Conroe, July 3 – Bill O’Sullivan, Montgomery County’s “sage,” who just celebrated his 72nd birthday while worrying about the public fisc, warned the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, that they should act as quickly as possible to recover the $56 million of pass-through toll funds the State of Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) owes Montgomery County taxpayers, which is really an “interest-free loan” from the citizens to the government. While the Commissioners Court discussed taking some future action with Montgomery County Engineer Mark Mooney, the elected servants failed to take any concrete action to recover the public funds to which the Montgomery County government clearly has the entitlement.
Under the “pass-through” toll program, a local government, such as Montgomery County, expends funds for state transportation projects, such as State Highway 242, under an agreement by which TxDOT reimburses the locality for actual traffic use on the constructed state road. The Montgomery County government financed these “pass-through toll” projects through the issuance of bonds.
A leading example of the “pass-through toll” projects was the construction of the two overpasses connecting State Highway 242 with Interstate 45. The actual dollars for those overpasses came from bonds the County government issued, after voter approval, in 2005. The County government decided to toll the two flyovers in order to increase “revenue,” which is really little more than an additional tax County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador decided to levy from Montgomery County citizens and others who use the flyovers.
Based upon usage of the state roads which Montgomery County constructed, Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack has confirmed with TxDOT that Montgomery County will receive $56 million in unpaid pass-through toll funds under the County’s agreement with the state. The funds will be available by 2022.
“We need to be organized to get our money back,” O’Sullivan said. “I hear ya,” responded Riley who seemed to agree with the sage.
Noack began the discussion by thanking Riley, “You came up with a good idea to work with TxDOT to try to get them here for a public discussion.” Riley answered, “I’m still trying to get them here.”
Noack noted that in order to receive the pass-through funds back from TxDOT, a County government must have road projects on the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s (HGAC) Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which is a plan of transportation projects approved to receive funding over the next four-years. Projects selected for the TIP are priorities for the region in all surface transportation areas including transit, roadway and highways, bicycle and pedestrian, preventative maintenance, rehabilitation and transportation operations.
Mooney spent several minutes describing the details of the procedures for Montgomery County to get transportation projects on the TIP list of approved projects. Mooney explained that he would send a letter out to each member of the Commissioners Court asking which projects they would like for inclusion on the TIP list. The County Engineer also said that projects receiving “pass-through toll” funds must also be on other regional plans of the bureaucratic HGAC.
Noack suggested that the County should follow the lead of other counties in the Great Houston region who have worked as commissioners courts in a coordinated fashion to get projects put in line for TIP approval. Noack requested that Mooney “spearhead” the effort to determine which projects should go on the list for TIP approval while working with the members of the Commissioners Court and to assist the Commissioners Court in interactions with HGAC.
Mooney, the County Engineer, suggested that the County government should utilize an engineering consulting firm as a vendor to obtain the TIP approval. Even though Mooney is the official “road engineer” under the Texas Local Government Code, Mooney’s work habits do not provide sufficient time for him to provide full road engineering services. As a result, Montgomery County taxpayers pay several hundred thousand dollars each year to private engineer John Holzwarth, a significant political contributor to Riley, Doyal, and Meador, to provide the road engineering services that Mooney should provide.
Mooney agreed with Noack’s and Riley’s suggestion of trying to get TxDOT representatives to meet with Montgomery County government officials in a public hearing or workshop in order to move the bureaucratic approval process forward as quickly as possible.