Public hearing held on possible TxDOT project

The Nolan County Commissioners held a public hearing on Thursday morning in regards to a possible county project to obtain a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to alleviate degradation caused to public roads, bridges and culverts by the exploration, development or production of oil and gas.Presenting the information during the hearing was Charles Kimbrough, an attorney with Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP who was hired by the county to work on the project. 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.According to Kimbrough, the bill was created and revised in order to implement a grant program which would be administered by TxDOT--which is run by the Texas Transportation Commission--for eligible counties in the state. However, not all counties in the state will participate.The total amount in the grant is $225 million, but because TxDOT uses some fees to administer the program, $224.5 million is available. However, there is a short timeline to apply for the grant, as the filing period runs from February 7 through 14 and has to be submitted electronically. The county must perform several administrative procedures, such as determining if they want to proceed with the project, holding a public hearing, creating one or more County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zones, creating a tax increment account for each zone, appointing an advisory board which would have to be approved by the commissioners, and then submit the application electronically.There has been some talk of extending the filing process to March, after 12 state senators made the request. Any action on a possible extension is slated to be discussed at the January 30 meeting of the state's transportation committee.The total grant money has already been split under the assumption that all counties will participate as well as by four strategic categories. The estimated allocation for Nolan County is currently at $675,321.The money is then split by eligibility, which is determined by TxDOT when they review the applications. From there, the pool can grow from the eligible list, which could change the money amount for the county.As part of the application process, TxDOT is requiring the submission of public documents, court rulings and advisory board appointments; a statutory road report along with mapping; a prioritized list of road projects that show the need within the county; the alleged damage on the roads, bridges, and/or culverts from the oil and gas traffic; and the amount of money the county wants to fix the roads.After the pool is identified, each applicant will be informed of the amount of money they will receive. However, TxDOT will not allocate more than the amount of money asked for on the list.Any excess money will be placed back into the pool for other counties. Thus, Nolan County must be accurate and correct in their documentation of roads, causes of degradation and amount of money needed.The establishment of the zones were discussed, in that when a zone is created, a tax increment account must be established as well. The zone lasts for ten years and can be extended for a five-year period.When the base year of the zone is established, the following year is considered year one. During both years, the appraised value of the real property in the zone is examined and determined through the land, dirt and minerals on the property.The totals for both years are then compared. If an increase is seen, a percentage is derived as to how much is from year one and how much is excess.Then, once the tax collections begin and the commissioners go through the requirements for the budget and tax rate, part of the tax collection revenue from the zone--the percent increase of year one from the base year--has to be placed into the tax increment account.While there is no guarantee of increase, the account is restricted and can only be used for transportation infrastructure within zone, which has to be approved by TxDOT. If more than one zone is created, then a tax increment account must be made for each zone.A first draft of the map was shown, which then led into a couple questions being posed. The grant is a 20% matching grant, although economically disadvantaged counties only have a 10% match. Nolan County, however, is not included on the economically disadvantaged list.Additionally, the money is not given to the county. Once the projects begin, the invoices must be sent to TxDOT, who will then pay back 80%.Work on future degradation was also discussed, although the grant is established to relief for existing problems. However, should the list be completed and money is still left over, TxDOT can be approached to use the remaining amounts for road projects not in the zone. While Nolan County would probably use most of their funds for the roads in need, an exception could occur.Following the 45-minute public hearing, a motion was made to close the forum which was approved. And while discussion and potential action regarding the project was noted on the agenda, the commissioners opted to convene in an executive session and no action was taken following the closed meeting.