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Commissioner angered over project priorities
Frio County Precinct 1 Commissioner Joe Vela walked out of last Thursday’s budget meeting with Road & Bridge Engineer Roxana Garcia after expressing concerns over timelines and funding for his proposed infrastructure upgrades for his precinct.
The commissioner’s abrupt walk-out came after detailed discussion on county projects related to drainage, roadbuilding and other priorities that he believes are being pushed ahead of those he has listed.
“I am a believer that we fund the salaries and cut the projects,” Garcia said before presenting commissioners with a new proposed budget for the department. “We have too many projects on the table.”
The engineer told the court that she was able to free up $850,000 of the maintenance budget for the road and bridge department by placing some projects on hold and requesting American Rescue Plan (ARP) monies to fund others.
According to Garcia, delaying a number of projects that included irrigation along county roads, expanding the yard in Dilley, constructing a long fence at the Pearsall yard, and relocating the Child Care Board facility would save the county $480,000.
Garcia asked that $325,000 in ARP monies to fund COVID related upgrades be diverted to county-owned facilities.
“We consolidated facilities because of a lack of staff,” the engineer said. “The restrooms are now going to be touch-free; that is how we did the Dilley annex. These can be funded by ARP monies.”
Before presenting commissioners with the proposed road and bridge budget, Garcia noted the five new projects that were added to the list only increased the budget.
“It needs a lot of help,” Garcia said of the proposed budget for next year. “The changes requested only made the numbers go up, and not down. It also created a lot for us to do. It is too much listed.”
The first budget amendment to the proposed budget came from Pct. 3 Comm. Raul Carrizales III, who asked for construction of a drainage structure along the north side of Pearsall.
“This is simply based on the residents,” Carrizales said. “The north side of Pearsall has a subdivision of Frio County. There are residents out there that need it.”
Garcia said the project did not increase the budget because the commissioner had transferred funds from a different project that was further down the list.
Keystone Road, CR 3000, and Goldfinch Road, CR 3300, have been projects Comm. Vela has been pushing for rehabilitation since he took office in 2021.
According to the engineer, the department will continue making progress on the five miles left of CR 3000.
“The drainage study is holding us up,” Garcia said. “The drainage structure is going in next year. The money is only for the design plan and drainage study.”
The five-mile stretch of Goldfinch Road is estimated to cost the county $268,000 for the design plan and comes with a $1.8 million construction price tag.
“Why does it cost $1.8 million for my project?” Comm. Vela asked.
Garcia said the project would have to be contracted out because the county’s road and bridge crew is not be able to build the road due to the drainage infrastructure. The engineer reminded commissioners that the crews are solely dedicated to sealcoating 25 miles of county roads each budget year as part of a 15-year maintenance plan.
“Normally, counties have a seven-year maintenance plan, but there has never been a maintenance plan,” the engineer said. “We use reclaimed base when we do put base on the road.”
Garcia said that when crews do road improvements the road is milled and the same asphalt is laid back down.
“You are not fixing the substructure,” Garcia said. “It does buy time, but you will still have problems. When that was proposed to the residents along CR 3300, they did not want that because they know the problems will still exist.”
Comm. Carrizales said he has been attending the Nueces Flood Plain meetings and since his involvement with the organization he has been able to add drainage projects from Frio County to their list.
“I have put projects from Precincts Two, Three and Four; I did not have any projects from Precinct One given to me,” Carrizales said. “I can have them put them on the list for possible funding. There is a possibility some of the funding could come to Frio County.”
“Is that your job?” Vela asked the commissioner, “Or somebody else’s job? Why do we have to do somebody else’s job? We do not know anything about roads and drains.”
“So this is part of the job for commissioners’ court, to join these organizations and find funding for the county,” Garcia said. “Our job is to build the roads, not find the funding.”
Vela left the meeting while the county engineer was responding.
Commissioners continued with the hearing on their proposed budget, which included the sheriff’s office and amendments covering salary increases in county government offices, all of which are listed at 35 percent of a scheduled hike. The new budget also calls for a shift of $2.9 million from reserve funds to the general fund to cover projected expenses.
The salary hike portion proposed for 2023 is based on a study performed this year for the county by a contracted consultant.