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The Lead Feb. 9, 2022: The public safety bond election moves forward

The City Council votes 5-0 to place $45 million bond on the May 7 ballot

Good morning Kerr County!

Another great day to live in the Texas Hill Country. The freeze is gone! Since, last night's Kerrville City Council meeting dragged on for hours, we'll be posting another newsletter — call it a bonus edition — later today to cover everything that happened. This morning's newsletter is by no way short — it's more than 2,000 words. So, here we go!

On today’s The Lead Live

We welcome our first Wednesday show with Rachel Fitch, who will join us regularly to discuss what’s going on with her businesses, including Gold Cup Pawn Show and Fitch Estate Sales. Through her years on the job, Fitch has come across many interesting finds and even more interesting stories. We’re looking forward to the conversation starting at 9 a.m.

Kerrville City Council calls for bond election.

The Kerrville City Council unanimously approved placing a $45 million general obligation bond to pay for a 69,000-square foot public safety building on the May 7 ballot.

It wasn't without discussion, a hint of controversy and some shifting opinions about the scale of the project from at least one committee member that presented the bond recommendation to the City Council.

The bond would pay for a new police station, fire administration, municipal court, information technology and an emergency operations command center.

The approval caps a long, often contentious, process of moving forward with the construction of the building, which city officials and past City Council have long sought. It will replace the current police station that opened as a temporary location in 1995. The city of Kerrville has never had a purpose-built police station.

The new building would replace the fire administration office, which the city rents for $42,000 per year. The current municipal court building is in a temporary location. Since much of its work is related to public safety, the information technology department is in the new building.

Barbara Dewell, who served on a 10-member City Council-appointed committee to issue recommendations about the building, offered a contrarian narrative to the bond expense. Despite agreeing that Kerrville needed the structure, Dewell described the price tag as more of a wish list and argued that the committee never saw other plans from consultants.

John Harrison, who chaired the committee, urged the City Council to adopt the resolution to place the bond on the ballot.

For property owners, excluding those over the age of 65, their annual taxes would be $169 per year based on the valuation of $250,000.

Here’s a lesson in facts — from Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General

One of the more peculiar elements of recent City Council meetings has been a consistent call by Councilman Roman Garcia that the city was violating state law by not pushing the municipal election back to November.. That would give a full two-year term to Place 4 Councilwoman Brenda Hughes.

This has been, at times, a testy issue with former Councilman George Baroody and others saying the city was violating the state constitution and the city’s charter by not granting a two-year term. On Tuesday, that took a turn when Garcia said he was following the law, by motioning to move the election. Garcia had support from Baroody and others, but facts and reason seemed lost in this discussion.

Baroody said a May election violated the city’s charter, but this is where Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton comes into the story. See, in 2020, there was a global pandemic. So, Texas Governor Greg Abbott used his emergency powers to suspend parts of the Texas election code. Here’s what Paxton wrote in a letter to the city of Round Rock about its municipal election:

“The Governor suspended the expired deadline in section 41.0052(a) and thereby empowered local jurisdictions that would have held elections on May 2, 2020 to decide whether to move those elections to November 3, 2020,” Paxton wrote. “In particular, the Governor’s proclamation suspended subsections 41.0052(a) and (b) “to the extent necessary to allow political subdivisions . . . to move their [May 2, 2020] general and special elections . . . to [November 3, 2020].”

As the virus persisted in 2020, the city of Round Rock tried to push its election to May 2021 — a date coinciding with its charter requirement. Paxton said that would have illegally extended the terms of council members up for re-election.

"In fact, the Governor’s proclamation suspended these provisions in the Election Code “to the extent necessary to allow political subdivisions to move their [May 2, 2020] general and special elections only to [November 3, 2020],” Paxton wrote.

What Baroody and Garcia have consistently failed to mention is that moving the election to November stretches the terms of Mayor Bill Blackburn and Councilwoman Judy Eychner — well beyond their two-year terms.

Blackburn, who is not seeking re-election, noted that he was serving his full two-year term. The only person impacted by this is Brenda Hughes, who opposed Garcia’s motion to move the election.

Earlier in the meeting, Baroody implied that an independent judge could toss the city’s efforts to hold the election, but that seems unlikely considering the various opinions on Abbott’s emergency powers, the instructions from the Attorney General and the Secretary of State’s office. Kerrville could change its election date, at least according to Paxton’s letter to Round Rock, through resolution and charter amendment.

The county’s bond plans

In the coming weeks, the Kerr County Commissioner’s Court will call for an election placing three propositions to pay for building improvements, including a new animal shelter, on the November ballot.

On Tuesday, Brenda Hughes and Chris Hughes were guests on The Lead Live and shared the final recommendations made by a committee they serve on to the court. The committee of Hughes, Hughes, Ingram Independent School District Superintendent Bobby Templeton, Kerrville State Hospital Public Affairs Rep. Pete Calderon, and former Kerr County Judge Fred Henneke presented their findings on Monday.

“The county is comprised of 36 different departments, and one of the first things that we recognized when we started touring these departments is the fact that they've run out of room,’’ Brenda Hughes said.

The recommendation is simple; three bond propositions voters could consider are:

Proposition A

Proposition A would spend $15 million to improve the Kerr County Courthouse, including moving the assessor/tax collector office to a former church nearby on Earl Garrett Street. The move is due to the state’s unfunded mandate the switch from seven-person juries to 12 members. The current jury room is too small, and the county will have to convert the existing assessor/tax collector office into a new jury room. The move is just one of many upgrades to the century-old courthouse.

“If you look behind, you know, where all those girls are sitting there, taking care of your registration,” Brenda Hughes said. “ If you got back there and actually looked at how bad it really is for them. You'd be horrified. Moving that tax office does a couple of things. I mean, No. 1, it makes the tax office more convenient.”

Chris Hughes said there are other advantages of moving the tax office: “It also moves a lot of non-judicial traffic out of the courthouse. So, that helps improve courthouse security in that world, and then the other part of this is (information technology).

Kerr County’s information technology services are in a re-purposed closet. Both Hughes and Hughes say that is unacceptable.

“I mean, look at the world we're in today,” Chris Hughes said. “How important is IT? Uh, how important was IT before COVID? How much more important is it after COVID? It is the future and that department is in like an 8×10 room.”

Proposition A would also fund the construction of the new Ingram annex, housing a courtroom and other county offices, including Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace.

Proposition B

Proposition B would fund the construction of a new animal shelter at the corner of Texas 27 and Spur 100 — a site partially used by the county’s road department. The new shelter would replace the current and grossly inadequate Kerr County Animal Services building on Loop 534. That portion could cost about $5 million.

Proposition C

Proposition C is the final piece, an approximately $8 million overhaul of the Hill Country Youth Event Center. The plan would renovate the older ag barn, which has numerous problems from leaking rooms to a dirt floor contaminated by years of animal waste.

“It is the hub for the ag shows, and the ag community, but what people that aren't a part of that need to understand, is that it is more than that,” Chris Hughe said of the events center. “With the renovations, one of the main ones being concreting that floor. It it becomes so much more and talking to the management there that concrete floor and these upgrades, they can rent out that facility twice as much, three times as much per year.”

When it comes to managing money — we’re award-winning

The city of Kerrville and the Kerrville Public Utility Board earned prestigious recognition for their financial management acumen. The finance departments at both institutions were recognized by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) of the United States and Canada. Established in 1945, The GFOA encourages and assist state and local governments to prepare comprehensive annual financial reports that indicate transparency.

“KPUB is committed to excellence in financial management and financial reporting,” said Amy Dozier, KPUB Director of Finance, who was previously Kerrville finance director. “I am especially impressed with the professionals on my team and their ability to maintain such high standards while working through the challenges of the past year, including the pandemic and 2021 winter storm.”


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