November bond: Doyal offers ‘the rest of the story’
November bond: Doyal offers ‘the rest of the story’
There are a lot of stories being told about our agreement to put a road bond election on the November ballot. Now, like Paul Harvey used to say, it’s time for “the rest of the story.”
In the days after the agreement some have portrayed it as a surrender to the Patriots PAC, our former opponents on the bond election.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, it would have been easier to do nothing; doing nothing is easy, but political stalemates are part of what frustrates people about Washington D.C.
We could have let this die and wait for a November 2016 bond election, but the roads are needed today, and the time for action is now.
The fact is that it was our commitment to taking a serious approach to funding our road and bridge operations that opened the door for a dialogue with our onetime opponents – the Patriots PAC – to find common ground. And it was their desire to understand and review local election issues that prompted them to take the need for a new road bond seriously.
Thanks to those efforts, the PAC has come to support essentially the same bond issue we put forward in May – minus two projects that had garnered some controversy, which we were planning to drop from this bond issue anyway. While both projects were recognized as necessary, other sources of funding will be explored.
Here are the main changes between May’s bond election and now:
• BOND AMOUNT – the bond amount overall all is the same – $350 million; the only difference is that we split it into two separate issues – $280 million and $70 million in 2018 – in recognition that we will need to watch how the economy performs in the next few years before committing to the second issue. If the economy remains strong, the second bond issue may need to be larger than $70 million to accommodate the population growth that a strong economy encourages.
• MOBILITY AND REHABILITATION — Critics had attacked so-called “maintenance projects” in the last bond. The fact is that with 2,700 miles of county roads, with what had been an annual budget of roughly $32 million for roads and bridges, the county had no realistic way to stay on top of all of the county’s maintenance and rehabilitation needs without utilizing some debt. We agreed that the portion of the bond devoted to rehabilitation would be kept at 20 percent or less. While many of the perceived “maintenance” projects were actually recognized as mobility enhancement projects, we will tailor our debt appropriately, so that we use short-term debt for short-term projects. We never would have used 30-year debt to pay for a road maintenance project.
• PROJECT LIST – Between the two proposed bonds, this is virtually the same project list from the last bond, minus the two controversial projects – the Robinson Road widening and the Woodlands Parkway extension, which are to be funded by other means. Commissioners have the discretion to alter the project list with other road projects that may take higher priority.
In our talks with the leaders of the PAC, it became clear that both sides had been talking over and in opposition to each other – but not with each other. We decided to change that dynamic in order to see if we could get something accomplished for all of Montgomery County.
In those conversations, we are pleased to report the PAC agreed with three important points:
• ROAD REHABILITATION – It is unrealistic to imagine we can pay for all of the county’s maintenance projects out of our current budget. For example, according to a 2008 Texas Transportation Institute Report, necessary rehabilitation and widening to Woodlands Parkway alone would cost $33.6 million. Even with the additional funds, our entire road and bridge budget combined for all of our precincts until this new budget year was $29.6 million – the simple reality is we will have to use debt to fund some road rehabilitation, and the PAC agreed.
• SUPPORT – The PAC pledged to work as hard to pass this proposed road bond as they did to defeat the last one.
• TAX HIKE – While we absolutely don’t believe we will need a tax rate increase – and we have further lowered our estimates of growth in the tax base to be as conservative as possible – the PAC is now on record recognizing that mobility is needed – even if it causes a tax increase.
Part of what made it possible for us to have these conversations with our onetime opponents was our willingness to recognize the need to increase funding for road rehabilitation in our annual budget. For example, we built upon our existing commitment in this year’s budget to put an additional $4 million into our road and bridge funds to handle road maintenance and rehabilitation. Starting with the 2017 budget, the court will annually allocate to the Road and Bridge Fund a minimum of 10.19 percent (the same percentage as the 2016 budget) of each year’s total property tax revenue to be used for road and bridge refurbishing and rehabilitation. That yields a total of $33.6 million in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.
As elected officials, it is our duty and responsibility to focus on the needs of our community, as opposed to settling political scores. And while we believed much of the rhetoric from the failed road bond elected was irresponsible and inaccurate, the fact remained that our community needs us to take steps now to get key transportation projects moving forward. We did what we needed to do, and reached across political lines. In doing so, we found there is much more we can agree upon – and that’s a win for all of Montgomery County.
We encourage all residents to thoroughly study the projects and information as it is made available in coming days, and go to the polls and vote what they believe.
County Judge Craig Doyal has served as judge since Jan. 1; prior to that, starting in 2001, he had served as county commissioner for Precinct 2. Craig is a native Texan, fourth-generation Montgomery County resident, Conroe ISD product and a proud graduate Texas A&M University.