Speakers At Council Meeting Focused On Bond Election; Two For, Two Against
Monday night’s West U. City Council meeting focused mainly on the upcoming $13.8 million parks bond election, with two speakers supporting the bond, two speakers against, and Councilman Michael Talianchich debating the accuracy of the estimated affect on taxpayers.
At one point during the meeting, anti-bond resident Joe Foster, standing in the isle after speaking and waiting to speak again, was asked by Mayor Bob Kelly to sit until it was his turn to speak again. Foster initially refused, saying he would not sit until he had a chance to “rebut your diatribe.” Foster eventually sat, after pointing out that Chief of Police Ken Walker was standing. Kelly said council allowed police officers to stand.
Resident Ed Heathcott, a member of the board of directors of the Harris County Appraisal District, and resident Dick Yehle spoke in favor of the bond. Residents Susan Ohsfeldt and Joe foster spoke against it.
“As a kid I swam in the swimming pool at Colonial Park,” said Heathcott. “When I was a kid I didn’t know where that pool came from, I just appreciated it being there and had a lot of fun being there. I can certainly see that the facilities are 60 years old and that they really need to be replaced. These are uncertain times that we are in right now financially I think t is important that council is giving the leadership to look beyond what is happening today to provide the amenities the city will need down the road. I personally will probably not use that pool, but I support paying the taxes on that.”
Resident Susan Ohsfeldt said that it was her understanding that council had dismissed the idea that the facilities, specifically the Colonial Park Pool and the West U. Recreation Center, should be renovated rather than replaced. She indicated she believes the estimates for new pools were high, and that the expenditure for a new pool cover was extreme.
“That seems way out of line,” said Ohsfeldt.
She also expressed her opinion that due to the current economic situation of the country, and the effects of Hurricane Ike, the projects will inevitably cost more than the original $13.8 estimate. She told council additionally that she did not think it was the city’s role to provide a day care operation, which she believes is included in the proposal for the Rec. Center.
Parks and recreation Director Tim O’Conner told council that the city did not provide day care, but provided a room where day care could be provided through arrangements made by the instructors of specific classes. The room designated for child care at the proposed Rec. Center, he said, would be a multi-purpose room that could be used for what he called baby-sitting when needed. Currently, he said, instructors of classes such as Jazzercise at the Community Center, provide a baby-sitting service for participants of the class. The service is not provided by the city.
Resident Dick Yehle said he thought there was general accord within the city as to the fact that the current facilities are inadequate, but there is a disagreement over the solution to that issue and how much money should be spent.
“Detractors make their point my selectively interpreting what was, in my opinion, a poorly designed survey,” said Yehle. “And then using emotive terms like ‘Taj Mahal’ to suggest that tax dollars are bring wasted on this. Proponents, at the same time, point to years of surveys and consultant reports to define what is needed and what is affordable. And then we have the debate on replacement versus renovation.”
Yehle went on to say that a failure to provide the two pools and facilities would result in a reduction of city services. He also cited a “woeful shortage of indoor space,” which also results in a reduction of services.
“As I see it the problem is some people believe their needs can be met by modest refinement, preferably at Colonial Park,” said Yehle. “But when you take that view you kind of forget that there are space restrictions at Colonial Park, there are parking restrictions at Colonial Park, and that everything can’t be there.”
Speaking against the bond, Foster asked Kelly if he still believed that $6 or $7 dollars a month was an accurate reflection of the average taxpayer’s burden to retire the debt. Kelly said he did.
“I consider $6 or $7 dollars to be ludicrous,” said Foster. “It’s not right, it’s wrong, and I won’t accuse you of using that number artificially, but it is absolutely wrong.”
Retiring Financial Director Walter Thomas came to the podium, and engaged in a conversation with Councilman Michael Talianchich, a councilmember historically against the $13.8 million bond proposal, and who says the numbers being put forth by council are not accurate.
Talianchich says the estimated tax increase, about $70 per year on a $700,000 home, which is based on an estimated 3 percent per year raise in property values, is inaccurate because it assumes an increase rather than a decrease in property values.
Thomas agreed that his projections included an estimated increase. Kelly asked Thomas a series of questions, in a style similar to that of an attorney questioning a witness, concerning his experience as a finance director of municipalities and his 13-year experience with the city of West U.
Thomas told council that the process used to estimate the cost to taxpayers of this bond election, if approved, is a standard procedure used in many cities. He also said that in his 13 years with the city, property values had never decreased. City Manger Michael Ross told council that property values had not decreased in the city in 20 years, and average an 8 percent gain yearly.
Talianchich told Thomas that he respects his work, but questions an assumed property value increase. Talianchich says the real burden on taxpayers will be closer to $11 per month rather than $7 per month.