By JUDY SHERIDAN
Precinct No. 4 Commissioner Dusty Renfro kicked off FY 2013-14 Parker County budget discussion last week by saying that too many county employees commute using county vehicles, increasing vehicle and fuel costs. Renfro also challenged the equity of the Road & Bridge Fund formula that determines how much revenue each precinct receives.
“One thing I think we need to focus on a little bit during this county budget session is the take-home vehicles countywide,” he said. “We’ve got way too many people driving county vehicles to and from work that maybe live in another county or are just driving long distances. We need to limit that as much as possible.”
“What we have now is maybe some people taking vehicles out who are not on the approved list,” Riley responded. “We’ll send that out and update that and deal with that as soon as possible.”
Renfro said later that the county’s fuel costs are greater than $1 million annually.
As many as half of those commuting with county vehicles probably don’t need to do so,” he said. Making a change could result in significant savings.
Even when commuting with a county vehicle is necessary, Renfro said, some employees drive a truck instead of a more fuel-efficient vehicle.
Riley said the county spends $1.3 million annually for fuel, oil changes, air filters and vehicle inspections. The Road and Bridge Fund is responsible for $800,000, he said, while the sheriff’s office, another heavy fuel consumer, spends about $300,000.
The commissioner also questioned the fairness of the Road & Bridge budget formula.
“I know that most of it is based on road mileage, and it doesn’t take into consideration traffic counts,” he said. “I’ve been hearing a lot of people in Precinct No. 4 asking questions on why Precinct No. 4 pays in the most taxes and receives the least amount back for road maintenance.”
“I looked at the actual revenue that is brought in by each precinct, and the lowest is around $4 million. Precinct No. 4 is around $11 million.”
Riley said it was time to review the funding process and said the court could adjust the formula. He suggested precincts tackle their road issues jointly by taking an approach similar to that used for the transportation bond.
“I’m not talking about taking away your ability to do anything and function in your precincts,” he said. “But why not look at the big picture? For example, each precinct could look at the worst road in each one and what needs to be done with that. Those are priorities countywide.”
The judge suggested the court use leftover bond funds to pay for a priority study that would lead to a long-term plan. He also talked about establishing a common standard among the precincts for road construction.
Renfro said he was in favor of the precincts sharing expensive road equipment, some of which is used once or twice a year.
“A lot of these big-ticket items we’re doubling up on, and I think we can cut back on that,” he said.
Precinct No. 3 Commissioner Larry Walden said issues like consolidation, sharing equipment and other efficiencies were raised in every public forum he attended this year.
He said he suspects that past courts were reluctant to discuss those issues because commissioners didn’t trust each other or were afraid they would lose control.
“This court has the capability of working together on just about any issue,” he said.
In other business, commissioners set elected officials salaries and benefits at the same levels as the current budget year with the exception of those whose salaries and benefits are set by legislation.
The salaries and benefits of district and county court-at-law judges will increase this year due to state mandates, Riley said, with the county paying about $42,000 of the increase.