San Augustine County enters digital world

San Augustine County enters digital world

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Some sparsely populated and economically-challenged counties in Deep East Texas often operate with fewer resources than larger counties. Less money, less equipment and even less efficient record-keeping methods.

To some degree that's changing in San Augustine County.

San Augustine County Commissioner Tommy Pickard leaves the courthouse to survey of more than 80 miles of county roads in his precinct. For the first time, his handiest tool is an iPad.

“I can see anything I’m doing on this road in the way of maintenance or installing a culvert,” said Pickard as he reviewed the data on the iPad. “I see how much road base I put on it or haven’t put on it.”

Accurate mileage of roads is important when justifying costs to taxpayers. In addition, the documentation helps smaller counties when applying for grants.

A record-keeping improvement over the crimped, stained, spiral notebooks filled with commissioners' handwritten notes. They called them their Big Chief tablets.

“This information was just wrote down and kept and really wasn’t anything done with it other than keeping it in the tablet,” said Crystal Sowell, the court’s recently-hired administrator and secretary.

The manual records created a bookkeeper’s nightmare that lasted months while deciphering the various notes. It became even worse following a natural disaster when exact records had to be reported to FEMA for reimbursements.

“And now, this program is FEMA-friendly so it will already have all the data there,” explained Sowell.

When there are no emergencies, the digital data helps with projecting costs, providing a clear checks and balances of expenditures and offers transparency to taxpayers.

San Augustine County Judge Samye Johnson knows, "When you are a small county with a small budget you don't have resources to be able to do this, so we've been behind. And any county that is in the same position we are is also behind."

Sabine County is currently making plans to acquire the digital equipment allowing them to join San Augustine County in catching up with their larger county neighbors.

GPS mapping devices, included in the upgrade, showed San Augustine County roads that weren’t even on the state and regional maps.

"My budget is running on 62 miles and I actually have 86 miles," said Pickard.

San Augustine County is now drawing in roads on Texas Department of Transportation maps which are now in digital formats.

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