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Group wants voters’ say on bonds

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

Petition drive seeks to put convention center proposal on ballot

Denton residents will be hitting the streets with a signature-gathering drive to get another local issue on an election ballot.

This time, the issue involves the sale of bonds to finance a proposed convention center on land near Apogee Stadium.

A local political action committee, Citizens for Sound Growth, met this week and laid out plans to collect the signatures needed to put the measure before voters. The group first formed in the 1990s to defeat a proposition for a half-cent sales tax for economic development.

“We got the old gang together, and some new folks,” said Mike Cochran. “Everybody’s really pumped.”

Cochran, a longtime Denton resident and former City Council member, said the group will file the necessary paperwork for a specific-purpose committee and that Elinor Hughes will serve as campaign treasurer.

The group is focusing on making sure Denton voters have a say about the financing, said Cochran. He helped organize a recent community forum that drew project supporters and skeptics.

State law allows cities to issue certificates of obligation to pay for capital projects when general obligation bonds prove cumbersome.

“They ask us to vote on sewer pipes and parks,” Cochran said, referring to the $98.2 million bond election scheduled for November. “Most of us just want to make sure the process is fair and it goes to a vote.”

It’s unlikely this latest proposition would show up on the already proposition-heavy November ballot. But it could complicate the city’s plans for providing for the building’s construction. The city is already considering bids from contractors.

The committee won’t be gathering signatures under the city charter, as another group of residents did in order to get an initiative banning hydraulic fracturing on the ballot. Instead, the committee’s petition will be circulated under provisions made in state law, similar to the proposition to make Denton wet.

City leaders have said they plan on issuing about $25 million in certificates of obligation to construct and outfit the convention center. The Texas Local Government Code says the city cannot issue the certificates if it is presented with a petition signed by 5 percent of the city’s qualified voters.

In order to block the sale of the certificates, however, the committee has its work cut out.

Organizers for the petition to ban fracking had six months to gather a minimum of about 600 signatures. Organizers for the local option election hired a specialized firm with professional canvassers to gather about 7,000 signatures in about two months’ time.

Citizens for Sound Growth will have to produce about 3,000 signatures in just a few weeks once the city formally announces its intention to issue the certificates. State law requires only that the city publish notices in the newspaper for two consecutive weeks before it can put the certificates out for sale.

Cochran said the group isn’t worried about the time frame, particularly since the city is still reviewing the construction bids. The city had tentatively scheduled the construction contracts for consideration last month but delayed the item.

According to documents obtained in an open records request, the city received six bids ranging from $24.5 million to $31.2 million to build the convention center. Furnishings were not part of the bids.

The Denton Chamber of Commerce sent an email to its members this week, urging them to contact the City Council and lend their support for the project.

The chamber and the Denton Convention and Visitors Bureau have long advocated the project, saying that Denton has lost a significant amount of convention business because it lacks adequate facilities.

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