High five for voters in Buda’s first bond election

By Moses Leos III

Buda voters are being asked the vote on five propositions totaling $55 million this November. 

On Aug. 12, the Buda City Council voted 7-0 to officially call a bond election on Nov. 4. It’s now up to the public to decide what should be funded by Buda’s first ever bond election. 

“I don’t think (the city council) would agree to put something on there that we didn’t believe we needed,” Mayor Todd Ruge said. “We are taxpayers, too. We have a vote on this. This affects our bottom line as well.”   

It comes after Gap Strategies, Buda’s bond counsel, spent several months prioritizing nearly $100 million in city projects scattered across seven plans.

Helping Gap was the Buda Bond Advisory Committee. The 12-person committee assisted in whittling down what was needed in the bond package. 

Jeff Barton, principal at Gap Strategies, commended the BBAC for honing in on the city’s critical issues. 

“They were a really quality group of folks who tried to set aside personal prejudices about what was the most important project, and what would be best for Buda as a whole,” Barton said. 

According to the BBAC, Buda’s main issues were threefold – facilities, basic infrastructure and parks and trails. 

Public feedback facilitated decisions –  including feedback from surveys and public input meetings. 

“A few things that were paramount, such as public involvement, were high in the minds for the committee as well,” Barton said. 

Barton said Gap was open-minded to the idea of five propositions; however, feelings were mixed within the BBAC. 

Public input played a strong role in the decision to split the ballot. Clearing up language set by the Attorney General was a factor as well. 

“It was an easy decision to break those up into propositions that voters could assess independently and vote on separately,” Barton said.

Easing the burden on taxpayers was also a critical issue. With a starting point of $30 million, the cost of the bond grew to its current price. 

With property values rising in Buda, Barton said a bond of $55 million could be done for “what people estimated would cost $30 million.” 

What could the bond cost taxpayers, if it all passes? 

Barton said the average priced home would cost taxpayers roughly $20 to $30 more per month. 

It was done with a conservative view in mind, with the idea of growth slowing in the area. 

“If Buda grows as it has over the last five years, the tax increase would be much smaller,” Barton said. “New businesses and new homeowners, they assume part of that burden, reducing implications for everyone else.”

The increasing price of the bond wasn’t a surprise to Ruge. The council’s original threshold of $30 million focused on facilities only. The council realized after that initial figure was presented that they needed to include much more. 

“I’m not surprised that it escalated,” Ruge said. “It’s a fair assessment of what the city needs to grow.” 

There are some question marks associated with Buda’s first bond. One could be voter fatigue, not only with the five propositions at hand, but also with a ballot filled with local and state political races. 

Barton said it’s up to voters to “do their homework” and judge accordingly. 

“We are going to rely on voters to judge propositions independently,” he said. “They weren’t drawn out of the back pocket of someone’s jeans that night. They have serious studies behind them.”

 

So what's going in the bond?

Five propositions make up the Buda bond. Within Proposition I is a proposed $21 million facility housing a new city hall, a state-of-the art library and a new municipal court building. This facility, designed by Wiginton Hooker-Jeffry, is part of the Facilities Master Plan. 

Along similar lines is Proposition II, which features a new police department and other emergency service buildings. 

However, committee members had concerns about co-locating the two buildings. Combining the two facilities was the original plan. 

Two-thirds of the majority expressed disinterest, prompting Gap Strategies to suggest splitting the facilities projects.  

All committee members agreed that the city had outgrown its current structures. 

“[Buda’s] facilities were built when the city was a small, sleepy general law city,” Jeff Barton, principal at Gap Strategies said. “We have grown exponentially (since then).” 

Propositions III and IV will split up roughly $19 million for infrastructure projects. The two propositions were to be combined. However, they had to be separated, as several drainage projects were not related to roadways. According to guidance from the Attorney General’s office, items within propositions should be connected. 

Road projects in Proposition III include the widening of Main Street, improving the Main Street and RM 967 intersection and repairing Old Goforth Road near Tom Green Elementary. 

Drainage projects will make up the fourth proposition. It covers several flood prone areas that were hit hardest by the 2013 Halloween Floods. They include the area near the Emergency Service District No. 8 Fire Station on FM 2770, Bluff Street and Lifschutz headwaters. 

Prioritization became a critical aspect for III and IV. Barton said a higher focus was taken toward problem areas. 

The final proposition features trail and park improvements. Voters will be asked to decide on the city’s expansion of City Park, along with the $2.5 million in additional trail development, which includes the Bradfield Trail project.

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