WEATHERFORD — A heated discussion regarding road and bridge allocation funding led to a question of legality during a Parker County commissioners court budget workshop Monday.

County Auditor Brianna Fowler recounted the 2021 adopted budget, part of which included each of the four precincts receiving $368,658 from the road and bridge fund balance.

In September 2020, Precinct 3 Commissioner Larry Walden had requested that amount for his precinct after a budget cut, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Dugan later made the motion that his and the other remaining two precincts receive the same amount. That motion was approved 4-1.

During Monday's meeting, however, Walden produced information regarding a lawsuit filed in Van Zandt County from 1937, Garland v. Sanders, during which it was alleged that an equal distribution among precincts was unlawful.

The suit noted that one precinct contained more square miles or territory than either of the others and thus had more miles of county roads to keep, and argued that "the demands for the expenditure ... in said precinct are greater and more compelling than exist with reference to the other precincts."

The case was appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision.

"... We think that a commissioners court cannot voluntarily disable itself from performance on this general obligation by arbitrarily dividing the road and bridge fund according to some fixed standard," one judge wrote, "and apportioning same to be expended in a particular precinct, to the detriment of roads and bridges in other precincts."

Walden said he provided the information to County Attorney John Forrest and to Fowler, and made a motion to divide the road and bridge funds using the formula the county had been doing for "at least the last 20 years — according to the division based on office and overhead of 40 percent, road mileage 40 percent and tax revenue 20 percent.

"The discrepancy we have currently is on the front page right [here.] You've got the road mileage of the precincts and then you've got the amount of money that there is to spend per mile of road," he said.

According to information provided to commissioners, Precinct 1 has $11,389 per mile of road, Precinct 2 has $9,167 per mile of road, Precinct 3 has $9,836 per mile of road and Precinct 4, $18,641 per mile.

"That is not fair, that is not equitable and y'all can do the research all you want to, but it's right here," Walden said, referencing the case.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Steven Dugan inquired what percentage the court ruled should be equated to each precinct.

"They said it was the job of the county commissioners to look at the existing needs of the said roads, road mileage and taxes collected in each precinct," Walden replied. "And that it was the responsibility to make a sound judgement based on those factors.

"That's left up to the commissioners court because it's the judiciary responsibility of the court to make that decision. It's your job to make that decision and it specifically says 25 percent is not allowable."

Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Peacock seconded Walden's motion, with Parker County Judge Deen abstaining from the vote.

"From the standpoint of my role as the county judge, I don't manage a precinct, I don't have a road and bridge, I don't have that responsibility that the four of you have," he said. "What I would say, between the precincts, is to solve this yourself without my vote."

Walden also made a request to have this year's budget restored because of the "illegal motion" last year for the distribution.

Dugan said it was the first he'd heard of the lawsuit and any claim, and needed more information before voting.

"It does not take into consideration the amount of traffic, or the work that needs to be done on it," he said. "If you've got roads that need bridges replaced on it, then that's got to be taken into consideration. If you've got bad alignments, whatever, that all should be included, and to base that without having prior knowledge of this information, we need a few days now to go back and look at these formulas and see how it would play out to us.

"I didn't like the short notice on a lot of things, but this is one of those as well. We need a little time to research and see where we're at on it."

Dugan and Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley voted against the motion, which failed.

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