Is McKinney A Self-Sufficient Island?

It seems to me that McKinney is just far enough north on US 75 and just far enough east on SRT to be in the right pathways, and a city that could have it all if patience existed. We are part of a vibrant region, but we really don’t want to be a participant unless it is all to our benefit. Collin County Commissioners Court does not set a very good example, either. It wasn’t always that way. It was way before the Tea Party took control. In one sense, we are in a self-defeating mode. There is some inertia going for us, for sure. But we are only getting bread crumbs.

There are many municipal services that are too big for every city to handle. Water and sewer is a municipal service, but the cost of infrastructure and availability of a source is such that most cities had to create or be part of regional services decades ago. Now there are a few major players making sure there are ample supplies. The North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) serves from the McKinney and Frisco Area to the the Garland and Plano area and beyond. Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) takes care of most of the entire Dallas Area. The Upper Trinity Municipal Water District (UTMWD) serves from below Denton to down to Flower Mound and out to areas both east and west of I-35. The Trinity River Authority (DWU) and Fort Worth Water Utilities (FTWU) serve most of west side of I-35 from Grapevine to the mid-cities area through Fort Worth.

The key point I am trying to make here is that some things are too big for single cities. And the infrastructure is so vast and costly that no city could do it by themselves.

Transportation.

The big elephant in the room is transportation. Like with other other major infrastructure systems, especially those that know no municipal boundaries, even the state and federal government can’t easily deal with well over a 1,000 municipalities in Texas. The counties provide some essential services as an arm of the state, such as the judicial system, but even the 254 counties are often too many to be effective to communicate and coordinate the big-ticket items.

So, 50 years ago Texas created 24 planning agencies to do just that – plan, coordinate and communicate. We live in the first and arguably the best and most effective planning agency area, the North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG). The headquarters are located a few hundred feet from the corner where the roller coaster Judge Roy Scream is at Six Flags in Arlington. The entire first floor of the main building (NCTCOG is in three buildings) is for public meeting rooms. Decisions on as much as $200 million in federal and state monies annually are made in those meeting rooms.

NCTCOG serves a massive area that covers 16 counties. From Wise, Denton, Collin and Hunt to the north, Erath, Hood, Somerval, Johnson, Ellis and Navarro to the south, Palo Pinto to the west and Kaufman to the east, it’s all NCTCOG. Denton, Collin, Tarrant and Dallas County are where most of the dollars and attention are spent.

You can bet that county judges are highly involved as well as mayors and council members from both the major cities and many of the smaller cities. NCTCOG has an Executive Board made up of 13 elected officials. But get this, the Transportation Board has over 40 members. Those members are charged with watching out for all 16 counties, but you can be sure that they are watching out for their own.

And They Watch Us.

I have not talked to a single person at NCTCOG recently about what I am about to say. These are my views.  But I have watched the Transportation meetings, both live and recorded, over many years. If you go to the Collin County Administration Building here in McKinney, you will note that it is named after a long time regional player named Jack Hatchell.

Mr. Hatchell was a team player, a former councilmember at Plano. He also was a traffic professional. Literally. When I went to his funeral, the large church was filled with people and overflowing with praise for his vision, his leadership and his appreciation for the fabric of a region and how critical it is woven together. Mr. Hatchell was actually the president of the Executive Board at one time in addition to leading the Transportation Planning Council.

An observer watching our current County Judge would hardly find that kind of regional spirit. While he is protective of Collin County, which is nice, it is hard to see where he is interested in the region. He is tolerated, but he is not a player. He is viewed as arrogant and smug. Perhaps his Tea-Bagger constituency, of which he is a leader, is part of the reason. Here is the deal. The Transportation Staff and the Transportation Board make major decisions on how funds are allocated throughout the entire region.

So, let’s see how I would view Collin County and the City of McKinney if I were on the Transportation Board and Staff. There is a transportation provider that serves McKinney. That board is governed by key elected officials from both Collin County and McKinney. The local agency is providing services at a level that exceeds its income. What do the Collin County and McKinney elected officials on the local board as well as the McKinney City Council do? They bail! They are the captains of the ship that jump into lifeboat first while everybody left in the ship sinks.

NCTCOG comes into the picture and tries to help. They offer some temporary relief and a solution that would cost McKinney a little money every month while everything can be sorted out. The money was mainly to help provide a modest level of service for the handicapped and elderly. What does Collin County and the City of McKinney do? It involves communicating using the middle finger.

I believe DART may have offered some help, too. Again, middle finger.

Consequences.

Here’s the rub. Tea-Baggers don’t care about consequences. They just love the word NO, and the image of their leaders being tough on guv-ment.

I am fairly certain of one thing. The ultimate middle finger will come from the Transportation Board to Collin County and McKinney. Most of us don’t have a clue, but the Collin County and McKinney representatives know full well that there are $millions in discretionary funds controlled by the Transportation Board and Staff. It is very, very easy to help out with a $million here and a $million there since just about everybody has more project needs than they can afford locally. It is just as easy to say, nope, not gonna happen.

It will probably be impossible to document or trace, but I feel very confident in saying that the refusal for help offered by NCTCOG and the relatively few dollars McKinney was unwilling to come up with, pocket change in the bigger picture, is going to cost McKinney $millions. Thanks, Tea-Baggers, that’s being tough. And foolish.

Another Example.

If you really look at the way things have worked in McKinney and continue to unfold, it is easy to predict that we are going to be a community of nice homes first with a modest amount of non-residential property. Quite frankly, I am okay with that. But we aren’t thinking like a commuter community. We have no visionaries who will face the facts. We’ve got a lot, but we don’t have the patience to wait for the best. Developers don’t make money today by waiting until tomorrow.

We have $250 million we have spent without much to show for that amount of money. I am fairly sure that kind of money could have built a commuter line from the DART Parker Station to Bloomdale Road by now. Or our own bus system that would serve all of our internal needs plus just have a Park & Ride from McKinney to Downtown Dallas and to DFW Airport.

Yeah, yeah, I know those are restricted funds authorized by the voters. However, did you know that HB 157 now allows the voters to use the full 2-cents for any purpose the Council deems a priority?

We are 50% built out with all the growth north going to produce traffic going south to SRT or 75.

We should not just be a regional player, but the most impressive regional leader. We are not an island. LFM

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