The Jefferson County Commissioners’ Court held a public hearing at Monday’s meeting to solicit comments about the creation of a County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone (CERTZ).
Creation of the CERTZ is necessary before the county can proceed with its application for grant money from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to repair roads that have been damaged by heavy oilfield equipment.
Tax rates are being dragged down because while a county can exclude the value of new industrial and structural improvements from its effective tax rate calculation, the value of newly-discovered minerals must be included, Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said at the meeting.
Branick said that Senate Bill 1747 rectifies this problem by allowing TxDOT to distribute $225 million in grants to energy-producing counties for road repair, including $1.2 million for Jefferson County.
“That was having a particularly detrimental effect on finances of a lot of South Texas counties where their tax rate was actually forced down because of the value of the minerals,” Branick said. “It showed them as receiving a lot more revenue than they were, and at that same time, those roads were subject to a lot of damage because of heavy trucks traveling on the roads. They were having less revenue, and more maintenance and repair problems.”
Duane Gordy, executive director of the Community Development Education Foundation, said at the meeting that he has supplied the county with a checklist outlining the next stages of the grant application process. In the meantime, the county must continue accepting public comment for the next 30 days. This will allow the county to consider its citizens’ thoughts on the matter, Gordy said, as well as to clear up any misconceptions about a CERTZ versus a Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TRZ). For a CERTZ, Gordy said, the county must commit 100 percent of the increase to transportation, whereas in a TRZ, the commissioners would set those limits.
“This is not a new taxing structure of any kind,” Gordy said. “It’s a very good thing this opportunity is there, because we have 30 days for comments to be filtered in.”