What you should know about Lubbock's road bond election
Lubbockites will once again vote on a road bond package this November. The $200 million package would fund work that’s needed on 22 miles of roads in town.
You might remember that voters rejected a road bond last year. The City of Lubbock tasked a citizens advisory committee with looking at what went wrong last time and coming up with a new package to send to voters.
This will appear on ballots as Proposition A. Voters will choose if they’re for or against the measure that’s stated as: “The issuance of $200,000,000 general obligation bonds for street improvements, and the imposition of taxes sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds.” Early voting starts Oct. 24 and continues through Nov. 4 ahead of Election Day on Nov. 8.
Heather Keister served as the chairperson of the road bond citizens advisory committee. She recently visited the Texas Tech Public Media studio to tell us more about the new road bond package.
This interview has been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.
Sarah Self-Walbrick: To start, just summarize this new road bond package for us. What exactly are people voting on?
Heather Keister: This is a $200 million dollar bond package. It includes new road construction for arterials, which are those large signature streets that we all know. Like, for instance, 50th Street, 82nd Street. Those are arterial. So there are quite a few of those in growing areas of Lubbock.
This package also includes $5 million to pave existing unpaved streets that are in the City of Lubbock in Districts 1 and 2. So there are streets that people live on, drive on every day, that have never been paved. So we've got $5 million dollars for that. And then there's also one neighborhood reconstruction near Dunbar and the Manhattan Heights neighborhood where the maintenance of the street is not possible, the street’s just too far gone. So that's, that's really what makes up the total bond package.
SSW: I want to make sure voters fully understand this road bond. So you can tell us a little bit more about what kind of work this money will pay for?
HK: This money will pay for the design, the right-of-way acquisition and the construction of all of the projects included on the list.
SSW: How does this package compare to last year’s?
HK: There are some projects that are similar to last year's, and then there are some that are a little bit different. The largest difference is that this package does not include Broadway. Broadway was a lightning rod type project included in the last bond that we evaluated, we studied. We spent a lot of time talking about it. And ultimately decided not to include it in this package.
SSW: Can you talk a little bit more about that? I know it came down to, you know, the city is still working on their plans on how to handle Broadway. Can you tell us a little bit more about why y'all decided to not include it this time?
HK: So over the process, we learned a lot about all the work the city has done in regards to preserving our downtown. There's been work done over the last several decades. And as part of that, the city has certain streets in the downtown core that are protected. The way that Broadway is protected, and when I say protected that means protecting the historic brick. For Broadway to be reconstructed, before it's built, city council has to adopt a design by ordinance. That ordinance outlines a full process that has to be taken, where through the process input is given by groups such as the Urban Design Historic Preservation board. And so, as a committee, we didn't feel we had the time to go through that process. We felt that the bigger need is for council to adopt a design so that a project can be clearly identified so that citizens can know what they would be voting on.
SSW: I'm interested to hear more just about how the committee worked. What did y'all look at? And how did y'all come up with your recommendations?
HK: Yes, that was a very interesting process. We started off by asking questions about why we heard the last bond failed. We definitely wanted to address the questions people had in their minds. We also looked at the bond projects that were on that list. And then we did an exercise where we received a ton of information from city staff about different ways that they are investing in our streets today. So, the city has capital improvements projects, we got to hear where all of those are. Lubbock County passed a bond package. There are projects within the city limits, so we wanted to look at those. We know that TxDOT has projects that extend within our city limits.
Then we looked at things like street maintenance, and trying to understand ways that the city invests or protects or prolongs the life of the pavement. So when you look at this, the city street maintenance program, a good strong city has both new roads being constructed and street maintenance. Typically you see street maintenance being done several years after roads are constructed just to prolong the life. And so what you would see generally, if you look at Lubbock, and as it kind of radiates outward, the older areas of town are in the center of town. There's a lot of need there for street maintenance. But the majority of those arterials have already been built out. There's not the need for new arterials to be built in Lubbock’s core as there are in the growing areas of Lubbock. So really what it came down to was, our committee didn't feel that street maintenance should be included in a bond. It shouldn't be debt funded, it should be funded by cash. So it just came down to different needs around the different parts of Lubbock.
SSW: That's really interesting. I tuned into several of the committee meetings, and there really was a lot of work that was put into this. I do want to highlight that the Lubbock City Council chose to pursue this package as y’all suggested. They didn't add or take away any of y’all’s recommendations.
HK: That's right. That was exciting for the committee, you know, after putting in such hard work to have the council, bring it forward to the voters as it was recommended.
SSW: You've kind of said this, but you learned a lot through this process. I don't doubt that. What do you want to share with people about, you know, just some of the knowledge you gained through this process?
HK: The biggest thing that I think is important for people to know is that a lot of people are investing in transportation in our city. There are a lot of dollars being allocated to that. There's not cash in the city budget, to go build new roadways at the dollars that it takes to build a roadway. As a taxpayer, if the city is building up and stockpiling cash, I'm going to ask: “Why can't you lower my tax rate?” So that was one big lesson for me.
I also learned about the different ways that projects are funded and the different types of debt. There's debt that is assessed to the city as a whole through the property tax rate. There's debt that comes from the enterprise fund. It's paid for by user fees. What that means is you pay based on your usage of the system. Whereas we've got projects that benefit the city as a whole, that are funded by the entire tax base. The city budget is very complicated. It's not as simple as I feel like a lot of us think it is. And there's not just a lot of excess cash laying around that. I know, without digging into this process, it would be easy to think that.
SSW: Yeah, it's a lot of complicated things that are happening around our city's budget and how projects like this get funded. You mentioned the impact on homeowners and the average Lubbockite. Talk to me a little bit more about that. What is the projected impact on the average person?
HK: These projects were plugged into the city's financial rate model to understand the impact to the average taxpayer. The average house in Lubbock is about $190,000. Impact to the taxpayer is 2.6 cents, which represents about $16 a year. One thing to note is if you are over 65, and you filed that exemption, this will not impact your tax rate at all.
SSW: What happens next if this is approved? And what if it’s not?
HK: If this measure is approved, the city is taking steps to hit the ground running. They want to show progress quickly, to thank the voters for the confidence that's shown in them. They have already started work to figure out how they'll attack these, they'll go acquire right-of-way all upfront. They'll get some of the design contracts underway, and then they'll start making plans for things like the unpaved roads and the neighborhood reconstructions.
If the bond does not pass, then the city is not allowed to issue debt to tackle any of the projects on this list. So one thing I've heard from people is, they'll say, “Well, we'll just vote this down and the city will just fund it.” They will not be able to, by law. They're not allowed to fund it using debt if this measure fails.
SSW: What's your message to someone who opposes the bond?
HK: I, first, appreciate anyone who takes an interest to educate themselves. We know not everyone is in support of everything the city does. That's another thing I learned through this process – our city is very diverse. Not everyone has the same needs. So, it's impossible for the city council to put out projects and expenditures that make every single person happy.
We've heard people say, “I don't drive on any of these roads, therefore, I'm not for it.” As the committee, we had a cross-section of the community covered. Every committee member was selected from a city council district. I thought it was really neat for people who live, say, in District 1 to be pointing out projects in District 5 that they know are absolutely essential. What I hope you see is a list of projects that the entire city can get behind. They can understand that these are truly needs, not wants, and that they benefit the city as a whole. Hopefully they can get on board.
I would also ask, if there's something completely separate from the road bond that is the reason that you are maybe opposing this bond, to give them a chance to respond. Ask your city council person about that topic and don't tie these two together without a conversation.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.
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