by ANDY SEVILLA
The Kyle City Council chambers filled with applause and cheers Tuesday night after council members unanimously voted to move forward with a road bond election that would reconstruct Bunton, Burleson, Goforth and Lehman Roads, while also extending Marketplace Avenue.
These five roads were identified as priority projects in a 2012 city visioning process.
“I almost want to cry I’m so happy,” said Mayor Lucy Johnson of the council’s unanimous decision to move forward with a road bond package addressing all five roads. “As many of you know, I’ve been trying to work on getting a capital improvement plan for the city for a very long time and I’m just really happy that we’re at this point … I couldn’t be more thrilled and happy that we’re moving forward.”
For several months, council members have been strategizing and deliberating on a bond package that would improve several city roads in disrepair, though the point of contention on council has been how many roads to move forward with, considering costs and taxing implications.
A majority of council have in past discussions seemed inclined to forgo Kyle residents’ recommendation to move forward with improvements to the five roads identified as priority, instead leaning toward a compromise that would have provided for the engineering of all five roads, but only reconstruction of three.
In an aboutface, however, Council Member Brad Pickett motioned to put all five roads in a $35.3 million bond package before voter in May.
“I do have some concerns about the costs, especially for our fixed income citizens, which we do have a sizeable amount of those, and how this affects them, but we do need to let the citizens speak and this is the best way to do it,” Pickett said.
At full bond sale, the cost of the proposal is estimated to increase the tax rate by $0.2075 per $100 of assessed property valuation, or an increase of $260 on the average Kyle home valued at $125,097.
Kyle’s current tax rate is $0.5244 per $100 of assessed property valuation, and if the road bond package is approved by voters, residents could see a tax rate of $0.7319 per $100 of assessed property valuation in as soon as six years, if the present tax rate does not increase, according to the city’s proposed timeline of construction.
“There’s going to be a time when you’re not judged by taxing your citizens,” mobility committee member Joe Bacon told council members. “You’re going to be judged by what you didn’t do for your citizens, by what responsibilities you didn’t take care of.”
Council Member Ray Bryant, who seconded Pickett’s motion, also shocked the audience when he voiced support for a bond package improving all five roads.
“As I listened to the people in here, you have convinced me. I didn’t think it was possible, because I’ve stood my ground, but you have convinced me,” Bryant told the audience of his support for the bond package.
But Bryant, who has consistently voiced dissent for a bond election addressing all five roads because of the associated costs, tax implications and impending city expenses, said that those concerns remain despite his newly found support for the project. Bryant said the water and wastewater rates are expected to increase next fiscal year, the Austin Community College tax is set to begin, the wastewater treatment plant’s imminent expansion and the fast approaching Lone Star Rail are among a plethora of other city expenses that concern him.
“I hear you and (I have) listened very intently,” Bryant said. “So I really believe that you have made a decision that given all the things I’ve named, that you’re willing to stop kicking the can down the road, and to bite the bullet, and to take care of Kyle and make it the place that we all know it can be. You have convinced me, and my vote will be to vote for the five roads.”
The city’s mobility committee held two public information sessions detailing the priority options council was considering for a road bond package – engineering and reconstruction all five roads; and engineering all five roads and reconstructing three – on Jan. 19 and Jan. 26. At those meetings, residents in attendance were provided with abundant information on costs, taxes, proposed roads and proposed bonds, as well as with a survey allowing for feedback.
Bacon presented council members with survey results illustrating that the majority of respondents preferred the improvement of all five roads. Only one resident who took the survey preferred the reconstruction of only three roads, meanwhile two respondents prefered neither option. About 19 respondents did not identify a preference.
“We have to listen to what people say, the surveys have come in, we heard you speak, committees have worked on it very carefully and I’m hearing that we need to step up to the plate and give it to the citizens for a vote, and it may well be known, but let’s hear what people have to say,” said Council Member David Wilson.
But the uncertainty of what people may say at the ballot box causes a little alarm for a council member who has advised the need for a secondary arrangement.
“I do caution council,” said Council Member Samantha Bellows-LeMense. “Because the greatest concern is not that it goes to the ballot and passes, my greatest concern is it goes to the ballot and fails. So I do urge us to start thinking of a Plan B, because we don’t have one. I’m completely okay with allowing the citizens to use their voice and tell us what they want, but if they say ‘no,’ we need to have something in the back that we can pull out, because we do need roads, we do need this infrastructure.”
Now that council members have unanimously directed staff to formulate an ordinance calling for a $35.3 million road bond election, at their Feb. 5 meeting they will take the matter up on first reading. Two positive council votes will be necessary for the bond election to be called.
City Attorney Julian Grant said the election must be called by March 1.
“As a council we’re ready to bring this to the voters, and it’s well past due for a lot of these roads to be fixed, and they are dangerous and it is a hazard to our citizens and noone should have to drive on them,” Johnson said.