Theft and vandalism to Cherokee County road signs cost taxpayers a boatload of money every year, so commissioners are trying new materials that may cut down on some of those problems.
In just his own jurisdiction last year, District 1 Commissioner Doug Hubbard said, some 600 road signs had to be put up to replace those that were stolen or vandalized.
Hubbard believes a large portion of the theft can be attributed to what is ultimately called “scrapping.” Metal prices are high, and the thieves may be able to sell the stolen signs for a quick buck at a recycling facility. But some people take road signs for more personal reasons.
“They take about any of them, but if it’s a common name, or something that’s related to them, that happens quite a bit,” said Hubbard.
Replacing one smaller sign, such as a road-marking sign, costs just under $10; larger ones, like stop signs, are more expensive.
Several years ago, the county was spending thousands of dollars every year to order new signs, but now, signs are produced in-house, which cuts the yearly expense by about half.
Regardless of the decrease, taxpayers still have to fork over thousands of dollars every year to keep roads safely marked.
“It’s a big problem,” said District 2 Commissioner Bobby Botts. “I’ve got one guy that works constantly on road signs. It’s a daily thing. Every day, there are signs gone, vandalized, tore down. They just tear them up or steal them.”
Botts said commissioners are introducing signs made with plastic instead of aluminum, hoping to deter some of the theft.
“They are coming out with a new type of sign – there’s not much aluminum, mostly laminated plastic,” said Botts. “A lot of people sell the signs because the aluminum is so high, so this is liable to curtail some of that.”
But commissioners admit it’s unlikely vandalism and theft of road signs will ever come to a halt. In fact, Botts said, it’s a statewide epidemic.
“It’s happening in other counties,” said Botts. “I talk to different commissioners, and I think it’s a problem all across Oklahoma.”
District 3 Commissioner Mike Ballard said more signs are stolen every year than are vandalized, and it’s not often the stolen signs are recovered. And even when signs are vandalized – riddled with bullet holes, covered in paint, or dented with a baseball bat – they typically have to be taken down and replaced.
“We put up a lot of signs every year, and then have to replace them later,” said Ballard. “A lot of our signs we’ve found just thrown in ditches or creeks.”
Botts said he knows of sign thieves who’ve been caught and arrested for their acts, though commissioners admit it’s often hard to catch them in the act.
Hubbard said the underlying issue is a general sense of “meanness” from those who vandalize or steal the signs. And what some people may see as a harmless act can actually have serious repercussions, Hubbard said.
“You run into the situation where, if they’re taking stop signs down, and a stranger comes through town, they could cause a crash,” said Hubbard.
Botts said the thieves need to realize they, in the end, have to pay for replacing the signs they take or vandalize.
“You’re stealing out of your left pocket and putting it in your right pocket,” said Botts. “It would be better for them to just get a job.”
Hubbard said anyone who sees someone taking or vandalizing road signs should contact the sheriff’s department and also the district’s commissioner.
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