Last week, in an open forum, the two individuals running for County Judge of Rockwall County were asked a series of questions. Two major points of differences centered on MUDs in the county and the process of getting roads constructed in the county.
MUD is short for Municipal Utilities District. A MUD is a political subdivision authorized by either the Texas Legislation or the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Its purpose is to provide utilities such as drinking water, waste, sewage, and drainage to the district in areas where city services are not available.
Individuals that want to start a MUD must start with a petition from the majority of the property owners to the TCEQ. The TCEQ will then hold a public hearing to determine whether to allow or deny the request. If approved, an election will be held to select five directors to make up the Board of Directors for the MUD.
To pay for the services to be offered, bonds are usually issued. Individuals who live in the MUD must pay off these bonds yearly in addition to their tax levied by their other authorities. It is not uncommon for the MUD payments to exist for the residents of the MUD for 20-30 years.
For citizens of Rockwall County, the MUDs come with a negative connotation. First is the added cost that is associated with living in the MUD. Second is the inability of the cities or counties to approve or disapprove the establishment and operation of a MUD. Since the MUDs are approved by the TCEQ in Austin, the cities and county only have the ability to recommend against the establishment in the hearing conducted by the TCEQ,
And finally, many developers use the MUD as a vehicle to reduce their cost during the building of housing areas outside city limits. Here they are not required to follow stricter building codes and inspections dictated by the cities. By law, the counties cannot have these same rigorous standards and their only control of the building is in the area of fire safety.
The second area concerned the road building process in Rockwall County.
In 2004, voters of Rockwall County approved a $17 million bond program to fund five specific projects. Those projects were all completed at a cost of $150.1 million.
In 2008, the voters approved an additional $100 million bond to construct projects selected by The Rockwall Transportation Consortium. This consortium was created when it became apparent that each of the cities and the county were all trying to get TxDOT to build specific projects in their areas. Not only was this occurring in our county, but the same thing was happening throughout North Texas. As a result, few were getting the funds allocated for their requested projects.
At the suggestion and leadership of two individuals on the Commissioners Court, Jerry Wimpee and Bruce Beaty, the consortium was created. It was and is made up of an elected official from each of the cities in the county, a member of TxDOT (the organization responsible for road construction in North Texas), and several members of the Commissioners Court. Its purpose is to take all the suggested requests for road construction from the cities and county, prioritize the requests, and then present the agreed too list of projects to TxDOT.
To sweeten the deal, the county also agreed to do all the engineering for the approved projects at county cost. This cost was the reason for the road bonds that the citizens continued to approve.
From the $100 million road bond of 2008, $968 million was the cost of the projects completed.
For every dollar that our citizens approved, we are getting a return of over $9 through the transportation consortium. And most important, we are getting the projects we need while other counties and cities are not.
The citizens recently approved an additional road bond of $150 million. These monies will be used to build the new roads requested by the consortium. This list was developed by all members of the consortium with each city submitting a list of the projects they wanted to be constructed in their area.
The transportation consortium has been the major reason for the success of our county in getting all the roads which we have seen constructed, or on the drawing boards for a soon start date. A measure of this success is seen by the number of other North Texas counties that have recently started similar organizations.
Several observations on these two subjects.
1 The MUD process cannot be stopped. It is a state program that, unless changed, developers will continue to take advantage of this opportunity.
2 The Rockwall Transportation Consortium is one of the best leverage tools we have to continue to receive transportation monies for road construction. It should be vigorously supported by all organizations.
Jerry Hogan is a former Rockwall County judge and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 214-394-4033