City to float $6 million bond issue
SOUTH JETTY The city council will ask voters to approve a total of $6.46 million in bonds on Nov. 7 to pay for a program designed to improve drainage in the city and to repair a number of streets as well as fix the leaky roof on the city hall/civic center and add office space to that building.
The streets and drainage portion of the election will be broken into two parts on the ballot: one, for $1.305 million, will include both street and drainage projects; the other, for $1.38 million, will be strictly drainage.
The street and drainage questions total $2.685 million but the projects on the two issues do not overlap.
In the smaller of the two ballots, which calls for "street, curb, sidewalk and drainage" work, projects would include East Cotter Avenue, Leslie Lane, the now-unpaved portion of South Station Street and LaRonda Street.
The strictly-drainage ballot question includes work on Station Street closer to the center of town, Alister Street, including drainage outfall 14, which discharges into the city marina, the concrete drainage ditch that starts at Avenue A and goes south as well as an outfall into wetlands beyond the ditch and Avenue A itself.
City Manager Michael Kovacs said although 11th Street is not included in the bond election, it hasn't been forgotten at city hall. He plans to use impact fees assessed to developers to pay for a revamping of 11th Street south of Avenue G.
That street has been on the minds of council members who are aware that the character of the street has been changing from a residential neighborhood to largely rental properties.
Also not included in the streets and drainage bond election will be the Oleander Street drainage project and several other, smaller, projects. The council told Kovacs to go ahead and do those on a cash basis.
Bringing off a new, larger drainage pipe the length of Oleander Street will pull the city's reserve fund down to around $2 million, Kovacs told the council; however, he said it can be done without endangering other needed projects.
"If we do this (Oleander Street), it will alleviate flooding problems from the school and into the flats?" Mayor Claude Brown asked City Engineer Jim Urban before the vote to tell Kovacs to go ahead with the project. Run-off from the Port Aransas
school complex flows to Alister Street during heavy rains and either collects at Alister and Beach streets or continues on to flood Avenue A. That water, in turn, tries to flow south toward wetlands in the area of Charlie's Pasture. It's these problems that the council wants to deal with by increasing stormwater drainage along Oleander.
Urban agreed that yes, the Oleander Street project should take care of those problems. All the projects included in the
two ballot questions were part of a bond election called by a previous council in 2004. Voters rejected both those questions, but current council members believe if they explain fully to voters how the money will be used, voters will back the issuance of the bonds.
Kovacs said it would take a tax increase of 1 cent per $100 valuation to pay for each $1 million in general obligation bonds the city issues. That would add $73.84 per year in city property taxes for the owner of a homesteaded $275,000 home.
Along with the $2.685 million for streets and drainage, voters will be asked to approve $3.775 million for renovation and addition to the city hall complex, including the civic center.
That was one option presented by architect Carolyn James of Gignac Architects when she briefed council members on a facilities study she did for the council.
Another option under city hall improvement was to get rid of the existing Community Center and replace it with a combination building that would house the Parks and Recreation Department, the library and exhibit and other space that could be used by citizens.
That option not only was not approved, it was stricken from the record entirely on a suggestion from council member Beverly Charles.
"Could we strike the language that says the Community Center could be relocated or demolished?" she asked. "I heard a whole bunch (of the council) say that's not an option for us as a council, so I would prefer that be stricken."
"If we leave it in there, it's going to have the effect of giving the impression to someone who hasn't followed the whole process that we're getting ready to tear that building down," councilman Mike Hall agreed. "Even though we're not, I'd just as soon take the sentence out."
Though the city hall/civic center project emerged as the council's first choice for facilities renovation, it wasn't without discussion.
"When you walk into city hall and there are buckets collecting (rain) water, that's not good," said Charles, advocating the project.
There was a question of whether voters would stand for three items on a bond election, however.
"Do we risk hurting street and drainage (projects) by doing these simultaneously?" asked councilman Keith McMullin.
"If we don't start taking care of our buildings now, when we will start taking care of them?" Charles countered.
"The list (of facilities projects) is long because we haven't taken care of them," councilman Rick Pratt agreed.
"The reason (previous bond elections) have failed, in my opinion, is because there hasn't been an advocacy from the city," councilman Mike Hall said.
While council members can personally advocate projects and the city can provide informational materials, state law prohibits city funds from being spent to actually favor or oppose an election.
Choosing the city hall project from James's report left the council with a lengthy shopping list of things that need to be done to city structures to bring them to standard.
Adding to the city hall/civic center complex will let Parks and Recreation move out of a one-time portable school building that literally has holes in the floor.
However, it leaves the city's gas division in temporary quarters it has occupied since the office burned earlier this year, and leaves the volunteer fire department in an aging building which James believes the city must replace as it begins thinking about adding some paid firefighters to what has been an all-volunteer operation. She also wants to redo the public safety building to provide a communications and command center that's better able to withstand hurricaneforce storms.
Voters will sooner or later be asked to approve bonds to do those as well as other projects the council has identified as needing shoring up. However, those votes are still some time down the road.
"The first thing we have to do is get the voters' confidence back," said Brown.