Some McLennan County leaders are looking for new options to shake up the way road and bridge decisions are handled after the state Legislature killed a bill that would have allowed a change.

The House bill, if approved, would have given McLennan County the option of moving to a unit road system overseen by an engineer and away from the precinct-based operations managed by commissioners.

However, that bill and more than 100 others were eliminated in what was dubbed the “Mother’s Day Massacre,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said. Members of the Texas Freedom Caucus got in a “political shoving match” with House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, and opted to derail the legislation, Perry said.

One of those bills killed was aimed only at McLennan County, didn’t affect anyone else and only gave the county an option to consider, Perry said. Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, wrote the bill.

There are a few options left for McLennan County commissioners.

They could wait until the next legislative session and hope another bill makes it through, get a “unit road system” measure on the ballot or adopt a modified version, Perry said.

County Judge Scott Felton started discussions on a unified road-and-bridge department in November, saying the move could save money and take politics out of road work. Felton is the sole member of the court who does not oversee an individual road and bridge department.

Felton said he would like the court to make a decision about which direction it wants to go before it adopts the 2018 fiscal year budget, which it is scheduled to do Aug. 22.

However, before a decision, there needs to “be a good, honest evaluation of what it does financially and how it works in communities,” he said.

The county operates on a precinct road-based system, in which commissioners are responsible for road-work decisions in the precinct they represent. A unit road system would place responsibility for road-work operations with the county engineer or a dedicated department head.

Lubbock and Nacogdoches counties have a modified unit road system worth reviewing, Perry said. Those counties have a county road administrator who is in charge of road and bridge work throughout the county, but the administrator reports to commissioners, who vote on projects, Perry said.

The idea is to eliminate duplication of equipment and effort and create teams of more skilled employees to handle a particular task throughout the county, he said.

“The key to this is getting four commissioners willing to pull the wagon in the same direction,” Perry said.

He said he doesn’t think it would be wise to spend taxpayers money to host a November election just to move to a unit road system. He expects commissioners will discuss in the next few weeks what kind of work it would take to move to a modified system, how they could get there and what all it would entail.

In April, commissioners voted 3-2 to move hire a consultant to determine the best system to manage roads. Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell and Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson cast the dissenting votes.

However, no one responded to the county’s request, Felton said.

Felton said he would still like to see an outside consultant review and report back best options for McLennan County. Either way, the commissioners need a thorough understanding of options and possibilities before making any decisions, he said.

Commissioners in December revised the job description for the county engineer after Steve Hendrick retired from the position. The new description includes knowledge of a unit road system as a requirement.

Commissioners started interviewing candidates for the vacant county engineer position Tuesday.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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