Smith County commissioners say they’ll dedicate more money to roads this fiscal year, but eventually, it could take a bond election to bring the county’s roads up to an acceptable level.
Commissioners held a budget workshop on Tuesday and discussed funding for the Road and Bridge Department, which is expected to be about $12.6 million for Fiscal Year 2017.
The preliminary budget includes an additional $3 million from the county reserves over and above the 2.3 cents of the M&O (maintenance and operations) portion of the tax rate to be transferred to Road & Bridge.This is also in addition to approximately $925,000 from a tax rate increase in Fiscal Year 2015 that was pledged to be used for Road & Bridge.
But commissioners said they could also add another $1 million, drawn from the county’s rainy day fund, for the upcoming fiscal year.
“We have made county roads our No. 1 priority,” Commissioner JoAnn Hampton said. “This is something we’ve promised our citizens over and over again.”
Commissioner Jeff Warr agreed.
“I would take another $1 million out of the reserve, for an even $4 million,” he said. “Roads are the most important thing we do (as a county), because you can’t fund the rest of it without (economic) development and improvements. I’ve never had anyone call me and say we need more staff, but I have people call me every day about roads.”
But the needs are far greater than the county can fund on a pay-as-you-go basis, Warr indicated. Eventually, commissioners will put a road plan forward, he said, and ask the voters to approve bonds to fund it.
“It would a 10-year payout,” he said.
The project would be taken to the public, “just like we did on the jail,” he said.
It was one year ago that commissioners learned it would cost just less than $98 million to bring more than 1,100 miles of Smith County roads to acceptable condition, according to a report they commissioned in 2014.