RUSK — The Cherokee County Commissioners Court voted to make a request to join the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority on Monday afternoon. Joining the RMA will help Cherokee County compete for state transportation dollars and allows the possibility of toll roads to be built in the county.

Cherokee County, if accepted into the RMA, could see possible transportation projects to include both toll and non-toll roads, airports, pedestrian and bike facilities, border crossings, and even public utility facilities.

After RMA Chairman Jeff Austin III presented information to the court, County Judge Chris Davis made the motion requesting to join Smith and Gregg counties as the third county in the group. Pct. 1 Commissioner Mary Gregg seconded the motion.

“It’s a way for rural East Texas to have a united voice in Austin,” said Pct. 3 Commissioner Moody Glass. “It’s going to be an economical development aspect in our region — to help provide jobs and help move people.”

The court heard that Smith and Gregg counties put $5,500 per year into the RMA, mainly for the county representatives’ travel expenses. According to County Auditor L.H. Crockett, Cherokee County’s contribution would have to come out of the county reserves.

“We didn’t have that in this year’s budget,” Crockett said. “I’m hoping for enough time to go by to budget anything for it.

“If we have to go on and make a budget amendment, it would have to go to our reserves. I don’t know what kind of time lapse we’ll have. They might not ask that much from us since the other counties are much bigger than us.”

RMA is a political subdivision made up of Texas counties for transportation projects, and Austin said the state currently has five.

“The real benefit for East Texas is in its partnership and in its strength,” Austin said. “I want to congratulate you on this. I think we all want to find solutions to help move people.”

Other benefits, Austin said, included helping bring in transportation projects sooner and bring in revenue quicker.

In an open forum Monday morning, citizen Tolly Wildcat Smith expressed concern over the proposed U.S. 69 relief route, and presented 102 letters against the bypass. Glass said the county’s admittance in to the RMA does not necessarily mean toll roads will be built.

“They already established that a toll road in Cherokee County would not be viable,” Glass said. “From my perspective, in the presentation that I’ve heard with the RMA, the people who have signed the petitions that live outside the (city) limits of Jacksonville — because this was studied and funded by JEDCo (Jacksonville Economic Development Corporation) — didn’t have a voice.

“From my understanding, they (RMA) would be taking input from all the citizens, if that’s the way it’s to go ... the county would be far more involved with not just county projects but regional projects.”

Both Smith and Gregg counties will vote whether to accept Cherokee County into the group at the next RMA board meeting.

In other business, the board also approved:

• a resolution to establish GrantWorks, Inc. as the sole consultant for the Texas Community Development Program.

• Byron Carpenter’s plane hanger lease for another 20 years at the Cherokee County airport;

• usage of the courthouse grounds for the Rusk Annual Fair on the Square, May 27;

• Rhonda Jones to attend the intermediate and advanced disease surveillance training seminar in Austin, May 9; and

• Julie George, Irumimba Brown and Mary Mitchell to attend the nursing leadership conference in Austin, May 2-3.

The court regularly meets each second and fourth Monday of the month. Each meeting is opened to the public and includes time for citizen comments.

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