ assessment and took it a step further in asking those who are taking the signs to think about the consequences of their actions.

“What if it was your loved one who called for help and died or had his or her house burn down because you took a sign that could have helped them be found?” Stebbins asked.

“This has been a serious problem we’ve had to try to address, but it seems to be getting worse. It’s not if, but when someone is going to be hurt or die as a result of these sign thefts.”

Stebbins and District 3 Supervisor Mike “Dirt” Hunt said remote areas of their respective beats have been hard hit with sign thefts.

“Safety is a greater concern since signs go missing in areas where the roads are not heavily traveled and it could be weeks or months before we find signs are missing,” Hunt said.

Bass said another element to the issue is the cost to Franklin County taxpayers in purchasing materials to make signs and paying for the manpower to keep them erected.

“There is a price associated with every sign and the resources we have to put into replacing stolen signs is money that could be used to maintain and repair our county roads,” he added.

Sheriff Tom Tindle said sign thefts are nothing new, and that he does not have the personnel to guard every sign to keep it from potentially being stolen.

“In situations such as this, we rely on the public to help us keep a watchful eye around where they live and along the roads they travel looking for people who might be stealing signs,” Tindle noted.

“Any information regarding these kinds of thefts should be given to us immediately so that we can look into the matter. I think a lot of time signs are taken because of a unique name or reference to a landmark, but little thought is given to the impact this kind of theft can have on public safety.”

Tindle reminded those involved with sign thefts that they can be subject to fines, jail times and a criminal record if convicted for their actions.

“The other question you have to ask yourself is whether or not it is worth it in terms of what it could cost you when you are caught,” Tindle continued. “I urge you to think twice before you do it.”

During Monday’s board meeting, Chancery Clerk Jill Jordan Gilbert said her office had received a call from a constituent about a sign for Loper Lane at the intersection with County Lake Road south of Roxie.

District 1 Supervisor Ronald Hunt, whose beat includes Loper Lane, said he, too, is frustrated by the number of signs being taken on a regular basis.

“It rarely seems to get any better,” he noted of the theft situation. “That’s why we want the public to help us be our eyes and ears that can address these crimes.”

Bass encouraged anyone who has information related to sign thefts to call the sheriff’s department or their district supervisor and relay the tip so that authorities can look into the matter.

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