by Walker County News Today staff
Deteriorating, corroded, non-compliant, aging, inadequate, cramped, inefficient, inconvenient.
City facilities on the ballot for a bond issue this November were characterized as such by City Manager Matt Benoit during the State of the City address at the Walker County Storm Shelter this past Tuesday evening.
The $128 million upcoming bond election dominated Benoit’s presentation. Two thirds of the hour-long PowerPoint was devoted to explaining the city’s infrastructure and facilities needs and why the answer to those needs is for the city to take on up to 30 years of debt.
Benoit explained the three ballot propositions to the approximately 200 citizens and city staff in attendance.
The first proposition is for public safety facilities, specifically a new combined police and fire station not to exceed $31 million. The second is for city services facilities to include renovations and additions to the current city hall as well as a new city service center not to exceed $24 million. The third is for waterworks and sewer projects targeting problems with the A.J. Brown and N.B. Davidson wastewater treatment plants and the Palm Street water pump station not to exceed $73 million.
Voters will be asked to vote up or down on each proposition separately.
The audience viewed photos of the existing facilities the city wishes to replace as Benoit talked of the deplorable condition of these facilities, noting that in his view most of the structures were beyond repair and maintenance and must be replaced.
At the end of the presentation, Benoit said he would not be fielding questions from the audience but offered some of his own questions concerning the bond. “128 million! I don’t blame any one of you for saying that is a staggeringly huge number. How are we going to pay for this?”
Benoit answered his question by emphasizing first that the city council is on record saying, “No increase in taxes. No increase in utility rates.” He explained that the debt service could be covered by debt rolling off and additional revenue coming in not from property taxes and not from utility rate customers. However, he did not offer any figures or elaborate on what that would actually entail.
In fact, at an August workshop when Ward Three Councilman Ronnie Allen asked how much debt was retiring, Benoit said he did not have that figure readily available, and At-Large Councilman Don Johnson told Allen that his question was irrelevant. Also, at a recent candidate forum where Johnson gave a short presentation on the bond issue, two audience members asked specifically how much debt was rolling off and how much debt service would be freed up. Johnson answered that he didn’t have that information.
In wrapping up the State of the City address Benoit said, “We are four weeks out from this bond election, and, dare I say, it’s quiet. It is really, really, really, quiet.” He then urged everyone to engage a friend, neighbor or even a stranger in conversation stressing the importance of the bond election.
For further information from the City of Huntsville concerning the bond election visit the City of Huntsville website: www.huntsvilletx.gov.