Outlook 2022: Kerr County voters will be asked to pay heavy prices for facilities

The city, county could ask voters to approve $110 million in bonds in 2022.

The price of growth is coming to Kerr County, and with it comes three potentially huge general obligation bonds. After years of putting off facility improvements, Kerr County will ask voters to support two bonds totaling $60 million in November.

But that's not all. The Kerrville City Council will have to decide if it wants to place a bond on the May 7 ballot that will ask voters for more than $45 million to fund a public safety building that will house the police department, fire administration, information technology department, municipal court and the emergency operation center.

Of course, the back story of this public safety bond is one of two wrongs not making a right. The wrongs are a tale of miscommunication and misinformation.


The miscommunication is the fault of the city of Kerrville, which did a poor job of explicitly telling the community the needs of its public safety building. The city kept a 2019 needs assessment secret for practical and legal purposes. Along the way, the plan got shelved for various reasons, including the coronavirus pandemic, but the longer it sat, the more complicated the ask became. So, when the City Council moved to acquire the land through the use of certificates of obligation, the ask wasn't clear — and it was just enough wiggle room for part two of this tale.

Yes, this is where misinformation comes into play. The citizen's group "Let Us Vote," emerged and began a petition drive to stop using certificates of obligation. They did it by telling people the city was already deeply in debt through the use of certificates of obligation, which would compound a financial crisis. Conveniently left out of the discussion were facts like most of the COs issued by the city were for large-scale capital facilities projects, including those paid by water ratepayers. The litany of wrong information is long, including blaming Mayor Bill Blackburn for diverting funds for the police station to the sports park — false on both accounts.

In the end, "Let Us Vote" secured the needed 5% of registered voters to stop issuing debt through certificates of obligation. That has created a problem for the city in acquiring land required to construct the new public safety building — now placed at 7 acres to accommodate a nearly 60,000-square foot building. The city now has to wait until the voters approve the bonds to acquire the land, but the city is not allowed to pay above market value for that purchase.

While Kerrville had its land purchases stalled, Judge Rob Kelly and the commissioner's court used its short-term debt tools to buy land around the courthouse to expand county services.

The county plans to build a new animal shelter, relocate and rebuild the Ingram annex building, which houses county offices and a courtroom, and fix pressing environmental issues at the Hill Country Youth Events Center. Due to changes in jury size, moving from six to 12, the county can no longer accommodate the jury pools inside the courthouse. That requires relocating the tax office. The century-old courthouse also has significant security problems.

Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly toured a neighboring county's animal shelter to understand the needs Kerr County will have for a new shelter.

Now, here comes the big question — will Kerr County voters, especially those in Kerrville, have the stomach for an estimated $110 million in bonds required by the county and city?

For the most part, voters have given Kerr County government and schools what they wanted, but it has been tight. In 2015, 60% of voters said yes to building the new Kerr County Jail. In 2019, nearly 70% of voters said yes to Kerrville Independent School District's general obligation bond that paid for upgrades and the new Hal Peterson Middle School.

A lot has changed since that 2019 election. While voters approved two emergency services districts, Kerr County voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would allow the commissioner's court more freedom in using debt, including certificates of obligation. Prop. 2 passed statewide, but 53% of Kerr County voters said no to the idea of issuing debt.

So, will the Kerr County voters have the appetite for this sort of debt in 2022? Both the city and the county have compelling cases to make, and the suspicion here is they say yes.

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