County eyes state grants for road repairs

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Denton County commissioners will have a public hearing this morning to consider the creation of a special taxing zone to acquire a little more than a $1 million to help repair two county roads damaged by gas well traffic.

Commissioners are considering the formation of a County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone as a mechanism to obtain funds authorized by the state Legislature for the repairs to county roads. The county’s zone would provide funds for Doyle Road and Indian Trail, which border Precincts 1 and 4 in the county.

The hearing is set for 9 a.m. in the Commissioners Courtroom on the Courthouse on the Square’s second floor.

“The reason we have to create that district is in order to get the funds,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Hugh Coleman. “They are being set up solely for the purpose of applying for the funds appropriated by the Legislature.”

County officials are looking at damage to the roads from increased gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. Since some counties will not apply for the funds, there could be additional funds available to Denton County later.

Commissioners hope to form the zone as soon as possible to be eligible for the grant funds, but could eventually set up a special tax through the zone to generate additional funds.

Jim Allison, an Austin attorney and member of the Conference of Urban Counties, said the transportation reinvestment zones have previously been used in Texas to finance projects through the Texas Department of Transportation. This is the first time they have been available to counties to use exclusively on county roads.

“One reason why this is prominently being considered by counties at this time is the requirement included in the new TxDOT county road infrastructure grant program,” said Allison, who is with the Allison, Bass & Associates firm in Austin. “To participate in the grant program, each county must form at least one CERTZ.”

The zones can be used to set a special rate on the property in the area and can continue to generate dollars for transportation projects in that zone if the property values increase, Allison said. If the property doesn’t increase, there would be no increased funds to set aside, Allison said.

“Traditionally we have entered into them with cities around TxDOT projects to commit increased values in property adjacent to expansions in highways,” Allison said. “This is an expansion of that option and provides a new tool for counties to use in their transportation planning. I think it will be especially helpful for fast-growing counties, especially Denton County.”

Precinct 4 County Commissioner Andy Eads stressed that no one’s taxes will be increased and that county officials may not even seek reinvestment funds.

“We would like to avail ourselves to the TxDOT grant process,” Eads said. “The county has the right to terminate the zone. The zone has a max of 10 years and could be terminated shorter than that after projects are completed.”

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875.


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