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Council OKs $90 million bond election for boardwalk, mobility projects

Friday, August 6, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

The City Council on Thursday called for a $90 million November bond referendum that would pay for an eastward extension of the Lady Bird Lake boardwalk, along with a list of other mobility projects.


City officials have made it clear that this bond election is a precursor to a larger, comprehensive package they anticipate taking to voters in 2012.


“I know that we have taken a long time getting here considering calling this election,” Council Member Sheryl Cole said before the vote, which had been slated for consent-agenda action before she asked that it be pulled. “I know that there was a point Mayor Leffingwell and I were supposed to arm wrestle….”


The Council directed staff in March to develop a bond package for November. The following month, Cole and two other Council members — Bill Spelman and Laura Morrison — questioned the timing of the election, after learning that average property values had dropped. That drop would impact the city’s bonding capacity — in short, the maximum amount in bonds the city can issue — at the current tax rate. The members asked for additional financial information before making a decision, and that information was presented at last week’s Council meeting.


If voters approve the proposal, the city would not have to increase the property tax rate to pay the associated debt, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Greg Canally told In Fact Daily. Leffingwell said during the meeting that the city did not propose a larger bond referendum because of plans for the broader — and costlier — proposal in two years.


Leffingwell said the city must make as much progress as it can as soon as it can, which is why officials supported a November referendum.


“Putting it off for two years just delays the solution to the problem,” he told In Fact Daily. “We have the bonding capacity now. We might as well identify the projects and get to work.”


Thursday’s package, which was endorsed by a nine-member Citizens Task Force and is slated for the Nov. 2 ballot, includes a mix of short-term transportation projects and long-term design and engineering projects that would prepare the city to move forward when future funding is available. The package has about 45 projects, including interim improvements to the Oak Hill Y, Third Street reconstruction, traffic flow improvements on US 183 between US 290 and SH 71 and sidewalk improvements on Burnet and Manchaca roads and on Brodie Lane.

Perhaps the most talked-about of the proposed items was the boardwalk project, which will cost an estimated $17 million. The Trail Foundation is planning to raise $3 million to contribute to the cost. At one point during the process, there was discussion about splitting the project it into two phases and financing the second phase with 2012 bonds.


In the end, Council Member Laura Morrison told the audience on Thursday, it was decided that the best approach would be to fund it all in the upcoming proposal, which she supported.


“It became clear that that’s not really a pragmatic approach to divide the two phases between bond elections because of the reality of fundraising, that the fundraising needs to have the commitment of the city to be maximally effective, so it wouldn’t merely just put it off to 2012, say, but it would really defer it a couple more years, which I don’t find to be a good situation,” Morrison said.


Leffingwell said the proposal going to voters in November could be considered a local stimulus package.


“This package, in large part, is going to go to our local small business construction companies,” he said. “And we’re going to spend it very rapidly. We set a goal that these projects would all be underway within two years.”


Typically, bond projects are completed over a span of years.


The bond package was developed as part of the city’s strategic mobility plan, which was created with public input and is a tool that leaders consult when deciding the projects in which they should invest. Some of the factors considered when developing the bond proposal include cost-effectiveness, environmental impact, safety, sustainability, speed of project delivery, and severity of the mobility issue.

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