Angelina County’s budget writers are stuck between deteriorating road conditions and tax increases, according to Pct. 3 Commissioner Terry Pitts.
Heavy rains at the end of 2018 continued through the first part of this year, leaving commissioners to face some of the worst road conditions they’ve ever seen, Pitts said. As a result, he’s requested a larger than normal budget for Fiscal Year 2020.
County Auditor Janice Cordray said she believes the other commissioners have done the same.
An online poll by The Lufkin Daily News in December 2018 asked respondents what they would most like to see Judge Don Lymbery and the commissioners tackle in 2019. More than 58% said they would like to see the county roads repaired.
“Up until this year (2019 FY budget), we got $1,596 per mile for every mile of road,” Pitts said. “That’s what I have to take care of these roads. That’s patching them, mowing them, ditching them, replacing any culverts, anything. The whole thing. Trying to re-oil or do whatever, $1,596.”
For the 2019 budget, commissioners got $2,374.56 per mile of road because Pitts said he pushed former County Judge Wes Suiter to give each of the commissioners about $200,000 extra for road and bridge. However, much of that money was used to fill large potholes — created by the rain — on dirt roads with rocks, he said.
With the extra rainy season, his constituents who relied on a dirt road to get home would often call because they found their roads impassable.
The average road in Precinct 3 is 17 feet wide, Pitts said. He has 261 miles of road, which also means 522 miles of ditches. About 207.5 miles are oil roads and the other 53.6 are other substances like rock or dirt.
He said to cover one-tenth of a mile, two inches deep with new hot mix, without rebuilding the base structure or anything else, would take 83 tons at $74 a ton to do. That is about $6,150.22 per one-tenth of a mile, he said.
For one mile it would cost $61,502.22 and for 10 miles it would take his entire budget, he said.
To re-oil all the oil roads in Precinct 3 would cost about $1.3 million. That does not include any base repairs, ditch repairs, culvert repairs, the cost of employing his workers, running machinery or any other aspect of his budget, Pitts said.
“So that’s what we’re faced with and that’s why our roads are deteriorating,” he said. “All these years we’ve been struggling just to patch these roads. There’s no way we can re-oil these roads and get ahead. Plus, you add in the record rains and our roads are worse than they’ve ever been.”
Pitts said he requested this year to go up to $700,000 for road and bridge repairs. That would equal $2,681 per mile for 2020.
He also requested a new budget line be set for commissioner’s budgets for equipment purchases. Before, the commissioners would have to save money from gas and oil funds to be able to save for a new machine. He said many pieces of their equipment are more than 15 years old.
Of Pitt’s 30 pieces of equipment, 15 are more than 15 years old and 10 are more than 20 years old. One is 28 years old and another 30 years old, according to Pitts’ documentation. There is one Mack Dump truck from 2018.
“You know this stuff wears out,” he said. “There’s no money to replace them. ... If I got enough money to replace one piece of equipment every year, I’ve got 30 pieces, I’m still going to have a piece that’s 30 years old.
“I know we’re not going to fix this all at once but we’ve got to turn the tides. We’ve got to start building somewhere. I say, and I’ve said this out loud, I think what’s happened in the past with the commissioners is we’ve taken the crumbs. … We take what’s left and try not to raise taxes.”
A commissioner who asks for more money in their budget and raises taxes ends up voted out of office, Pitts said. He may get put out of office next year but at least the commissioner coming in will have something to work with, he said.
Angelina County’s tax rate history shows little change from 2009 to 2019, according to the Angelina County website. The highest taxes residents have paid in 10 years is 46 cents per $100 valuation in 2014. It dropped from 45 cents per $100 valuation to 43 cents from 2018 to 2019.
While Angelina County has the largest population in the 13-county region it has the third lowest tax rate, according to the same source. Nacogdoches County, which has the closest population count, has a tax rate of 61 cents per $100 valuation.
“It is good to keep your taxes down, but when everything is falling down around you — your buildings, your roads, your infrastructure — that’s not something to brag about,” Pitts said. “We’ve got to do something.”
The county budget will be a difficult thing to change, to give commissioners what they need to fix roads, Cordray said.
“They have one of two options, raise taxes or pull from the general fund,” she said.
The most recent audit of the county showed a healthy general fund that would help sustain the county in the event of a disaster, she said. But they have to be conservative with that money in order to maintain that health, she said.
“I’m not the smartest one in the pile, but we’re either going to have to raise taxes or do a road bond,” Pitts said. “And I’m leaning more toward the road bond.”
This would inevitably raise taxes, he said, but it would be up to Angelina County citizens as to whether they wanted it or not. Cherokee County voted in a $20 million road bond and it had nearly 100% approval, Pitts said.
“They were to the point where our people are,” he said.
Pct. 4 Commissioner Bobby Cheshire wanted to consider this option for the 2019 budget, but Pitts said he wanted to wait because of the Lufkin Independent School District bond being discussed at that time. Because the November election is inching closer, Pitts thought it was a good time to begin discussing this option.
“We need to start letting the people know what we’re faced with and that we need help,” he said.