Editor's Note: The following is from our Candidate Q&A series. We hope the series will allow potential voters the opportunity to become familiar with candidates for Huntsville City Council and the Walker County Commissioners Court. The following is from Walker County Precinct 3 Commissioner Bill Daugette and challenger Richard Harrison.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge Walker County faces?
BD: Every governmental entity faces the same challenge: Provide an acceptable level of service to the citizens at an affordable price. Those 13 words should probably be engraved over the door to the courthouse.
The cost of providing services continues to grow, and our residents are finding what is left in their wallets after paying their bills shrinking. With all of that happening, we as commissioners are tasked with ensuring that all necessary services are properly funded and that is often not an easy task. Tough choices are made on a regular basis, and sometimes our residents don’t like what has been decided, but our current court is willing to make those tough decisions.
President Teddy Roosevelt once said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That sentence is as appropriate today as it was over 100 years ago.
RH: There are several key issues that Walker County must address in the near future. While we must expand our current economic base, I believe that there is one issue that both the county and city government avoids addressing … diversity. It’s evident that the makeup of the governing bodies and law enforcement doesn’t reflect the true makeup of the community. It’s very important that efforts are made to bring all segments of the population into positions of leadership. This can be accomplished through recruitment, and recognizing the accomplishments of people of color within the city and county.
Is there a need for improved communication between the City of Huntsville and Walker County? If so, what would you do as a member of the commissioner’s court to improve the working relationship between the City and County?
BD: The mayor and county judge communicate as needed and have a very friendly and respectful relationship. As a commissioner, I have reached out to the city and we have partnered with them on several activities that have benefited residents of both the city and the county.
Some examples are:
• COVID testing: The city and county worked together to develop a testing program using federal funds, making the tests free to all residents of the county. We partnered with our local hospital to administer the tests and that program has so far been a great success.
• Community clean-up grant- The city and county teamed up and were awarded a grant to have a tire clean up event. The event was supposed to happen in April of 2019, but the Covid Pandemic has caused us to reschedule it in April of 2020.
• FM 2821 turn lane at the jail- The county was able to “piggyback” on the city’s turn lane project at the new police facility on FM 2821 and will extend the left turn lane westward allowing for a safe left turn into the county jail and justice buildings. The county funded the engineering and design, the city is overseeing the project, and TxDot is funding the actual cost of construction. This partnership made the project financially viable for all three participating entities.
As the cost of services increase it will become more and more important that all entities in Walker County look for partnerships with their fellow organizations. As a commissioner, I will continue to reach out to others as a means to bring needed improvements to our county.
RH: There is always a need for effective communications within any entity, be it business or governmental. In the 80’s I was a union steward that worked with management to negotiate wage and benefit packages for company employees. In those meetings I learned the importance of being able to express your views and concepts in a clear and precise manner. Communicating effectively requires both patience and a willingness to listen to the opposing party’s point of view. Then you must have the ability to present you point of view just as passionately, but not in a manner that could be considered confrontational.
We constantly hear about issues with county roads in rural areas of the county. Are there things that Walker County can do to upgrade streets across the county?
BD: There are two answers to this question: What are we doing about existing roads and how are we ensuring that new roads will last? For both questions, our challenge is the same as most governmental agencies: balancing the costs of road repairs and future maintenance with what residents are willing to pay.
Existing Roads: Only about 15% of the county budget goes towards the repair and maintenance of roads. Our current Commissioners Court has increased this amount each year since I have been serving but, in my opinion, we are not yet funding the road maintenance to a level that it needs to be. We can get closer to that level if we continue to increase the funding levels each year, which is a priority of mine.
New Roads: The Court revised the new road standard in 2019 to require that all new roads be paved with 2” of hot mix asphalt. This is the surface we usually see when we drive city roads. Prior to that it was permissible to build a road and pave it with a rock and oil surface, we have found that those roads begin to break down within 5-7 years. The hot mix should last 10 years or more and provide a better travel surface for drivers.
RH: From my years of employment with a Fortune 500 Company, I know that superior planning is the key to the success of any project. I believe that each road repair should be approached with the idea that a plan can be developed to eliminate that particular job. A well-developed plan is half of the equation, proper expectation completes the equation. I have the skills and the experience to get the job done.
Growth has continued in Walker County in recent years, with the addition of large subdivisions like Texas Grand Ranch. Is there anything different that the county should be doing to prepare for a population boom?
BD: As property costs south of Walker County continue to rise the influx of new residents will continue to increase. Recognizing that this condition is going to be the norm into the foreseeable future, the county has taken appropriate actions. A couple major items we have addressed are:
Ambulance Service- I developed an ambulance replacement program that ensures that our emergency services personnel have dependable vehicles. The plan calls for the purchase of a new ambulance each budget year, and we have done that for the past two years. The court also recognizes that the call volumes will increase as the population grows and that we will need to add additional staff and ambulances in the future.
Subdivision Policy Revision- I have been working with Commissioner Henry and our Planning Director to update the county’s Subdivision Policy. In an unprecedented action, we mailed a draft copy to several local developers and asked for their input prior to completing our final draft. We received numerous comments and, based on those comments, made several modifications to the draft document. The new policy will be coming to court soon for additional public input and comments. Once completed, I think it will be a model that will be used by other counties.
RH: I’ve long believed that “historic” Walker County and the city of Huntsville shouldn’t be among the poorest in the state. Texas Grand Ranch will increase the population of Walker County, but we should be working to create economic growth for Walker County. We must work to keep the economic resources that these new subdivision’s offer from flowing from Walker County to the surrounding counties.
What made you decide to run?
BD: Public Service gets in your blood and becomes a part of you. I go to work each day thinking about what I can do to improve my community, and each evening I go home wondering if I did enough. Nothing makes you feel as good as when you make another person’s world a better place, and I get to do it daily. There was never a doubt in my mind that I would want to do what I do for the next four years.
RH: I chose to run because I believe that I can help Walker County reach new heights, both economically and socially. I believe that I can help to implement new ideas and programs that will help to unite the county. The only political goal that I have is to be a great servant to the people of Walker County and Precinct 3. If elected, I’ll work to solicit community involvement, listen to the needs of the community, and make sure that their ideas and concerns are addressed quickly and professionally. I’ve had a very successful career, and I believe that it is my responsibility to share my knowledge and experiences in an effort to help Walker County prosper.