Denton County commissioners approved funding a new project with some old money.
On Tuesday, county officials approved an agreement to work with the North Texas Tollway Authority on an extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
Despite initial concerns from Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, the Commissioners Court approved the use of cash on hand from incomplete or unfulfilled past projects that were laid out in the Better Safer Roads Project in 1998 and the Transportation Infrastructure Project from 2004 to pay for the $20 million extension.
“The county is sitting currently on some cash reserves that, in the auditor’s words, are idle — one of the things [where] you don’t want to issue new debt if you’re sitting on cash,” said John Polster, Denton County transportation consultant.
The next steps, Polster said, are to identify the idle dollars and find out to whom and where they belong and, if possible, direct them toward the Dallas North Tollway project.
Otherwise, officials were considering a bond election for later this year to build the road that will reportedly run from FM428 to near FM455 along the county line.
Mitchell said her concerns were not about the road itself but how the county was going to get the funds for it. While a commissioner has the right to move his or her precinct funds around for projects, Mitchell said she feels those funds should be left for the projects they were earmarked for when the bonds were passed.
“It’s legal for you to do so, but I prefer to … if I tell a city I am going to use the money, unless I go back to them to renegotiate and they say, ‘Oh that’s fine’ …use it [as intended],” she said. “It wasn’t real clear how they were doing that on Tuesday.”
Polster didn’t fault Mitchell for her concerns, acknowledging that court officials had a lack of details made available to them to better discuss the agenda item.
“And she’s right,” he said. “We got pushed on DNT because NTTA has a schedule they have to meet and we want to help them meet that schedule because it’s an important project to everybody.”
Polster said he has until the close of business Thursday to get updated information to the court for its review and consideration.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Hugh Coleman said he was glad the court was able to get the tollway extension project going.
“The economic benefits to Denton County will be tremendous,” he said. “I am hopeful it will spur a lot of economic development and bring jobs to our community.”
As for using the old funds, he said it is just sound fiscal management.
“I hope by us doing this it will avoid us having to spell bonds in the upcoming spring, which will allow us to keep our tax rate low,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s in the best financial interests of the citizens of Denton County.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .