— By JUDY SHERIDAN
Tuesday morning, County Judge Mark Riley and commissioners Dusty Renfro and George Conley voted against a motion to leave the longtime Road & Bridge funding formula — which governs the revenue allocation to the four county precincts — the same.
By noon, the same trio voted to make a big change in the controversial formula, deciding to allocate equal amounts of revenue for each precinct, instead of giving more to those with the most roadway miles. A four-way split of some $10.4 million in revenues estimated for the 2013-14 budget year would have been a big shake-up for Precinct No. 2 Commissioner Craig Peacock and Precinct No. 3 Commissioner Larry Walden, had they not been able to persuade the court later to reverse its decision.
While boosting revenues to precinct No. 1 by about $352,000 and by about $213,200 to precinct No. 4, the new formula would have cut revenues to precinct No. 2 by about $194,000 and by about $371,500 to precinct No. 3, according to figures showing the 2013-14 allocations with the longtime formula.
After a several-hour recess, however, the court voted to restore the status quo 5-0, judging that the change — which Walden and Peacock said would dramatically impact services and employees — should be made over a longer period and in conjunction with an analysis by engineering firm Freese and Nichols. The firm is now prioritizing road improvements county-wide, as well as developing road construction standards.
In a less-discussed but significant action, however, the court voted 5-0 to end the practice of precincts amassing individual fund balances and pool them in the Road & Bridge fund instead, with the thought of setting aside money for the prioritized projects.
The final motion also authorized shifting $100,000 from the overall fund balance to precinct no. 4 and $200,000 to precinct no. 1, leaving a remainder of about $305,000.
“I’m proud of the court for moving that we work to establish a long-term funding policy based on the transportation recommendations Freese and Nichols will make,” Riley said.
Early in budget discussions, Renfro called for a change in the formula, calling it inequitable. He said precinct No. 4, on the county’s east side, was generating the most tax revenue, but getting one of the smallest road and bridge allocations. He said that high traffic counts, which wear roads down faster, should be considered in the funding structure as well as the number of miles.
Figures collected by County Auditor Mike Rhoten in July showed that taxable valuations are highest in precinct No. 4, representing some 39 percent of the county’s total $9.4 billion in taxable values. In the current formula, 20 percent of the allocation is based on tax revenue, while 60 percent is based on the number of roadway miles.