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Council to eye $17m bond package

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

Capitalizing on what experts call “the perfect storm of financial conditions,” the Lockhart City Council is preparing to take a giant leap forward in infrastructure development in 2015, based on the introduction of a $17 million certificate-of-obligation package

The package, which will require

a series of public hearings, but not a bond election, is intended to complete several road and drainage projects, including easing drainage problems in the Richland Drive area and outside the flood plain in District Two near Wichita Street and Vega.

Additionally, plans are included to pave several streets, including Maple Street where it connects SH 130 and City Line Road, and Patton Street between Center Street and State Park Road. The City also plans to enhance water and wastewater infrastructure in the Centerpoint area, near the intersection of SH130 and Highway 142, in advance of pending development in the area.

Several quality-of-life projects are also included, including adding a playscape at Pecos Street Park, constructing a community building at Lockhart City Park, and beginning construction on the Sustainable Places Project to add pedestrian mobility and safety to the Caldwell County Courthouse Square.

According to Finance Director Jeff Hinson, now is the perfect time to embrace the certificate of obligation project, because the rates are low and the market is competitive for investors who are looking for municipal bonds.

Further, he said, a large portion of the City’s unemcumbered debt payments will “fall off” in the 2016 fiscal year, opening up the cash flow that will be needed to pay for the projects, without an increase in utility rates, and only a one- to one-and-a-half-cent increase in taxes, if that.

“Investors are hungry for this kind of municipal bond,” Hinson said. “And if we decide to move forward, we don’t have to fund the full $17 million. It’s written as ‘up to $17 million,’ in case we need it.”

Hinson also said the city would continue to be in a safe financial position, and was eligible for borrowing up to $30 million, based on interest rates, cash flow, and the city’s current bond rating.

“The staff has done a great job with high priority plans and sound financial planning,” City Manager Vance Rodgers said. “We have not had to raise water, sewer or electric rates, on our end – the delivery end – for more than six years. We have a lot of flexibility for new projects at these lower costs.”

Although the council could not approve the project officially on Tuesday evening, they unanimously instructed staff to prepare a “Resolution of Intent,” which will be brought forward at their Feb. 3, 2015 meeting and allow the staff to move forward with setting public hearings to prepare to acquire the certificates of obligation.

If the project moves forward, the City could receive funding and move forward on the projects as early as mid-March.

In other business, the Council engaged in somber discussion about the vacancy at the table left by the unexpected death of At Large Councilmember Kenny Roland last week.

Although the council was loathe to move forward quickly out of respect for Roland’s memory, and his family’s emotions, State election laws and the City Charter’s own rules spelled out a need for action.

According to City Secretary and Elections Official Connie Constancio, two options are available for a special election to fill the seat, including holding a special election in late March, or waiting until the State’s uniform Election Day on May 9.

Holding the election in March, Constancio said, would allow the City to wait to open the filing period, but would require requesting a waiver from the Department of Justice to hold the election on a non-uniform election day.

On the other hand, waiting until May and joining the election with two elections already scheduled in Caldwell County, meant the City would have to open filing immediately, with packets being available for pickup as early as Jan. 28.

“I don’t want to rush it, and I’m doing it with a sad heart, but the Secretary of State had the calendar set out last June for the May 9 election,” Constancio said.

City Attorney Peter Gruning agreed, noting he would, and did, miss Roland terribly, but reminding the council they were locked in by the State’s timeline.

The filing period laid out by the Secretary of State is open from Jan. 28 – Feb. 28, 2015. Packets for those interested in running in the special election can be picked up at Lockhart City Hall.

Additional information about the election will be printed as it becomes available.

Finally, the council entered a unanimous vote to approve the hiring of a new fire chief, Joe A. Gorman who will take office on Feb. 1, 2015, after the Jan. 31, 2015 retirement of longtime Fire Chief Jerry Doyle.

Gorman, a former fire chief from Texas City, has been an independent consultant for a time, but has experience and education as a fire fighter, and an officer.

The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library. The meetings are open to the public and broadcast on Time Warner Cable Channel 10.

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