Last month, County Progress asked a road expert to explain the benefits of the Precinct Road System. This month, we will give equal space to a discussion on the plus side of a Centralized Road System.
The debate over the centralized administrative system of county road maintenance versus the precinct road system of county road maintenance is alive and well in our great state of Texas and will be for years to come. I would guess that the optional County Road Law of 1947, (Superseded by the County Road and Bridge Act of 1983) was drafted over much debate and compromise some 60 years ago. Over time, many commissioners courts have debated this issue within their counties. Some have been known to change systems only to change back some years later.
Areas of debate may include power, politics, money and equality. The bottom line is safe roads for the traveling public, well-maintained roads as a public asset, employee development, and efficient use of limited funds. Each Texas county is different and faces varied geo-technical, topographical and political challenges; the effective and efficient use of funds and resources is our calling as public servants.
For the purposes of this article, centralized road administration is defined in its broadest sense to include not only counties operating under the unit system, but any county that uses any degree of centralized road maintenance. The four statutory schemes of road maintenance are set out in Chapters 251 and 252 of the Transportation Code.
The Lubbock County commissioners agreed to combine road maintenance operations in January 2006 and later in that year adopted a consolidated road maintenance budget for FY2007. Commissioners Bill McCay and Patti Jones led the planning group whose main priority was the consolidation of Lubbock County’s road maintenance operations. Commissioners Ysidro Gutierrez and James Kitten were willing to try consolidation.
Months of work, research and discussion went into the plan to consolidate. The human resources, purchasing, sheriff’s office and auditor’s departments lent their expertise to the reorganization plan. Organization charts were developed and redeveloped along with creating new job titles and job descriptions. Road maintenance personnel were interviewed and questioned as to which tasks they enjoyed the most and what tasks they felt they could do well. The organization chart and job descriptions were presented to the Lubbock County personnel committee and approved by the commissioners court. With the information, job assignments were made, and the crew went to work.
Having experienced the change from a precinct operating system to a consolidated operating system, I believe that the consolidated operating system of road maintenance has proven to be more effective and efficient.
Combining four separate road maintenance departments into one department benefits the other departments in the county, as well. Departments including purchasing, human resources and the auditor’s office have been streamlined, and they now have fewer departmental idiosyncrasies to deal with. Uniformity works best in managing or serving groups or subsets of people. As we all know, news travels fast when parity is not maintained. An example might be that one department furnished work boots, while another does not, or one precinct installs culverts in drives along a county road right of way, while another does not. Employees and citizens can take no for an answer as long as they are treated equally.
Training road maintenance personnel in areas of hazard communications, work zone traffic control, blood borne pathogens awareness, and various levels of the NIMS (National Incident Management System) can be more easily accomplished as one group.
Road maintenance personnel working within a larger group have more opportunity for specializing in areas that they enjoy and where they can use their talents. Examples for our group of personnel include but are not limited to heavy equipment operation, sign maintenance, fleet management, asphalt crew and work release coordination. Focused and uniform efforts in these areas mentioned have bettered our response times and increased accountability of personnel. Employees have taken ownership and have developed as leaders in their respective areas.
Road maintenance improvement projects can be more easily accomplished by countywide efforts in manpower, equipment and money. Selection criteria for improvement projects can be established to show needs of the traveling public.
In the area of fleet management, newer and more specialized equipment can be acquired and better maintained under a centralized system of road maintenance. We’ve tried using a pool of equipment for each precinct, and we’ve found that scheduling and routine maintenance created hardships in working relationships. I have come to favor countywide fleet management assignment for its accountability.
Selling worn, excess and underutilized equipment has not only benefited the system with a one-time shot of revenue, but equipment operation and maintenance costs have been lowered. Employees are taking more pride in newer, more efficient equipment.
Maintenance of Texas county roads is a job that falls to the commissioners. The Transportation Code provides for a range of ways to accomplish this task. Working together commissioners can establish a system designed for their county that will ensure achieving long-range goals in areas of road maintenance and improvement. Commissioners working together can also assure that road maintenance funds are spent to maximize the benefit for their county road system.
By Nicholas M. Olenik, Lubbock County Public Works Director