It is probably one of the worst kept secrets in Odessa that, as your Mayor, I am completely opposed to using the loophole in Texas law that allows cities to issue massive amounts of debt without taxpayer approval. Fighting against the abusive nature of certificates of obligation – COs – was a major element of my recent mayoral election campaign.
However, my vote NO in the upcoming Tuesday city council meeting has as much to do with the incomplete job Odessa city management has done in defining the need and the uses for this new $100,000,000 debt package as it does with my unwillingness to saddle Odessa taxpayers with additional massive debt that can only result in sharply higher tax bills and water rates.
After numerous workshops and sessions, Odessa city management has yet to present a clearly defined plan for the improvements that are needed by our water treatment plant. In fact, the engineering for the plant improvements is still incomplete despite having had over $14 million allocated to the project by the Odessa City Manager, Michael Marrero. No scope of work has been defined, no bids have been solicited, and no solid budget estimates have been provided to the Odessa City Council by city staff.
Despite all of the things we don’t yet know or understand about the needed improvements and repairs to the Odessa water treatment plant, City Manager Marrero continues to push the City Council for a quick vote on this debt package despite the tens of millions of dollars of unused funds still left unspent in the 2019 $93,000,000 debt issuance.
In fact, until just months ago, the City of Odessa had over $25 million left unspent from the $51 million debt package issued in 2013. Due to poor city management taxpayers paid seven years of interest on over $25 million while it set idling in a city account. This debt, like the currently proposed debt, was issued via certificates of obligation which were established by the Texas legislature to help respond to urgent emergencies such as natural disasters. Waiting over seven years to even begin projects hardly constitutes an emergency in my mind.
This, in addition to the tens of millions of dollars the city has received and will continue to receive from the Pioneer water sell agreement, provides the city more than ample resources to complete planning on the water system improvements, develop a realistic budget for the work, look at existing and projected future sources of revenue and, if necessary, seek voter approval for additional funding for the needed repairs. I see no need to begin the interest clock (over the life of the proposed COs taxpayers will spend over $33 million in interest alone) until we have a real understanding of our needs, and we have solid budget numbers for the repairs.
I suspect that the Odessa city manager’s desire to rush through another debt package has more to do with his fear of losing his ability to push through future massive debt packages should the composition of the city council change in the next election than it does in any real belief that repairs to our water treatment plant constitute an emergency that requires the immediate issuance of taxpayer debt.
The bottom line? As your Mayor, I will be voting NO on this debt package and I would urge every taxpayer and Odessa water user to contact your city council member and demand that they join me in ensuring that we don’t issue debt without a plan, without a budget, and without voter approval. Should this debt package be passed you can be sure that your taxes and your water bill are going to increase.