Kerrville public safety building is officially on hold

After successful petition, City Council concedes defeat on issuing debt to construct new police department, fire administration and municipal court.

The Kerrville City Council officially conceded defeat Tuesday night that it would not be issuing debt to build a new public safety building.

The issue did not die silently, with four councilmembers expressing frustration with the failure, plenty of fingerpointing at the council and a bizarre submission of letters read by Councilman Roman Garcia that featured unfounded criminal allegations against the council.

It was contentious. Points of order rolled, a cacophony of questionable peppered the meeting, and in the end, the city of Kerrville was no closer to replacing its aging public safety buildings.


After having its petition certified Monday, members of the group "Let Us Vote" were on hand to make comments about the drive that generated more than 1,000 signatures to block issuing certificates of obligation to build the public safety building.

The earliest the city could place a general obligation on the ballot would be in May.

Speaking as if voters handed them a mandate, the group said they could have gathered far more signatures if they had more time. The speakers ranged from accusing Mayor Bill Blackburn of misguided spending priorities and personally stopping previous attempts to build the complex to house the police station, fire administration and municipal court.

Earlier in the meeting, Blackburn took time to single out the city's Economic Improvement Corp. and the Kerr Economic Development Corp. as two examples of work done by the city to improve the community. Blackburn was accused of diverting city funds to pay for the sports park, Arcadia Live and Guadalupe River Trail. Those were paid for, in part, by the EIC, which uses a portion of sales tax revenue to fund projects dedicated to economic improvement.

However, it was the letters read by Garcia that were the most incendiary. City Secretary Shelley McElhannon received two submitted letters opposing the certificates of obligation. Blackburn wanted to accept them but not read them aloud.

That's when Garcia took his time to read them, saying there should have been a formal reading into the record. The letters accused, without evidence, council members of having a financial interest in building the public safety complex, and another said councilmembers had accepted a bribe from homebuilder Lennar to obtain 30 acres of city-owned property on Loop 534.

While defamatory in their accusations, most political speech to a government agency is privileged and protected — unless it incites violence.

A former councilman and frequent council critic, George Baroody, dismissed the idea that property owners would pay higher taxes under a general obligation bond. The woman who led the petition effort, Bethany Puccio, said voters are frustrated with the city's lack of transparency.

The facts presented by the group have often been squishy. Baroody's dismissal of the general obligation bond versus a certificate of obligation was an example of a looseness with facts leading up to Monday's certification.

Baroody said the city would pay its bonds back through property taxes, but the facts are that a city has more options to repay certificates of obligation. City leaders have said they felt issuing certificates of obligation made sense in a time of surging property values, sales tax revenue and low-interest rates.

Place 4 Councilwoman Brenda Hughes said it was likely that raising property taxes might be an outcome.

The group tried to compare its efforts to school district general obligation bonds, but the Texas Permanent School Fund guarantees those. So, while they're voter-approved, it's a different process.

Some who signed, or approached to sign, said they believed the city was in an unmanageable debt position of more than $65 million. What was missing was that much of that debt is water infrastructure and repaid by ratepayers.

In other city business:

  • The City Council unanimously approved the first reading of the 2021-2022 budget. The budget will be finalized next month.
  • The city staff lowered the property tax rate, but it's not a tax reduction for many property owners who saw their assessed value shoot up last year. The tax rate is about 4.6% higher than the no-new revenue rate.

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