Wednesday, October 13, 2010

“Why should we, the taxpayers, forgive a loan to the Alamo RMA ... because they want to turn everything into a toll road?”

Having no toll roads, Alamo RMA seeks loan extension


By Jeorge Zarazua
San Antonio Express -News
Copyright 2010

Unable to earn money on its own, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority is asking the city of San Antonio for more time to repay a $500,000 loan it received five years ago.

And although City Manager Sheryl Sculley initially asked the RMA to settle the loan, which she said was due last month, city staff Thursday will ask the City Council to extend the term of repayment until Sept. 1, 2011.

“An alternative ... would require the City to seek repayment of the outstanding debt immediately creating a financial hardship on the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority as they are currently unable to repay the loan,” according to a document that Public Works Director Majed Al-Ghafry and Assistant City Manager Sharon De La Garza prepared for the council.

City administrators said interest on the loan would continue to accrue until it's paid off. But the RMA's inability to repay the loan underscores concerns that Terri Hall, founder of the anti-toll Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, said she has about the agency, which she argues was created solely to establish toll roads in Bexar County.

Hall said without toll roads, the RMA isn't able to earn the money it needs to pay off the city loan.

“Why should we, the taxpayers, forgive a loan to the RMA ... because they want to turn everything into a toll road?” Hall asked.

Late Tuesday, Hall sent out a notice to her supporters, encouraging them to contact the City Council and object to a loan extension, referring to it as “an RMA bailout.”

“A vote to extend is a vote FOR toll roads,” she wrote.

But Leroy Alloway, an RMA spokesman, rejected claims that his agency has failed to pay off the loan on time. Alloway said the loan is considered flexible.

In a letter from Terry Brechtel, executive director of the Alamo RMA, to Sculley, Brechtel said the original intent behind the loan was to provide the agency with funds “until such time as the Alamo RMA can obtain sufficient revenues to fund its own operations.”

“At the current time this is not possible,” Brechtel wrote.

The Alamo RMA had anticipated it would be collecting revenue from a toll road in Bexar County by now, according to Alloway. But, because of various setbacks and obstacles — including lawsuits that delayed construction on widening U.S. 281 near Loop 1604 — the agency has yet to collect any toll money.

Alloway said the purpose of a payment due date is so the loan cannot be indefinitely held if the agency has money. He also said the agency had asked for a longer extension.

“We do not anticipate having a revenue stream in place within a year,” Alloway wrote in an e-mail, adding that environmental impact studies are ongoing on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 and that no determination had been made on how construction for the road improvement projects were to be financed.

Al-Ghafry said hopefully the RMA will be able to find other sources of funds to pay off the loan within a year.

Alloway said unless the Texas Legislature identifies additional revenue streams for the RMA, that's not going to happen.

City officials declined to discuss what would occur if the RMA failed to pay off the loan by Sept. 1, 1011.

“What happens after that is speculation,” Al-Ghafry said.

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