Election Season Prompts Fireworks About Bond Sale

April 7, 2015

West U City Council Candidate Brennan Reilly and what he called “a broad group of residents” are circulating a petition aimed at forcing an election on the city of West University Place’s decision to go into $3 million in debt to finance the move of the Public Works Maintenance Facility.

West U Communications Manager Maura Leon-Barber said that no petitions have been received by the city.

“If a petition is received, it will be reviewed and the appropriate response will be provided. It is a right of any West U resident to petition a City Council action and the city will follow the process in place upon receipt,” Leon-Barber said.

The city’s move of the public works operations from Milton St. to the old RecyclExpress property on Dincans St. is a key component of real estate negotiations between the city and the West University Baptist Church.

The city wants to build a so-called Super Block of municipal facilities, and the church wants to build a new Youth Center. The real estate negotiations include the “swap” of the city property on Milton St. and land owned by the church on Amherst.

The West U City Council authorized City Manager Michael Ross last week to advertise the sale of $3,050,000 in certificates of obligation to finance the move. The city’s advertisement has been published in a local newspaper.

Reilly said the petition is an attempt to require the city to hold a public vote on the financing of the estimated $3,050,000 cost of the move.

I expect that we will collect sufficient signatures to force a public vote on this major spending project by the City,” Reilly said today. “A lot of residents feel this is such a significant transaction that it should be the subject of an election. There are other (city council) candidates who are aware of the petition, and who support it.”

Reilly declined to name the other candidates who support the petition.

Leon-Barber noted that a recent survey of a random sample of West U registered voters showed that 49.3 percent supported the idea of moving the Public Works Maintenance facility.

“Based on the survey results, the City Council authorized the City Manager to proceed with a plan to issue certificates of obligation for the relocation of the Public Works Maintenance Facility,” she said. “. Certificates of obligation are a common financing mechanism for cities and towns, and the City Council felt comfortable that residents support moving forward in this way.”

Although the Texas Local Government Code allows cities and other political subdivisions to use certificates of obligations to finance certain projects, Reilly said the city of West U should allow residents to vote on the additional $3 million in debt.

Certificates of obligation are a streamlined method of financing, used by many Texas cities and other public entities, which do not require voter approval.

There is a provision in the Local Government Code that provides that voters can force municipalities to require a public vote on debt financing. To accomplish that, a petition must be signed by 5 percent of the city’s registered voters before the date the city has set to sell certificates of obligation.

The West U City Council has scheduled a May 4 meeting to consider selling the certificates of obligation to finance the move of the public works maintenance facility, and other costs associated with the potential real estate transaction with West University Baptist.

A letter accompanying the petition notes that the West U City Council “has historically obtained voter approval of bonds issued to fund major construction projects,” including the West U Recreation Center and the renovation of Colonial Park.

The letter also states that the city had earlier said that relocation of the maintenance facility would cost only $2 million. “Now the Council wants to issue bonds for up to $3 million,” the letter says.The letter also said that a public vote on the $3 million “will require transparency from the City if it wants voter approval.”

“The petition forces this City Council to slow down and obtain voter approval of the costs that will result from this transaction.”
Leon-Barber also said that the $2 million estimate was just that — an estimate.

“The city provided approximate costs of the construction of the new Public Works Maintenance Facility on Dincans in its facility master planning brochure that was mailed to every home,” Leon-Barber said. “ As you may recall, 76 percent of the recent survey participants responded that they read this brochure, which included the approximate construction costs. A plurality of respondents indicated that they would prefer City Council to proceed with the property exchange and relocation of the maintenance facility.”

“The approximate figure used to estimate the construction of the new Public Works Maintenance Facility was $2 million. That figure did not include cost of property exchanges with the West University Baptist Church and traffic engineering fees, legal fees and design fees. The $3,050,000 advertised is the sum of all the fees, property costs and the construction of the new facility,” she explained.

Reilly said he did not come up with the idea for the petition, but he is working hard to require a vote. Reilly complained that “there’s been no substantive discussion by the city council” on moving the maintenance facility, which includes a dog pound, to the more expensive site on Dincans.

“We need a public discussion of these issues,” Reilly said. “If we had known about all this back in October (when the council initially approved the long-term plan for city facilities) and they had said ‘We’re going to have a bond vote,” the whole tenor of this debate would have been very different.”

Reilly conceded that the council had hosted two town hall meetings on the long-range master plan, but complained that council members merely listened to residents and did not have “any substantive discussion” about the plan.