After more than a year of discussions on how McLennan County should structure its road and bridge operations, commissioners appear no closer to a consensus.
During a recent meeting, Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones said each precinct should use his department’s structure, which he argued is the most efficient.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell said each commissioner was elected to meet the varied needs of their precinct, so there is no need for each road and bridge department to be similar.
Continuing a push that started in earnest late last year, Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said the county should merge precinct departments into one countywide department, arguing it would be the best use of taxpayer money.
County Judge Scott Felton does not oversee a road and bridge department but has previously supported the move to a single road and bridge department.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson missed this week’s meeting.
As Snell again this week lobbied to restructure his road and bridge department, he received pushback, which this time included a new proposal from Jones.
Jones proposed a uniform structure among precinct departments, based on his road and bridge department for Precinct 3.
It has 14 employees and one office administrator who work four 10-hour days per week. The longer days result in more road work per hour on the clock, because work sites do not have to be set up and torn down as often, he said.
“As far as 4-10s go, I think it’s been proven when you’re setting up and closing down every day there’s a certain amount of time in there that gets lost,” he said.
Snell countered that employees can only handle so many hours in the heat and that his crew starts and ends its workdays early. He also said that as fatigue sets in, the likelihood of injuries and accidents increases.
Jones responded that employees also get more recovery time with three days off. He said Precinct 4 and Precinct 2 operate with those hours during daylight saving time.
Jones acknowledged that Precinct 4 has significantly more road miles than the others and may need an extra employee.
“If one commissioner needs another person because they do have nearly 75 percent more miles than everybody else, I can understand that,” Jones said. “We’re getting it done for way less. Let’s revert to the lowest common denominator.”
Snell said he uses his budget and personnel to best fit his precinct’s needs.
“What it takes to make your constituents happy may not be mine,” Snell said.
Felton referenced data provided by Jones that shows only Gibson’s Precinct 2 spends more per mile of road than Snell’s Precinct 1.
Precinct 1 spends $12,755 per mile and has 238 miles of road. Precinct 2 spends $13,958 per mile and has 211 miles of road. Precinct 3 spends $11,165 per mile and has 236 miles of road. Precinct 4 spends $8,504 per mile and has 394 miles of road.
Looking only at the cost of construction material per mile, Precinct 1 has the most budgeted this year, according to the data.
For materials, Precinct 1 is spending $3,564 per mile. Precinct 2 is spending $3,079 per mile. Precinct 3 is spending $2,966 per mile. Precinct 4 is spending $2,538 per mile.
Snell said the numbers alone do not presented a fair comparison. Each precinct has different types of soil, and the Precinct 1 ground surface often requires roads to be completely torn down and rebuilt, he said.
Felton has previously said moving to a single road and bridge department would take politics out of roadwork and eliminate duplication of efforts across the four precincts.
Perry said the restructuring Snell has requested for his department would push the county further from, not closer to, a unified road system.
Jones also proposed the commissioners and their administrative assistants move out of the Records Building and to their precinct yard buildings since the downtown Records Building is prime real estate. There are multiple county departments, including human resources, desperate for more space, he said.
Snell said he has no problem with moving.
Patricia “Pat” Chisolm-Miller, Precinct 2 administrative assistant, said there would be no room for her and Gibson to move to their precinct yard until next year when a new barn is built.