DCTA drivers wait for passengers to board the bus at the Downtown Denton Transit Center, Wednesday, May 27, 2020, in Denton, Texas.

The Denton County Transportation Authority voted unanimously at Thursday’s board meeting to elect Denton Mayor Chris Watts board chair for an upcoming one-year term beginning Nov. 1, replacing current chair Dianne Costa.

The authority conducted elections for the three officers of its board — chair, vice chair and secretary — for one-year terms beginning Nov. 1 and ending on the same date next year.

Current vice chair TJ Gilmore of Lewisville nominated Watts for chair while withdrawing himself from those two positions, citing his belief in rotating leadership and representing different communities.

“The City of Denton has never been chair and they’re one of the largest revenue contributors to the system, so I really think it’s time for them to have that opportunity,” Gilmore said. “I think there’s value in rotating the leadership regularly … we’re really grooming our board members to have more leadership positions and opportunity for more voices and diversity in the organization.”

Costa, who represents Highland Village, seconded Gilmore’s nomination and the board elected Watts unanimously. Gilmore also nominated Cesar Molina, representing Denton County at-large, for vice chair, whom the board also elected unanimously. Costa nominated current secretary Sam Burke, also representing the county at-large, to retain the position, and he was elected unanimously as well.

Part of the authority’s ongoing tracking of COVID-19’s impact on ridership, Thursday’s ridership trend report, featuring data through September, showed almost identical increases to August, with the Connect bus service again seeing an 82% increase and the A-Train seeing a 10% increase, 2% more than in August.

Overall, ridership is still significantly down from pre-pandemic months. Though nearly double August’s, September’s bus ridership of 54,773 still comes in at only about a sixth of last year’s ridership for the same month, over 300,000. From June 2019 to February, average monthly A-Train ridership was 31,768, and that number has dropped to 8,492 since March.

While the information was included in the board’s regular reports, there was no vibrant discussion about ridership trends and what that will look like moving forward.

Thursday, the board also approved a bid for the refinancing of its outstanding sales tax revenue debt, which totals $23.4 million principal and $28.2 million with interest. The refinancing is projected to save $1.7 million, reducing the total debt service to $26.5 million.

At last month’s meeting, Hilltop Securities representative Laura Alexander addressed the board regarding two different possible structures for the refinancing: a level savings option that would complete payments in 2031 and a future capacity option that would complete payments in 2032. While the level savings option was projected to save more, the future capacity option was projected to allow for over three times as much debt capacity.

The board decided to move forward with the future capacity option and Alexander received three bids in advance of Thursday’s meeting. The best of the three, according to her recommendation, came from Bank of America N.A., whose bid offered both the lowest interest rate and true interest cost.

While past meetings featured lengthy discussion on the refinancing, the board took only a few minutes to approve the bid, with Watts pointing out the value in the savings.

“I just started laughing when I saw it,” Watts said. “That’s just free money. It’s just literally free money.”


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