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City approves bond projects in narrow vote

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

The idea of purchasing nearly $5 million in certificates of obligation (COs) this year left the Lockhart City Council divided during their regular meeting on Tuesday evening.

During the budget process for the current fiscal year, the council approved in theory the purchase of COs to fund drainage and street repairs, to

help build a new animal shelter and to purchase a new fire truck for the Lockhart Fire Department. Because a substantial amount of outstanding bond debt will “fall off” the city’s budget this year, the council felt the purchase of the COs this year would have limited impact on tax rates.

However, as the national and global economy continues what some experts call a free fall, some members of the council reevaluated their positions on Tuesday evening.

“Although I support all the projects listed, I have to vote against [issuing the certificates of obligation],” Mayor Pro Tem Frank Estrada said. “We are moving into uncharted territory and we don’t know the length of the recession. The timing is just not right for me.”
Councilmember Paul Gomez shared Estrada’s concerns.

“The economy in Texas looks okay right now, but I subscribe to the domino theory,” he said. “We’re going to be the last domino to fall, and we’re going to be the last one to get back up – and we don’t know how long that’s going to take.”

In addition to the projects approved during the budget process, the 2009 Issue Certificates of Obligation would also cover the renovation and restoration of the second and third floors of the Masonic Building, adding to the usefulness of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex. That project, more than others, caused Councilmember Kenny Roland to waver on the CO measure.

“I support the library project, but I think with things being the way they are now, I can’t go to my constituents and say, ‘we have the Masonic Building,’” he said. “I’d rather we focus our attention on the Industrial Park, and maybe build a building out there that we can rent or sell, so I can tell them, ‘this is what we’re doing to bring business to town.’”

Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram reminded the council that during the budget approval process, they agreed that the list of projects were “needs” rather than “wants,” and said the council should stand behind their earlier decision.

“We can’t be ruled by fear, and we have to be optimistic and forward-thinking,” he said Wednesday morning. “If we decided not to issue the COs now, yes, our tax rate will go down for next year. But then later, when we move forward with the projects, that council is going to have to explain to the taxpayers why their [interest and sinking] tax rate is going from 6 cents up to 13.”

The CO purchase was approved by a 4-3 vote, with the caveat that in the future, some of the repayment will be diverted from hotel-motel tax funds currently distributed to several local tourism organizations.

In other business, the council heard a presentation from members of On-A-Roll regarding the construction of the Lockhart Public Skatepark. To help supplement the organizations fundraising and the funds currently earmarked by the city, City Manager Vance Rodgers was authorized to move forward in applying for a grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority to offset construction costs. Councilmember Richard Banks voted against the measure as what he called a “matter of consistency.” Banks voted in the past against assigning city assets to the project, saying this was the wrong time for such a project.
In brief news:

The council continues to grapple with the city’s sign ordinance. Although changes to the ordinance were presented to the council last month and brought forward on Tuesday for approval, councilmembers expressed concern that further fine-tuning was necessary before they could approve the ordinance. City Planner Dan Gibson will look into additional revisions and bring the measure back to council in March.

Rodgers presented information about sidewalk inventory and a cooperative effort with the Lockhart Independent School District to enhance the community’s sidewalks through a Safe Routes to School grant.

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