County discusses proposed project

The Nolan County Commissioners met for a final time in 2013 on Tuesday morning to discuss and take action on a proposed project to obtain grant funding from TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) for the planning, construction, reconstruction and maintenance of public roads, bridges and culverts in the county damaged by the exploration, development or production of oil or gas.The project is pursuant to Senate Bill 1747, which was enacted in 2013 by the Texas Legislature in chapters 222 and 256 of the Texas Transportation Code.In a conference call with Charles Kimbrough from the Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta law firm, it was noted that $225 million was designated by the state legislature, in which TxDOT administers the program. Once administration expenses are considered, the program has around $224.5 million available to disperse among all state counties.Under the premise that all counties will take part, Nolan County has been estimated to receive $675,321. The total amount comes from an equation computing the percentage of over weight permits, the amount of oil / gas production taxes, well completions and injections which take place / are used in Nolan County.The application period runs from February 7 through February 14 of 2014. Once the eligible applicants are identified, the $224 million is split accordingly. Thus, the county could receive more money.Out of the 254 counties in Texas, some have already expressed that they will not be participating in the program. However, each county must specifically state how much money is needed based on their list of particular projects and the cost to cover the road repairs. The only projects which may be considered are those in which the degradation of the road may be proven to be the result of the development of oil and gas resources.As a result, each county will only receive the amount of money that is needed.The application must be filled out electronically during the week-long period. At their meeting scheduled at the end of January, the transportation committee will reconsider an extension as the result of a request from some state senators.For the projects, one or more reinvestment zones must be created. An advisory board must be created to oversee the process. The project allows for a 20% match by the county, in which invoices for reimbursement must be sent so that the grant can cover the remaining 80%.To comply with TxDOT regulations, the county must show credible evidence of damages and the reasonable costs through road reports. The reports must identify the cause of the road degradation as being a result of oil and gas development or exploration.A public hearing must be held on the matter, which has been scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 9. The projects must be identified, zones created and the advisory board should then be formed.The board must include two public members that are taxpayers and residents of the county, and up to three individuals that work for oil and gas corporations in the county and pay taxes as well. Additionally, the board would operate under the Texas Open Meetings Act.The zones would be considered by the board on Feb. 10, and then the commissioners would have to meet to accept the board and zones before the Feb. 14 deadline of electronic submission.A captured appraised value would have to be created per zone, in which the zone has a 10 year standing and can be extended for five years. Thus, tax rates are not affected and will not see an increase. Various ways to draw up zones were discussed but were not completed during the meeting.The law firm also discussed their costs and timing on the work of the project, in which a cap was placed on their fees. However, the county will only be charged at an hourly rate up to the capped amount.Thus, a motion was made to proceed with the project for the grant funding from TxDOT and all of its respective steps--such as the reinvestment zone creation, the public hearing for Jan. 9, 2014, at 9 a.m. and the advisory board, which was approved. Approval was also given to hire the law firm of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP of Austin, Texas to provide legal services to Nolan County for the project.Also during the meeting, the commissioners voted on the nominees for the five open positions on the board of directors for Central Appraisal District of Nolan County. Approval was given to cast 401 votes each to Domingo Castillo, Mike Ensminger and Jerry Rozzlle, with 402 votes going toward Randall Smith.