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Periods of rain. Low 39F. Winds NE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall possibly over one inch. Locally heavier rainfall possible..

Periods of rain. Low 39F. Winds NE at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall possibly over one inch. Locally heavier rainfall possible.

Harrison County road and bridge crew members, Steve Nobel, David Stalcup and George Davis work on repairing a leaking hydraulic cylinder last week at the road and bridge shop on Five Notch Road.

Harrison County road and bridge dump truck driver J.R. Barrett, stands near a 1985 front-end loader he drives at the road and bridge department’s wood pit site in Karnack. The department is asking to replace both of its worn, outdated front-end loaders.

A 1985 front-end loader is seen the Harrison County road and bridge department's wood pit site in Karnack. The department is asking to replace both of its worn, outdated front-end loaders.

Harrison County road and bridge crew members, Steve Nobel, David Stalcup and George Davis work on repairing a leaking hydraulic cylinder last week at the road and bridge shop on Five Notch Road.

A leak on a bulldozer was repaired on this machine at the Harrison County road and bridge department.

A 2008 model hydraulic cylinder with steering issues and a leak is waiting to be repaired at the Harrison County road and bridge department last week.

Harrison County road and bridge crew members, Steve Nobel, David Stalcup and George Davis work on repairing a leaking hydraulic cylinder last week at the road and bridge shop on Five Notch Road.

Harrison County road and bridge crew members, Steve Nobel, David Stalcup and George Davis work on repairing a leaking hydraulic cylinder last week at the road and bridge shop on Five Notch Road.

Harrison County road and bridge dump truck driver J.R. Barrett, stands near a 1985 front-end loader he drives at the road and bridge department’s wood pit site in Karnack. The department is asking to replace both of its worn, outdated front-end loaders.

A 1985 front-end loader is seen the Harrison County road and bridge department's wood pit site in Karnack. The department is asking to replace both of its worn, outdated front-end loaders.

Harrison County road and bridge crew members, Steve Nobel, David Stalcup and George Davis work on repairing a leaking hydraulic cylinder last week at the road and bridge shop on Five Notch Road.

A leak on a bulldozer was repaired on this machine at the Harrison County road and bridge department.

A 2008 model hydraulic cylinder with steering issues and a leak is waiting to be repaired at the Harrison County road and bridge department last week.

Harrison County road and bridge crew members, Steve Nobel, David Stalcup and George Davis work on repairing a leaking hydraulic cylinder last week at the road and bridge shop on Five Notch Road.

With a goal to build county roads stronger to last longer, the Harrison County road and bridge department is pushing to expand on its budget requests, recently asking the commissioners court for an additional $750,000 to replace old and worn equipment.

The plea was made at a recent budget workshop the court held to assess all department heads’ needs before the Aug. 30 adoption of the new fiscal year budget and tax rate.

“For the initial request that we submitted, it was just over a million dollars,” engineering aide, Lisa Benson, reported during the workshop.

The bulk of the $1 million was for the purchase of five new pickup trucks for each crew at $25,952 apiece. And while Benson said they are grateful to have that specific request for the pickups granted, the crews are in dire need of updated equipment to assist them with their productivity.

“It’s a big request, but without any equipment to do our job … we’re not a department that can get by without those tools,” she said. “We’ve got to have the tools to do our job and unfortunately our tools are big, expensive tools.”

Pct. 1 County Commissioner William Hatfield — whose precinct has suffered the most road damage (34 percent) due to heavy oilfield traffic — concurred. While he encouraged the department to ask for the five pickup trucks, he also recognizes the dire need for better equipment.

“We need pickup trucks, but pickup trucks don’t fix the road; so we have got to look at look at some equipment,” said Hatfield.

“We’ve done so much with so little for so long, we feel like we can do anything with nothing at all,” he said. “And I am pleading with this court to help the road and bridge department out.”

Pct. 2 County Commissioner Zephaniah Timmins agreed that better equipment is needed, but suggested an appeal to constituents instead. He said taxes must be raised, at some point, to get things done.

“The deal is not always the court … the court is doing everything that we can,” said Timmins. “Under the circumstances, sometimes we have to appeal to the people.

While the county managed to operate with one of the lowest tax rates in the state, Timmins said they can no longer afford it.

“Those low taxes keep us further and further behind to where we cannot keep up with the things that the people want us to do,” said Timmins. “Why would you want us to do something with nothing? We just cannot continue to do it.”

Timmins shared how hard it is for constituents to understand why their road complaints hadn’t been addressed.

“Well … we didn’t have the personnel to come out and take care of you,” he said, explaining how concerns are prioritized.

Taking all into consideration, the commissioner said he thinks they will have to increase the tax rate this year.

The proposed tax rate is already a half cent increase from last year — going from 0.3498 cents per $100 assessed valuation to 0.3548 cents per $100 assessed valuation — which he along with Hatfield feel may not be enough.

“You’d be surprised of the phone calls that we have gotten about the half cent increase; and that half cent did not even bring us up to pay the bills that we already have on the books,” said Timmins.

“We cannot pinpoint what group gets what when we have more than 300 employees that we have to take care of,” said Timmins. “Everybody is in need. It’s almost living in poverty. It’s nerve-wracking sometimes, but we have to make it work some kind of way.”

He said the county is unlike the city of Marshall, who can rely on the sale of water and sewer for funding as well as the collection of sales tax.

“We don’t have anything to sell,” said Timmins. “What we do have is a lot of underpaid employees, overage equipment, leaky buildings, bricks falling off the courthouse … That’s what we have; and we still have a group of citizens that complain when you have to spend money to get it fixed.

“So we need to appeal to the people because I believe in this court; and I believe that this court goes above and beyond in squeezing every eighth of a penny to make sure that we can do some of the things that we need to do,” said Timmins.

“I have not one phone call saying: ‘Hey, look … I just want y’all to know that you’re doing a good job not raising the taxes.’ I have yet to hear that,” said Hatfield. “Nobody has said it.”

Pct. 4 Commissioner Jay Ebarb said he’d like to see if it’s more cost-effective for the county to continue to use its own resources, including personnel and equipment or outsource the work to contractors.

“As we get to the end of the road building season this year, I’d like to see us really hammer down what our county cost is for man hours, equipment hours, material for building our roads,” said Ebarb. “We’re not making a lot of progress in getting 20 miles a year, as far as trying to take care of the total roads that we’ve got in the county.”

The commissioner said he wants to make sure that the needs are justified for the dollar amount they’re asking for.

“I’d like to see what the actual cost, for us, per mile, when we include everything that’s involved and just see and make sure that this is the most cost-effective. I hope that’s what it shows, but I’m just saying we owe it to the people to make sure, too,” said Ebarb. “I mean we’re sitting here talking about millions of dollars and the only way to get it is through the tax rate. We know that, but we also know that people want to make sure that they’re getting their bang for their buck, too, and I think that in order for us to attack something on this magnitude we’re going to have to make a better show for what we’ve done in the past. Whether we can or not is the question.”

The first request the department asked to expand on at last week’s workshop was for a Peterbilt truck and chassis. The initial request called for the purchase of a new $86,880 truck to be used by the culvert crew. Benson said they are now asking for a bed for the requested truck, along with a new backhoe and trailer to haul the backhoe.

“The culvert crew is responsible for maintaining almost 1,500 miles of ditches, culverts and drainage along Harrison County roads,” said Benson. “The culvert crew divides into two groups on most days if their equipment and trucks are running.

“As it stands now, one of the trucks, backhoes and trailers that the divisions of the culvert crew use is down at least a couple times a month,” she said. “This causes that crew to get behind and not be able to catch up quickly.”

Thus, the department figured it would be better to replace the faulty vehicle and increase the carrying capacity of the truck for the size of the requested new backhoe.

“When they do not have the proper equipment and transportation, they are unable to stay on top of their routine maintenance, which leads to an increased chance of flooding that in turn damages roads that the department is already struggling to maintain,” Benson explained.

“The fleet at the road and bridge department has 15 dump trucks in it,” said Benson. “At this time, three of the 15 dump trucks have been deemed not repairable. Additionally, the court has considered liquidating two of our existing dump trucks. And finally, three of the dump trucks in our fleet are on a buyback program and must be returned in February 2020.”

She explained that the sales and returns will leave the road and bridge department with only seven dump trucks. Thus, three new dump trucks will be needed to replace the ones they’ll lose through the buyback program in February.

Additionally, the department is requesting a new service/lube truck for the shop to relieve the current one, which is more than a decade old.

“This truck is out fueling and maintaining the fleet in the field on a daily basis,” Benson said of the current service/lube truck. “This truck does not serve just one precinct or work area, but the whole county.”

She said when the truck breaks down it creates a domino effect, particularly affecting the mowing crews.

“When this truck goes down … mowing trucks have to be shut down to run fuel to keep construction and maintenance projects rolling, which shuts down the mowing crews,” Benson said.

She noted how this only adds extra stress as the mowers, like the culvert crews already have their work more than cut out for them, having to maintain nearly 1,500 miles of right-of-ways.

Benson said the shop is also in need of a new, reliable mechanic truck. The current unit is a 2002 model and boasts 160,000 miles. Because of its current state, the road and bridge department was unable to fulfill a request for assistance on a project that would have required out-of-county travel to Galveston.

“Both of the loaders are 25 years or older and have just reached the end of their useful life,” she said. “If at all possible, we avoid using these loaders because they are not reliable and tend to make the task at hand more difficult rather than easier.”

She noted that both vendors offered a $5,000 discount per machine under the condition that both units are replaced at the same time.

“The road and bridge department understands that the court is working with a limited amount of funds and available options,” said Benson. “We strive to take the very best care of our equipment and get the most value out of every dollar we are allotted.”

She said as Hatfield has pointed out, if the department was able to reconstruct 20 miles of roadway every year it will take nearly 40 years to reconstruct all of the roads in the county.

“If you factor in a significant equipment shortage, the number of miles that road and bridge can reconstruct is going to be negatively impacted and the cycle for reconstructing is going to be increased, neither of which is good for the commissioners court, road and bridge department and citizens of Harrison County,” said Benson.

“It’s not just because I’ve got the most (road damage),” he said of his plea, “but we have got to do something at road and bridge.”

Hatfield said he thinks $2 million and 25 more vehicles for road and bridge would be a good start. Benson said the department appreciates anything the court can do.

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“We understand that there’s only so much to go on, but we did want to reiterate or expand on our request because it is serious, at this point. We can’t continue to reconstruct roads without the necessary equipment,” she said.

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