County approves $39.5M bond election for road project

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The Smith County Commissioners Court held a special meeting Monday and voted unanimously to approve and adopt an order calling for a $39.5 million bond election with a 10-year maturity to be held on Nov. 7.

The money received from the bonds, if approved, will be used to pay for major county road and bridge projects over three years, which, according to commissioners, is Phase I of a six-year Road and Bridge Capital Improvement Project.

If approved, the bonds would have a 10-year pay-back period, and are anticipated to be issued as needed in increments of $12 million during the first year, $12 million during the second year and $15.5 million during the third year. The bonds are anticipated to increase the I&S portion of the tax rate by 0.7 cents per $100 valuation.

For a home valued at $200,000, this means an increase in property taxes of $14 annually. The average home in Smith County is valued at $165,841, resulting in an increase in property taxes of $11.61 annually.

On Tuesday, Aug. 8, Smith County Engineer Frank Davis rolled out the first working draft of a proposed comprehensive road plan, a 52-page document listing potential road projects costing between $100 million and $120 million over six years.

The plan listed projects for more than 1,167 miles of the county’s 1,182 miles of roadway. That included the nearly 60 miles of roadwork that has already been completed in the last few years. This was the culmination of several months of work and citizen input meetings, which built on a prior engineering study of the county’s road system.

County Judge Nathaniel Moran said that the Commissioners Court will not be paying for maintenance items out of bonded money, but rather, the court will pay for those items on an ongoing basis using funds from the operating budget and from the reserve fund when necessary.

The process of developing a Road and Bridge Capital Improvement Plan began in 2015, when Smith County hired Atkins Engineering to analyze the condition of each road in the county. The study resulted in the identification of up to $98 million in road projects in Smith County. Over the past three years, Smith County has dedicated $10 million from its reserve fund, in addition to what is annually budgeted to pay cash for a number of these projects.

Building on the Atkins Engineering study, the Commissioners Court held a series of citizen input meetings this summer to receive additional information and comments from citizens in each geographic region of the county regarding road and bridge conditions and needs. County officials also solicited and received more than 200 Citizen Feedback Forms from county residents.

“This process really was intended to be a very transparent process from the beginning, and one that was citizen oriented and citizen driven,” Judge Moran said. “That’s how we get the best results, I think, in county government especially, is to make sure that we involve the citizens.”

Davis said that the road projects were divided into categories based upon several criteria including pavement condition index, what type of road (rural, residential or urban), and traffic volume.

Roads that fall under the major reconstruction category will primarily be done through contracts. The majority of HMAC overlay and reconstruction category projects will be done in-house. These projects are what the bond money, if approved, would cover. Projects in the miscellaneous maintenance and seal coat category would be paid for in cash.

Phase I, which will cover the first three years of the six-year program, includes $18,941,000 for 86.5 miles of major reconstruction; $16,900,000 for 335 miles of overlay; and $3,500,000 for 278 miles of miscellaneous. Phase II includes $26,700,000 for major reconstruction; $17,066,000 for overlay; and $2,063,000 for miscellaneous improvements. All numbers have been rounded up. Roadways may be reevaluated before Phase II begins, and roads may shift from one category to another depending on the results.

The county will continue to hold meetings and provide information to the public about the working road and bridge strategic plan from now through Election Day.

“The role of the Commissioners Court is simply to call the bond election and then provide factual information to our citizens,” Judge Moran said. “The court plays an informational role, not a persuasive one. It is ultimately up to the citizens to determine whether the bond proposal should be adopted or not.”

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