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Mayor Blackburn responds to petition blocking use of certificates of obligation

Blackburn said he worries the project to replace police station will be delayed

Kerrville Mayor Bill Blackburn said that a citizen petition forcing a vote on a new public safety building could delay the project.

However, he was satisfied that democracy worked with the grassroots effort that generated more than 1,000 signatures opposing a City Council plan to issue certificates of obligation to pay for the new police, fire administration and municipal court building.

The group Let Us Vote turned in the signatures on Wednesday to City Secretary Shelley McElhannon, who must verify the signatures by Monday. If the group has 5% of its signatures verified — 825 voters — then the city will call a general obligation bond vote — sometime next year.

"I think that part of the way folks used this (petition) worked as it was designed," Blackburn said. "I did what was it was intended to do."

Blackburn said the problem rests with the unintended consequences of the action.

"We are going to be delayed," said Blackburn, adding that the financial picture and interest rates could be wildly different by the time voters vote on how to fund the building — expected to cost about $17 million.

Initially, the City Council and city staff planned to borrow money through a tool called certificates of obligation. The instrument allows the City Council to approve debt for public projects and land purchases without voter approval. The money is paid back through various sources, including property taxes, sales taxes and other revenues.

However, with a general obligation bond, the money is paid directly back solely through property taxes. Kerrville leaders said the time was right financially to take on the debt and build the new public safety building with low interest rates, record sales tax collections, and high valuations.

Blackburn conceded the city should have replaced the police station years earlier.

"The struggle I have is we've got a mess at the police station," said Blackburn, adding the building dates from 1974 and is potentially loaded with mold and asbestos. Remediation efforts to remove mold and asbestos could prove costly.

"It was a temporary solution," Blackburn said of the Sidney Baker Street police station, which once was a bus station. "Like a lot of temporary buildings, it has become permanent."

Councilwoman Judy Eychner is concerned that it could set the project back years if the measure is defeated. To curb the use of certificates of obligation, Texas enacted a law limiting local governments from floating a bond for three years after a defeat by voters.

Blackburn echoes those concerns. He also expressed concern about the narrative centering around the city's debt.

"If you simplify it, it's easy to sell it," Blackburn said of Let Us Vote's claim the city was about $65 million in debt. The reality is a large chunk of that money — about $42 million — is serviced by water rates.


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