Editors note: This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with city and county officials, beginning in Carter County before branching out into greater Southern Oklahoma. This week features District 3 Carter County Commissioner Jerry Alvord.

Question: What has been your biggest challenge since becoming commissioner?
Answer: My biggest challenge since becoming commissioner has been understanding the system. I have always owned my own businesses. I have never been employed in the government circle. Even with this being local government the system is so unique. It’s not difficult and it makes sense, but it takes a long time to understand. There have been a lot of checks and balances put in place for good reasons. They protect the taxpayers and the taxpayer dollars, and ensure transparency. But having said that, it is a very unique system and that has been very difficult for me to get used to. I take these charts with me often, and they show the different tax breakdowns. People approach me and say they pay their taxes and want their roads fixed, but if you look at this chart not a bit of it is roads and bridges. There is a section for county general, which will cover some of the costs of employees at the courthouse, but that money is directed and not to be used for roads and bridges. We do collect from tax dollars but it’s from the sales of gas, diesel, special fuels, production and some car registration. So there are a lot of things that are unique to this system and it takes some time to get used to it.
Q: How does the state impact county government in day-to-day operations?
A: Since the state has to balance their budget, for the fifth year in a row the state has taken our money. The people still pay their taxes so they insist on the same services, but our money is being cut back. Most people don’t know that. Our money is not only being cut back and taken, but it’s being kept. So next year if they register a larger percentage of cars and there is a larger percentage of income, unlike ever before we would be able to reap the benefits and increase our income. But now the state has capped us. So if there is ever an increase, we only get “X” amount, but if there is ever a decrease we get the decrease. That’s always a struggle for us because obviously our costs increase every day. Cement costs more than it used to. Tires and labor costs more than it used to. But our money is being pinched and people still desire and deserve services. I have over 300 miles of road in my district. That’s a lot of road to cover. At $15,000 a mile for gravel, $30,000 a mile for chip and seal, and $100,000 a mile for asphalt, that doesn’t go very far.  
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge the people of Carter County face?
A: Understanding the system. Understanding how the system works and the changes you will have when you have growth and development. As growth and development increase, so do rules and regulations. Everyone wants things to be the same, but there is change. And growth and development is desirable, but change is uncomfortable.
Q: How have you seen rural Oklahoma change?
A: The changes I’ve seen have been natural and normal. We’ve seen urban sprawl, you know, the outlying areas become more populated and that has changed. It becomes a little uncomfortable to some because they liked it the way it was before. As that happens the traffic increases and of course there’s the effects to the roads. These are the changes that directly impact us that we have seen. I think as uncomfortable as it is to some, everyone desires development and growth.
Q: What has stayed the same in rural Oklahoma?
A: A lot of the peoples’ values. The values that this area seems to center themselves around are very impressive. I come from the west coast, so I’m comparing it to that. The morals and values the people have here are impressive and have stayed the same.  
Q: What is an accomplishment you have achieved since being commissioner that you’re most proud of?
A: We have accomplished a lot as far as the changes we have made in District 3. We’ve improved the road system, the bar ditches and the drainage system, and I think we have accomplished a lot in a short period of time. I don’t know that I can take any credit for any personal accomplishments though. No matter what you do, or where you are, it’s my belief that it is extremely important to have all the right people in all the right places. People are the most valuable commodity and without them I could accomplish little or nothing. So, if we have any accomplishments, I would have to give the credit to the people at District 3.
Q: What’s something that you hope to accomplish going forward?
A: To educate people and get them more involved. I want them to understand on a service level what they can and should expect from us as a service entity. I want people to understand the tax system, where the money goes and how the money is spent. It would be nice in the future if we could educate them and share what we go through so they know how the system works and can better judge us. Government comes with a stigma, and most people don’t want to be a part of it. And I understand that, but it would make my job easier if they understood.
Q: Are there any big projects coming up for District 3?
A: We’re going to start straightening the curb on Hospital Road, that’s always been a big thing out west. But we don’t have anything out of the normal, at least until we get moved into the Noble Energy Building. Summertime is always our time for fixing roads, so we’re doing a lot of chip and seal and we will go as long as we can afford to. Oklahoma Department of Transportation is working in our area. They will start sometime — I’m not sure when — on rebuilding County Line Road. They are working on rebuilding New Port Road. We resurfaced the first mile of that last year and they are going to rebuild the next three miles. They are working on putting a bridge in at the Walnut Creek Project. Those are all jobs on the five year plan, because they’re too expensive for the county to do, so we ask ODOT for help on those.
Q: If you could change one thing about Carter County what would it be?
A: Sorry, I like Carter County the way it is. Ever since I’ve lived here this has been home for me. We always strive to be better, but I would just leave it like it is.
Q: Are there any industries you would like to bring to Carter County?
A: I don’t have any particulars in mind, but I would like to see jobs of the upper pay scale open up here more. We have a lot of the midrange job opportunities here, but I would like to see upper end opportunities.