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Denton County throws support towards special district

Profile image for By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer
By Bj Lewis / Staff Writer

Commissioners vote 4-1 in favor of HB 3917

Denton County commissioners are throwing their support toward a developer with eyes on bringing yet another special district to Denton County.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to support House Bill 3917, which relates to the creation of U.S. Highway 380 Municipal Management District No. 1 and give the district authority to issue bonds and impose assessments, fees and taxes. Commissioner Hugh Coleman, the lone dissenter, has a number of concerns with the potential district, while County Judge Mary Horn said this is a new and better way to form these districts.

HB 3917 would require a development agreement with the closest city, which in this case is Aubrey, and if that does not happen, the district would not happen. Without the legislation, there would be nothing precluding the developer to go to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and file a petition for the district, cutting Aubrey out of any part of the process. Developers having free rein has been a problem in the past, Horn said.

She said it is in the county’s and surrounding communities’ best interests to form the district this way.

“While it’s true there were concerns expressed by Pilot Point and Cross Roads, the school districts sent letters of support,” Horn said.

“I think it’s a good approach, and there are certain protections for the surrounding community,” she said. “It’s a new way of doing it, and I like it better than the one-person election.”

Coleman said the high tax nature of the districts, the density in the unincorporated area and the lack of transparency in government are things that make for bad governance and bad policy.

Clark McCoy, representing the city of Aubrey, spoke to the court before the vote and answered questions, primarily from Coleman, on the district and what would be expected of the county. One of Coleman’s larger concerns was whether the county could be tasked with providing public services for the future residents of this new district.

McCoy could not be reached for further comment Tuesday.

Coleman said the county has no seat at the table in the negotiations between Aubrey and the developer, and that officials have not seen the proposal.

Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell asked to see the proposal, but McCoy said the developer would be reluctant to share that because it was not in the best interest of the town or the developer.

Mitchell later softened her stance before voting to support the district, making it clear that she wanted commissioners to be able to see the agreement after it is in place.

At that point, Coleman said, it would be too late and the county would be stuck with whatever is agreed upon between the city and developer.

“In essence, that agreement is negotiating what service the county is going to be obligated to provide, and we don’t even have input,” Coleman said. “I think it is not unreasonable for commissioners to ask to look at the developer agreement before we agree to support it to the Legislature.”

Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, whose name is on the House bill, said that while he filed the bill, it was more to beat a deadline and leave it open to a possible hearing and discussion, but not necessarily indicative of his support for the district.

“Not all special districts are created equal,” Fallon said. “There are some I’d be more inclined to support than others. Clearly, if the local entities don’t sign off on a particular special district, I wouldn’t feel comfortable supporting it.”

Fallon said he did not want to say “no” outright to the bill, because he is still learning about it and looking into it.

Fallon said transparency is important and he would never support any district if the language wasn’t clear to the potential homeowners that what they would be getting into is a bit different than homes not in special districts.

Coleman said he knows that his reluctance to support special districts label him as anti-development in some circles, but regardless of how they are formed, he maintained that special districts are not something officials today should be throwing together without proper thought and foresight for people of tomorrow to deal with.

“The tax burden and the development is not a legacy we want to leave to our children, and the tax burden we are going to leave is unconscionable,” he said.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.