Cities footing bill for DCTA want more representation

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Since its approval as a transportation district in 2002, the Denton County Transit Authority has been governed by representatives from every city in Denton County with more than 17,000 citizens, despite only three cities footing the bill. If a new law passes in the state legislature, that could be changing very soon.

DCTA was first made legally viable by a 2001 bill in the Texas legislature, which has since been codified as Chapter 460 of Texas Transportation Code. The law allowed “collar counties,” or counties adjacent to counties with a population of 1 million or more, to develop their own transportation authority. Denton County was a collar county back then, but has since ballooned – it has been the fastest growing county in the entire country for at least two years, and Lewisville specifically was one of the fastest growing cities in the country over the course of the ‘00s.  

With the passage of Chapter 460, there were two separate elections held in individual cities across Denton County to establish the transportation authority. The first, in November 2002, was simply to confirm the authority. That vote passed with a 73 percent approval rate in the county overall, and passed in each of the county’s five largest cities individually – Lewisville, Denton, Highland Village, Corinth and Flower Mound.

The second election in September 2003, which was also held separately in cities across the county, was to approve a half-cent sales tax increase that would fund the authority. Despite the rest of the county voting overwhelmingly in favor of DCTA’s creation, only Lewisville, Denton and Highland Village approved the tax increase to actually fund it.

But because of the way the initial law was set up, several cities that pay nothing to DCTA, such as Flower Mound and Frisco, have voting members on the DCTA board of directors. On the current board of directors, representatives of non-paying municipalities actually outnumber representatives of paying municipalities eight to five.

But a new proposal, which would have to go through the Texas legislature to come into effect, would see the board of directors reduced to five voting members — one representative each from paying cities, one from the county and an at-large member. Richard Huckaby, Denton’s representative since 2011, resigned earlier this month over his public opposition to the proposal.

Lewisville is represented by board chairman Charles Emery, and has been since the transit authority’s inception. Emery is largely responsible for establishing DCTA in the first place. He did not give his personal opinion on what he thought of the proposal to limit the voting members of the board, saying instead that the board can make anything work as long as the paying members are represented and they stick to the established expansion plan.

Emery said DCTA plans to extend the A-Train to Belt Line Road by 2045, which should expand direct access from Lewisville to the airport. He also said it was unfair to judge the transportation district on its ridership while it is still in the process of building.

“We’re not complete, so I don’t know how you can take a snapshot of a system where we have a goal for the long term and try to cut it up and say, ‘oh, you know, we’re low on ridership,’” he said. “We’re doing what we said we would do for this county.”

Emery said maintaining a transportation system is vital to keeping up with Denton County’s unprecedented growth.

“We’ll never solve mobility in this county, or any county in this metroplex, just with highways,” he said. “There’s not enough money to pave highways enough to continue that, when you’re growing like we are in this region.”

At its Dec. 17 meeting, Lewisville City Council appointed assistant city manager Claire Powell as an alternate representative to the DCTA board, with councilmember TJ Gilmore waiting in the wings to take over — currently, City Council members are not allowed to serve as alternates from the board, but that rule is anticipated to change this legislative session.

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