McLennan County Judge Scott Felton again tried unsuccessfully to gain the support of his fellow commissioners court members for taking a step toward merging the county’s precinct-based road and bridge units into one operation.
Commissioners sent a resolution to the state Legislature two years ago requesting the change. But the Legislature did not take up the issue before the last session ended, and commissioners have voted down two opportunities in the past two weeks to send a new resolution.
But since the resolution two years ago, the court has gained a new commissioner, and, as another commissioner noted, has not discussed the proposed to change to road management.
“There’s probably no use to take it to a vote, but I will anyway so taxpayers know where we stand,” Felton said after a back-and-forth between county leaders.
The move to approve the resolution failed again in a 3-2 vote, with Felton and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Ben Perry in the minority. The vote failed by the same margin during a Feb. 19 meeting.
The resolution would have asked the state to give McLennan County the option to merge its four precinct-based road and bridge departments into a single department under a department head, referred to as a “unit road system.” Under the precinct system, commissioners oversee the road and bridge operations, including separate crews and equipment, for the precincts that elected them. As judge, Felton is the only member of the court who does not oversee a road and bridge department.
The resolution, if the state were to act on it, would only have given the county the option to change with another majority vote of commissioners, Perry said.
“Had the legislation passed, I would have asked this court to undertake an exhaustive study to try and determine if the unit road system is right for McLennan County,” Felton said. “I don’t understand how we, as a body, cannot be supportive of legislation that allows us the same opportunity as many other counties. If a road system study shows that a unit road system is the most efficient for McLennan County, why wouldn’t we want the opportunity to move to it as expediently as possible, rather than waiting for another legislative session, when the bill could again be caught up with other local bills and not passed.”
Newly elected Precinct 2 County Commissioner Pat Chisolm-Miller said she does not oppose changing the system. However, she said she wants to see information before taking a vote about how the change would affect the county’s costs and personnel.
Asking the voters
Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell, who has maintained opposition to switching to a unit road system, said the county is not prevented from moving in that direction. It could put the matter before voters, Snell said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones agreed and said a study should be completed first.
“I think we all strive very hard to make the roads the best that we can out in our precincts,” Jones said. “I know that I do and I know that the county employees do also. We’ve got a long way to go before we’re ready. If we do find that system that is the perfect fit for us, I don’t think we would have a hard time at all taking that to the voters and getting it passed.”
Snell said he does not see an urgent need for action.
“I think if anything needs to be done, it needs to be done by the vote of the people,” he said.