• September 22, 2019

Voters won’t have say on city debt - Odessa American: City Of Odessa

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Voters won’t have say on city debt

$93 million will not be taken to bond election

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Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2019 3:30 am

The City Council is pursuing an additional $93 million worth of debt to cover several various capital improvement projects for the city, and wants to set out all the facts for the public to let them know why they are doing so.

Mayor David Turner said the bond council, who oversee the city’s application process for the certificate of obligation they’re pursuing, is currently looking over a PowerPoint made by the city to show facts about issues the city is facing. The reason it has to be looked over is because the presentation can’t be outright for or against pursuing the debt.

“It just has to be the facts, like with a bond election,” Turner said. “It can’t be pro, it can’t be con, you just have to put the facts.”

With this debt issuance, the city is looking at using the money in a number of areas, including building new fire stations, a new animal shelter, renovating parks and improving roadways. Some of these facts involve the number of calls received by Odessa Fire Rescue.

“Probably every three shifts, we run out of ambulances, we also about once a week run out of all the equipment for fire,” Turner said. “One slide actually shows the runs for about eight or nine other cities, including Lubbock, and our EMS guys run more than Lubbock does, they have I think 15 stations.”

Turner said the city is also working on a fact sheet presenting the same information to be published online, but City Manager Michael Marrero said they are still working to finalize the information on the fact sheet.

The City Council can’t have town hall meetings to discuss the debt issuance and hear public feedback, because they aren’t allowed to use city funds for that, but Turner said they will have public sessions at upcoming City Council meetings to discuss how they arrived at pursuing debt and people will be allowed to talk about it.

A certificate of obligation, as opposed to a bond, does not need to be approved through an election, only by the City Council. Interim City Attorney Gary Landers said one reason a City Council might choose to pursue a certificate of obligation is a feeling of urgency.

“As part of that public hearing, you can certainly say ‘here’s why I think this needs to be done now,’” Landers said.

Landers also said when they do vote to finally approve the debt issuance on Aug. 13, council members can say they are going to vote for the debt issuance because they think the capital improvement projects are needed and they’re convinced the city needs to do this.

“I know the public kind of likes to vote on things themselves, but this is pretty complicated, very expensive,” Landers said.

There was some public outcry on social media following news that the debt issuance will affect the property tax rate and may cause it to be raised when the next fiscal year starts Oct. 1. The one way the public could stop the pursuance of debt would be through petitioning. A petition with signatures from at least 5% of registered voters in Odessa, submitted by Aug. 13, would stop the debt issuance.

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