Somewhat mixed views on bonds

November 4, 2011  

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Nearly 800 acres of new parkland would be acquired on the Pedernales River to connect Milton Reimers Ranch Park and Hamilton Pool Preserve.

by Ann Fowler

OAK HILL -   Early voting is currently underway for the November 8 election that includes two Travis County bond proposals seeking $215 million. Property taxes will fund the county’s general obligation bonds over the next 20 years. Early voting will continue through Friday, November 4.

Proposition 1 asks for $132 million in bond money for various road-related projects throughout the county. That amount was whittled down from $465 million in road improvements initially identified.

Proposition 2 seeks $82 million to construct, improve or purchase county parks or open space parkland. Both short- and long-term investments are involved, with sizable investments made to purchase large tracts in the Onion Creek and Pedernales River areas.

A home valued at $270,000 translates to increased property taxes of $6.50 a year in 2013 for Proposition 1, with that amount rising to $132 a year by 2019; for Proposition 2 the added tax is more than $16 annually for 20 years.

With a price tag attached to the bonds, it is natural for voters who are being asked to shoulder some of the burden to ask, “What’s in it for me?”

Oak Hill gets little directly in the way of bond funds.

Proposition 1 includes two small local projects. Granada Hills would get sidewalks for a portion of El Rey Boulevard: 3700 feet of sidewalk from U.S. 290 West to Espanola. Granada Hills resident Rick Perkins lobbied hard to get this project included in the bond package.

Said Perkins: “I think that most of the Travis County citizens didn’t know that the County formed the Citizens Bond Task Force. The entire Task Force met for what seemed to be about 20 times back in the May to July timeframe. I attended about 8 of those meetings. When I realized that literally “no one” was proposing any County Bond money go to our side of town, I attempted to have the following projects put into the Bond package: Southwest County District Park, FM 1826 improvements, FM 1826 sidewalks; El Rey sidewalks; SH45 SW.”

Initially the bond committee agreed to put the El Rey sidewalks into the bond package, but they were later removed. “I had to go to both the Commissioners Court and back to the Citizens Bond Committee Task Force at their last meeting, show the photo of [a] lady pushing her babies down the street, and they voted to put it back in the package,” he said.

A project at Circle Drive/Spring Valley Road at U.S. 290 West would see an intersection realignment, with the Texas Department of Transportation adding $150,000 for a traffic signal to diminish the number of accidents that occur there. (Note: The northern Circle Drive/U.S. 290 West intersection is already signaled; this would provide a traffic signal for the southern Circle Drive/U.S. 290 West intersection.)

Proposition 2 spends no money directly in the Oak Hill area.

Whether local voters feel they will benefit from these propositions depends on the roads they frequently drive or the areas they choose for recreation.

The bulk of projects in Proposition 1 are in the northeast area of Travis County, near the State Highway 130 tollway. Other projects would extend William Cannon Drive from McKinney Falls Parkway to U.S. 183, while Slaughter Lane East would get a new two-lane arterial from Goodnight Ranch to McKinney Falls Parkway.

Proposition 2 includes an infrastructure for a BMX race track at Northeast Metro Park, a new campground at Arkansas Bend Park, a boat ramp at Dink Pearson Park, and hike and bike trails for Onion Creek. Nearly 800 acres of new parkland would be acquired on the Pedernales River to connect Milton Reimers Ranch Park and Hamilton Pool Preserve.

Local resident David Richardson feels the transportation bond package could encourage sprawl, in direct contradiction with the city’s comprehensive plan. He told the Gazette, “It is questionable whether the new roads and improvements in northeast Austin will just encourage additional sprawl — even if it is in the Desired Development Zone — or address traffic congestion. I can’t speak to the latter one way or the other, but sprawl development is not sustainable. Sprawl does not generate the tax revenue to fund AISD, City or County services for many years, if ever. Central Austin will be subsidizing sprawl for many years in northeast Austin. This is the way we’ll be paying for it and encouraging it.”

Although Proposition 1 would build sidewalks in his Granada Hills neighborhood, Richardson does not believe that is enough to earn his vote. He said, “I can’t support the sidewalk if that is all we’re getting while failing to address traffic in southwest Austin and Travis County. We need to be preserving open space to protect the aquifer.”

Richardson said he supports Proposition 2.

In the final proposal for the 2011 Citizens Bond Advisory Committee report, a paragraph addressed the exclusion of State Highway 45 Southwest: “Soon after the Committee finalized its project list in early July, it began receiving letters of support for funding SH45 SW. The current tally of support letters is over 80. This project was not included on the original list of projects submitted by TNR to the committee because it is a state highway and because the [Travis County Commissioners] Court withdrew support for the project in May 2010.”

Perkins said, “Believe it or not, NO ONE asked for funding for SH 45 SW until the final day of the Citizens Task Force Meetings. I would have, should have, asked for it, but I was busy with these projects for El Rey and FM 1826, and trying to understand the process.”

He added, “The final meeting, Joe Gieselman the former Exec Director of Travis County, asked the Task Force to consider adding language that would allow any extra road funds to go to the construction of SH 45 SW. Surprisingly, the Chair of the Task Force and a few others, were vehemently against it. I believe that it is because they did not receive ANY information on the problem associated with Brodie Lane or the fix that SH 45 SW would bring. I certainly wish that I, or someone else, would have made the pitch for SH45 SW. So many other road projects are proposed for funding, it would certainly make sense.”

Perkins said past bond packages had funded Southwest District Park but, as sometimes happens with funding for Oak Hill projects, the money got diverted, then absorbed by another project. Explains Perkins: “I did some research and discovered that back in the 2001 County Bond Elections, $28.1 million was approved by voters to be spent on a Southwest District Park and a Northeast District Park. The County purchased and developed the Northeast District Park, but did nothing with the money for the Southwest. In 2005, a follow up bond package for $62.1 million redirected funds for the Southwest County District Park to Reimers Ranch. Reimers is not a park, but rough, unimproved land, that is used by mountain bikers and hiking enthusiasts. So, when I asked the County what happened to the Southwest District Park, they told me that they held several meetings in the Southwest part of the County and there was unanimous agreement that the Reimer’s property should be the Southwest District Park.”

Perkins is less than happy with the county’s explanation. He said, “Now, the County thinks that places like Hamilton Pool Road and Lake Travis are ‘Southwest Travis County.’ I discovered that maybe the problem is that whenever they print a map of the county out on a piece of paper, they angle it so that North doesn’t face straight up. It actually is turned to the left side of the page. So, that makes Lake Travis and Hamilton Pool look like they are on the Southwest side of the County, and that Oak Hill is in the south. Anyway, we got screwed and continue to get screwed on the park projects.”

Perkins is mixed in his support for the county propositions. He said, “Personally, I recommend a vote FOR the Roadway Improvements and Sidewalks. As for the Parks and Recreation portion of the bond package, I’m hesitant to vote for it since Southwest Travis County has been repeatedly snubbed and we’ve been jacked out of our Southwest District Park.”

Local resident Carol Cespedes supports both propositions. She told the Gazette, “Oak Hill residents are going to see some improvements close to home with the new sidewalks along El Rey Boulevard in Granada Hills and improvement to the signals at 290 and Circle Drive. That’s aside from the fact that we all use parks, highways and sidewalks throughout the county. We should vote for the bonds now and make sure more of our projects are included in the future.”

The Austin branch of the League of Women Voters has a list of the propositions, explaining each in plain language and including the arguments for and against each one: http://lwvaustin.org/votersguide/2011CAVGEnglish.pdf. Also on the ballot are ten suggested changes to the State Constitution.

The list of projects in each of the Travis County propositions can be found here: http://www.co.travis.tx.us/citizens_bond_committee/pdfs/bond_propositions/brochure_bond_election_2011.pdf.


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