News Column

County divvies road funds

June 20, 2014

By Ty Johnson, The Brownsville Herald, Texas

June 20--As the Cameron County Commissioners' Court on Thursday discussed bond proceed allocations, Precinct 3 Commissioner David A. Garza watched his precinct's share undergo a $500,000 swing both ways before the shares were set.

Garza, whose precinct contains 39 percent of the county's roads, was desperate for more money to help pave and repair roads and insisted that he needed at least $1.5 million to properly maintain them.

But with only $5 million available, commissioners found themselves locked in a mileage versus population kerfuffle as people-heavy Precincts 1 and 2 competed for funds against road-heavy Precincts 3 and 4.

After a defeated motion by County Judge Carlos H. Cascos to give Garza's precinct only the $1.5 million the commissioner said was necessary, County Administrator Pete Sepulveda Jr. began crunching numbers to find ways to please Garza by pulling dollars from other precincts.

But then Precinct 4 Commissioner Dan Sanchez flipped the script on Garza, who sits to Sanchez's left during meetings.

Sanchez moved for his precinct, which contains 47 percent of the county's roads, to receive the $2 million Cascos called for and for the half million the judge reserved for Garza to be split between the other two precincts, leaving the other three precincts with $1 million each.

Commissioners Sofia C. Benavides and Alex Dominguez quickly voted for that measure, and the motion passed.

But that was when jovial, lighthearted discussions about road maintenance turned serious.

"I think that's a bunch of bullshit," Garza said, suggesting that Sanchez was treating the commission's allocation discussions as "just a game."

Garza vowed that it would be "a long year," as he continued his tirade, during which he explained that he had been working toward finding the most equitable means of division of the funds only to be left wanting.

Sanchez explained that Garza's rejection of Cascos' plan had complicated things as Dominguez began having second thoughts.

"Maybe we just acted hastily," he said, asking if the commission's last action could be vacated.

Sanchez obliged, and Cascos' figures were approved. Garza said, as he left the meeting later, that he was happy with the results and didn't blame Dominguez and Benavides for trying to get extra money for their precincts.

"They have needs they need to address," he said, noting that although Precinct 1 (the South Padre Island and Port Isabel area) and Precinct 2 (roughly the Brownsville area) need traffic signals, the needs in his and Sanchez' districts are mostly for paving.

After the meeting, Sanchez said his motion -- while official -- was mostly to show the rest of the board how delicate of a balance was needed to be fair to all the precincts.

"It was a tactic to make them realize it's not fair," he said, adding that he knew Benavides or Dominguez would realize the inequality his motion would cause and the excessive burden it would place on Garza's precinct.

Sanchez's motion also stipulated that any excess bond money would be divided up between Precincts 1 and 2 to bring those precincts up to $1 million each, with the remainder divided up into quarters.

The $1 million threshold is especially important in Precinct 2, where the Cameron Park pavement project is underway and could be finished with a healthy allocation.

Cascos said he felt other money could be found if the county needed more to finish the Cameron Park work, adding that he was happy with the discussion and the decision the commission agreed upon.

"I've been down this road before," he said, recalling his days representing Precinct 2. "There was always a lot of dialogue about the distribution and allocation for funding. I was fighting for my precinct the way they were, but you have to sit back and look at what really is equitable."

He said the resulting allocations were "as close as we can get" to fair.

"I don't think anybody was really happy because nobody got what they wanted," he said. "But it's the right thing to do when nobody's happy."


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Source: Brownsville Herald (TX)

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