Of the 254 counties in Texas, approximately 190 counties still operate under the commissioner system. Under this plan each commissioner is responsible for the supervision of the road and bridge crew in his precinct.
There are approximately 64 counties that have opted to use the unit system. This can only be accomplished through an election, passing with a majority vote of the countys qualified voters.
When entering into a countywide unit road system versus the commissioners, or precinct system, a county may realize many benefits. First, consolidating four road and bridge offices into one central office will most likely reduce maintenance costs and utilities, and the county may experience a possible reduction in personnel. Second, consolidating four separate road crews into one pools its stockpile of equipment and vehicles, allowing the county to keep the best equipment and auction off the remaining. Third, the county would have one maintenance facility instead of four.
In visiting with other counties having approximately the same miles of roads to maintain, I found it interesting to compare the efficiency of the unit road system versus the precinct system both in cost per mile to maintain and the number of employees to do so; the unit system was substantially lower.
Approximately half of the counties operating under the unit road system are under the direction of a county road administrator. The administrator is appointed by the commissioners court for an indefinite term and is required to perform the same duties as a county engineer.
The county road department is under the direct supervision of the county road administrator. The administrator is responsible for the construction and maintenance of all county roads and bridges with the commissioners court as the governing body. He or she is required to attend all commissioners court meetings with the right to participate in discussions and make recommendations pertaining to the county road department.
The administrator prepares estimates and specifications for all road construction and maintenance, equipment, supplies, and labor and is also responsible for preparing a detailed budget for the road department. The administrator maintains accounting costs and expenditure records of all vehicles, equipment and supplies belonging to the county and supervises road department personnel, plus any other duties the commissioners court may require.
It is important for the road administrator to have a positive relationship with the commissioners court. Open communication with the commissioners court during the planning of long-range goals and special projects is beneficial to keeping the court informed of the road departments objectives. During the budget process, with operation and maintenance, vehicle, equipment, and fuel costs in an upward trend, presenting a well-planned budget to an informed court is necessary in achieving the needs of the road department.
Public relations play a very important role in county government. The county road department is a highly visible department in which citizens of the county see where a portion of their tax dollars is used. Our employees, our equipment, and the work we do all portray an image of our county. The position of the county road administrator and his or her relationship to the commissioners court and the public is a key factor to a well-managed department.
Dealing with the public at times can be testing because in every county there are those few whom no one can please, but we still try . . . be still, be silent, observe, then reply with courtesy; the rewards are many. To the person who has been a lifelong resident of the county, or to the visitor just passing through, be helpful, courteous and kind. A countys image is no better than its employees portray.
The county road department under the supervision of a county road administrator is a very integral part of county government. It is our duty to enhance our commissioners, commissioners court and provide a higher quality work for the most economical cost for all citizens of the county.
By Wayne Everett, Road Administrator, Uvalde County Road Department