Smith County voters paved the way for better roads by approving the county’s $39.5 million road bond package on Tuesday. The package will fund the first three years of a six-year road improvement plan.
The measure passed with 4,411 votes, or 73 percent, in favor of the bond, while 1,629 people, or 27 percent voted against, according to complete but unofficial returns.
“We’re very happy with the process,” said County Judge Nathaniel Moran. “We were able to engage the public this summer to develop a plan for our roads. Had the bond not passed, I still would have been pleased with the process. But now that the community has spoken, we’re looking forward to doing what we said we would do, and doing so in a manner that’s transparent and accountable.”
The bond will add 0.7 cents to the current tax rate. The debt service portion of the county’s property tax rate will increase from 3.16 cents per $100 property valuation to 3.86 cents.
The tax impact is an estimated increase of $11.61 annually, based on the current average home value of $165,841.
The bond is significantly lower than the entire road plan, which is estimated to cost a total $100.1 million. That figure includes maintenance items such as seal coats and rebuilding oil dirt roads.
Commissioners broke the plan into two phases, each taking on three years’ worth of road projects. With voter approval, bonds could pay for major reconstruction projects for arterial roads, asphalt overlays and a category of miscellaneous road projects, where only a portion of a roadway is in need of repairs and not the entire stretch of road.
Commissioners committed to paying for the maintenance items out of the county's annual budget and not through bonded debt.
The bond package for the second phase could be in the $45 million range.
“Any future measure relating to roads and bridges will depend on how well the county performs on this first measure,” Moran said. “That’s one reason we split this into two; it gives the voters a chance to see how we do on this one, and whether we remain transparent and accountable.”
Work won’t begin immediately, though.
“Late spring is when I would anticipate residents would start to see work beginning,” Moran said. “That gives us time for the normal bidding process and for our weather to be conducive.”
The voter turnout for Tuesday’s election was 4.69 percent, according to Smith County officials.
“I don’t think I was surprised by turnout numbers,” Moran said. “I think that was driven by the simple fact it’s an off-year election, and the constitutional propositions aren’t hot topics, so that contributed to the low turnout.”