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City prepares for 2014 bond election

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

The Denton City Council is expected to assemble a 50-member committee next month whose charge would be to plan the city’s next bond election.

Tentatively scheduled for November 2014, the bond election could propose taxpayers agree to between $30 million to $50 million for five years’ worth of construction projects.

The council met in a two-and-a-half-hour session over lunch Monday as city department heads presented their priorities for capital improvement projects.

The department heads identified a decade’s worth of city needs, ranging from street reconstruction and intersection realignments to new library branches and parks. They submitted a master list to the City Council, marking about $141.1 million for the first half of the next decade and another $161.7 million for the second half.

In addition to multimillion-dollar projects for streets and drainage, the parks department had some high-ticket items, including replacing or remodeling the Goldfield Tennis Center, renovating Civic Center pool and expanding the North Lakes Recreation Center and Water Works Park.

Parks Director Emerson Vorel said that the city’s water park turned 10 years old this year and has not added any new features, unlike other water parks that add or change features every few years.

As a result, after children reach about 8 to 10 years of age, they lose interest in the park and want to go to other water parks in the region, Vorel said. After surveying users, the park staff learned that adding a wave pool would both attract teens to the park and provide parents a way to be in the water together with their younger children.

The city staff also recommended that the city contract for a space study, to determine the need for a new municipal complex.

After the presentations, the council decided on two things they want to see in the next bond election: continuing to pay for about $4 million in street reconstruction each year and for the overhaul of the city’s fire stations.

Although that represented about $19 million in spending, the committee would be free to consider many of the other department priorities. The committee would also be free to consider priorities brought forward by members of the City Council or other Denton residents.

To that end, Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp asked that the staff prepare cost estimates for a downtown parking garage, so that it could be fully considered by the committee.

When residents suggested that a new animal shelter be on the last general bond election, the committee didn’t consider it because it didn’t have good estimates in time, according to Mayor Mark Burroughs, who was on the committee at the time.

Council member Kevin Roden also suggested that, in order to give any resident’s suggestion its fullest possible consideration, including needed cost estimates, the city ought to publish the list of proposed projects and give residents a deadline to submit their suggestions.

The council also looked at scenarios to pay for the projects, which included a range of options from no debt tax rate increase to a 2 cent increase.

More options came in the timing of the bond issuances themselves. Yet another option — to stop paying for new vehicles with certificates of obligation and instead identify another program to pay for them — appeared to gain no traction with the council.

In all, the scenarios showed how the city could provide for between $30 million and $50 million in bond money.

City Manager George Campbell told the council he didn’t recommend pursuing a construction course that required a 2 cent tax increase to pay for it, although the council agreed that it wouldn’t charge the committee to stay under a certain threshold.

“It’s better if they wrestle with that tax issue themselves,” Burroughs said.

The city already plans a 1 cent tax increase for operations in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.