McLennan County leaders are considering hiring a consultant as they decide whether to adjust the county’s precinct-based system for managing roads.
Commissioners delayed a vote set for Tuesday on whether to post a request for a consultant, saying they need more information.
County Judge Scott Felton started discussing his desire in November for the county to consider switching to a unified road-and-bridge department. The switch would offer opportunities for savings and would keep politics out of road-work decisions, Felton said at the time.
Under the precinct-based system now in effect, each commissioner oversees a separate crew with separate equipment for their precinct.
As judge, Felton is the only member of the court who does not oversee an individual area for road and bridge work and maintenance.
After Tuesday’s meeting, he said a consultant would help the county determine what type of road system would be the best return on investment, whether that is a unit road system, a road superintendent system, the current precinct-based system or a combination.
However, Commissioner Kelly Snell said he is not interested in spending money on a consultant to fix a system that is not broken when the county should be directing more money to roads, not less.
Snell has said since the topic first came up that he doesn’t think McLennan County is a good fit for a unit road system.
“This request for proposal is to pay somebody to come out and do a bunch of work and tell us it would be a good deal to go to the superintendent system so they can say a consultant said it would be best to go to a superintendent system,” Snell said.
“My main objection to changing it: We’re elected by the people to maintain their roads and bridges. If we were to give that to someone else, then we’re elected and we have no control over the roads.”
Commissioners could adopt the superintendent road system with a majority vote, while the unit road system would require a referendum for implementation, Snell said.
County Administrator Dustin Chapman said one of the main differences between the superintendent system and the unit road system is who signs off on purchases.
With a superintendent system, commissioners have a more direct say on the purchasing of tools, machinery and equipment needed to perform work, Chapman said. In a unit road system, the road-and-bridge department head would act similarly to a chief executive officer and would pick out the equipment for commissioners to buy, he said.
In both systems, the person in charge oversees personnel and submits a budget for commissioners’ approval.
Snell said he doesn’t think a unit road system saves money. Moving the road and bridge responsibilities away from commissioners insulates them from being held responsible for doing their job, Snell said.
“Right now, the way it is, if I don’t get it fixed or make someone happy, I’m out of a job,” Snell said. “That’s our main function in the county is taking care of roads and trees.”
But Felton said a third-party consultant that takes the time to study the details of the county’s operations and its options would best be able to determine the potential for cost savings.
Chapman said the proposal commissioners delayed a vote on asks for a consultant with extensive knowledge and experience of the various systems in the state Transportation Code. The consultant would provide a comparison of road management systems in counties with similar population, road mileage, budget and road types as McLennan County.
Chapman said the consultant would evaluate the county’s available equipment by age, condition, quantity and service cycle; its staff positions; maintenance facilities; and support structures. The consultant also would evaluate the positive and negative impacts of consolidating equipment, facilities, computer systems and personnel.
Providing fiscal impact
Chapman said the consultant would provide a fiscal impact for any recommended changes and provide the information in time for commissioners to consider it before they adopt a fiscal year 2018 budget. Commissioners start budget talks in June.
The proposal includes keeping the consultant on if commissioners opt to implement a new system.
Further discussion was deferred after Commissioner Lester Gibson said he had not received the proposal.
“It was sent out yesterday afternoon,” Chapman said.
“I would like to read it before we discuss,” Gibson said.
“We sent it to everyone at 2:30 p.m. yesterday,” Felton said.
“We had left,” Administrative Assistant Pat Miller told Gibson.
Felton asked commissioners to bring any additions or corrections to the staff before the next commissioners court meeting so all the information could be available.