Burnet County looking at $2.5 million in tax notes



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The Wirtz Dam Road bridge project is moving forward with a $425,000 stipend by Burnet County Commissioners to allow for several upfront payments for planning, surveying and engineering for the crossing.




By Lew K. Cohn
Managing Editor

Burnet County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday, Dec. 11, to begin the process of obtaining $2.5 million in 2019 tax anticipation notes to fund a number of projects, including $1.6 million for upgrades to the Burnet County Jail and 9-1-1 dispatching.

Also included is $425,000 that would help the county begin making upfront payments on planning, surveying and engineering for a new Wirtz Dam Road bridge crossing as part of an advanced funding agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which commissioners also approved at their regular meeting.

Burnet County Judge James Oakley said the county was set to open bids Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 3 p.m. for $750,000 in control systems upgrades at the Burnet County Jail that must be made, but were not originally part of the jail budget for fiscal year 2019. The idea of issuing tax anticipation notes, which the county has done previously for large-scale road construction issues, was considered because there were a number of other big-ticket items which have come up that as well.

One such item is an advanced funding agreement, or AFA, to pay for the engineering component for the new Wirtz Dam Road bridge and approaches to connect Ranch to Market Road 1431 to RM 2147, which is expected to cost $2,981,250.

Under the agreement, the county will select a project engineer, receive all engineering invoices and pay them up front on a monthly basis before submitting them to TxDOT for reimbursement, Oakley said.

The money TxDOT will use to reimburse the county was already added to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's 2019-2022 Transportation Improvement Plan earlier this year and approved by the TxDOT Commission in August.

“We are not having to pay the entirety of the $2.9 million up front, but in phases, and we will be paid all of the money back by TxDOT,” Oakley said. “This is the first one we have ever done with TxDOT, though Williamson County and Travis County have done a lot of these for a while now.

“As our county continues to grow and get more sophisticaed in our level of involvement in these types of new road construction projects, we can expect to see more of these AFAs in the future.”

The engineering component process is expected to take up to 24 months, or two years, to complete. Oakley said he believes it would be wise for the county to have several months funding set aside to pay upfront engineering costs and, because that money will be reimbursed by TxDOT, it can later be earmarked and used to fund other transportation-based improvements within the county.

In an AFA for a new transportation project, like Wirtz Dam Road, TxDOT and a local government sign a written agreement which sets out which party is responsible for conducting any work, providing funding or contributing in-kind items.

AFAs have successfully been used to help fund right-of-way acquisitions, engineering, utility relocations, environmental studies, construction services and maintenance contracts. They are the most frequently used contract for project development, according to TxDOT's own website.

Oakley said entering into the AFA is a way to “keep the ball moving” on the pre-construction work necessary for the Wirtz Dam project, including engineering, environmental studies, planning and schematics.

The county is also looking to use the 2019 tax notes to fund $850,000 to convert the Burnet County Jail recreation center structure into a new 9-1-1 dispatch center. The existing structure would be finished out and new hardware panels and cabling would upgrade dispatch to allow for future growth as the department has outgrown the current dispatch center, which was built in 1996 and has undergone several modifications in the past 22 years.

Remaining money from the tax notes would be used to develop a county-owned recycling and reuse facility near Burnet, with the cost including site preparation and construction, and to upgrade the communications equipment in a 48-foot mobile emergency command trailer being donated to the western counties in the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), along with purchasing a dedicated truck to pull the trailer when necessary.

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