The $39.5 million Smith County Road Bond passed with 73 percent of the vote Tuesday, November 7, 2017, according to complete but unofficial voting totals.
Smith County ballots showed 4,411 people, or 73 percent voted for the bond, while 1,629 people, or 27 percent voted against the issuance of bonds for road and bridge construction and major improvements.
Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran said he was happy with the process of putting together a comprehensive, strategic road and bridge plan because of the high level of involvement from the Smith County community.
“In putting together the County’s first-ever comprehensive road and bridge strategic planning document, the Commissioners Court was committed to involving the citizens from beginning to end.” Moran said. “Now that the citizens have ratified through the election process what we consistently heard anecdotally in our citizen meetings on this matter, we will set about implementing the first phase of the Road and Bridge Plan, ever mindful that we need to keep the community engaged and remain accountable and transparent about the progress of the plan.”
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. That 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 well over 200 Citizen Feedback Forms from county residents.
“I have really enjoyed the process of going out and meeting with civic and community groups about our road issues,” Commissioner Jeff Warr said. “We are very fortunate to have this challenge. It means we have a growing, vibrant county.”
Now that the bond has been approved by voters, the bond will be issued over a three-year period, in an amount not to exceed $39.5 million. The money received from the bonds will be used to pay for major county road and bridge projects over three years, which is Phase I of a two-phase, six-year Road and Bridge Capital Improvement Project. With necessary lead times for project engineering and bidding, citizens will likely see work commencing from this bond measure in the late spring and early summer of 2018.
“We want to thank the citizens for voting, and we look forward to improving their roads,” Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said.
The bonds will 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. The average home in Smith County is valued at $165,841, resulting in an increase in property taxes to the average homeowner in Smith County of $11.61 annually.
“The passage of this bond election to make major improvements to county roads will be a great help and benefit long-term to our citizens’ quality of life and help stimulate economic growth,” Warr said. “The more development and improvements that occur out in the county help feed the economic growth happening in our cities. Growth throughout the county also increases the tax base for all of our independent school districts.”
At the beginning of August, County Engineer Frank Davis presented his first working draft of a six-year plan that covered both maintenance and construction items needed throughout the county. Commissioners have since made clear that they intend to pay for all maintenance-related items in the six-year plan using the county’s operational budget and additional money from its reserve fund.
The Fiscal Year 2018 budget for the county shows an additional $3.5 million dedicated from reserves for road and bridge maintenance projects.
“Today was a very big step in repairing and addressing a large portion of our road issues,” Commissioner Cary Nix said. “I’m thankful to the voters for passing this bond and to Judge Moran for his leadership in presenting this plan.”
“We are deeply grateful to the community for their participation in this process,” Moran said. “Citizen involvement is the only way government can work the way it is meant to.”
Citizens can view the initial, full six-year working draft road and bridge plan, which includes both maintenance and construction items, on the county’s website, at www.smith-county.com.