PRO: Bee County system, professionals in charge

Sonny Long

Aug. 5, 2012 at 3:05 a.m.

David Silva, county judge in Bee County, is pleased with the unit system of road maintenance his county uses.

"The system has been in place for 28 years and I, personally, wouldn't have it any other way and most people in Bee County would agree with me," Silva said.

Bee County has 444 miles of road to maintain with a $1.5 million annual budget.

Some in neighboring Goliad County, which uses a precinct system of road maintenance, point to Bee County as an example of unit system success. The existing Goliad system puts each commissioner in charge of roads in separate districts. The Bee system puts a professional engineer in charge of countywide road maintenance.

"Bee County has been using this system for more than 25 years and the road administrator and county commissioners working in cooperation have achieved a very well-run road department," said Goliad County Judge David Bowman, whose county has 314 miles of county roads.

Bowman said a recent presentation by Robert Bass, of Allison, Bass & Associates, an Austin law firm, made it clear that there are two keys to a successful unit system.

"One is hiring the right person to be the road administrator, and second is the cooperation of the commissioners to make this system a success," he said.

The heads of road departments in other counties that use the unit system also point out that cooperation is key.

In Chambers County, county engineer Bobby Hall oversees road maintenance.

"The commissioners have been happy with this system for years," he said. "They still have input on the day-to-day operation, but our department has the final control. "There are special conditions where we will explain the situation to the court and have them approve the solution," said Hall.

Chambers County maintains 350 miles of road with a $1.3 million budget.

"The Engineering Department is responsible for preparing a Road Repair Program each year," Hall added. "The commissioners review and approve this program, but usually do not make changes. By having the unit system, we believe we actually save money by not having duplication in each precinct."

In Fort Bend County, the more than 1,700 miles of roadway have been maintained since 1996 using a similar road commissioner system.

Road commissioner Marc Grant said the change came because of public pressure.

"A county commissioner doesn't traditionally come from a road building background," said Grant. "At first, the public still called commissioners about problems.

"I talk to the commissioners daily. We do the roads that need work, no matter the precinct. Normally, a construction group will go out and work a whole area, not pick and choose where to work."

The county's budget for road maintenance is about $20 million.

In Caldwell County, where the unit system has been in place since 1986, county engineer Bill Gardner said the system is less about politics and more about the roads.

"The system works well for us," he said. "It allows centralized engineering and maintenance by a professional staff. Over the years, the equipment has been reduced in half."

Caldwell County has 420 miles of roadway and a $1.9 million road maintenance budget.

Goliad's county judge sees eventual financial savings as one of the major positives of switching systems.

"With the elimination of duplicative equipment from four precincts and economy of scale some savings should be realized," Bowman said. "But there will be extra costs initially to get set up in a central location. Having one person in charge of the roads would bring consistency and efficiency to road construction and maintenance.

"Transitioning to a unit road system would not be quick. The counties I have visited with about this system have said it takes several years to be at the most efficient level."



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