As early voting in the 2020 race of the Kerrville City Council approaches, there are plenty of important issues that voters will be asked to consider when casting their ballot. Some of the early issues that have emerged in the campaign center around Kerrville’s long-term debt, water supply and street maintenance.
The race for Kerrville mayor pits incumbent Bill Blackburn against challenger David Barker. The race for Place 4 on the City Council pits incumbent Delayne Sigerman against challenger Brenda Hughes. The race for Place 3 on the council features incumbent Judy Eychner against challenger Roman Garcia.
All three races should be competitive, and there has been plenty of time to campaign since the coronavirus pandemic pushed the election back to Nov. 3. However, early voting begins on Oct. 13. Considering the interest in the 2020 presidential election, the turnout for the local races should be tremendous for a city council race — if not record breaking.
We’ve noticed some themes emerging when it comes to claims about the future of the community that we need to clarify. Through interviews with city staff, we wanted to address three key areas of conversation that keep coming up in campaign dialogue: debt, water and street maintenance.
During a recent candidates forum, a
claim was made that the city owes about
$75 million in debt, but city officials say that is an over estimate.
The true number is about $60 million and is mostly tied directly to the city’s water treatment and water supply efforts.
With the topography of the Hill Country, moving and storing water is often an expensive task, and the city also has to treat that water. Building those facilities to keep up with current and future demand is one of the city’s biggest responsibilities, but much of that expense is covered by ratepayers. Infrastructure, especially water, is a worthy reason for incurring debt.
The city also issued $10 million in certificate of obligation bonds to pay for street maintenance and drainage projects — an effort to help the city catch up from years of deferred maintenance.
Last week, Standard and Poor’s issued a AA credit rating for Kerrville’s outstanding debt. That rating, along with record-low interest rates, could improve the city’s ability to manage its debt through refinancing. Next month, the City Council will hear about how re-financing that debt will help the city save about $800,000.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Chief Financial Officer Amy Dozier said the city was in a good position to pay down much of this debt in the next decade.
The city can use several financing mechanisms to incur debt, including the participation of obligation, and the city was praised by Standard and Poor’s for its ability to meet its ability to pay.
There is a time and place for debt, and there are ways to manage it responsibly, or not. Any one with a mortgage can attest to that. It seems to us the city is using debt on the kind of projects residents would want from its city services and is doing a good job of paying it off at the lowest possible cost.
Debt should not be unexpected as the city continues to meet the needs of residents as the community continues to grow. Critics are right to suggest that this sort of financing could lend itself to out-of-control spending, but that doesn’t currently seem to be the case in Kerrville. However, it is up to the citizenry to closely monitor spending and question the amount of debt the city is carrying.
There has been an ongoing debate about whether the city has enough water to meet future supply. Once again, it’s clear that the city isn’t going to be running out of water soon, and the suggestion that the city would have to immediately turn wastewater into potable water or “toilet to tap” seems to be an exaggeration of the city’s water issues.
Once again on Tuesday, the city unveiled that it had tapped into the Ellenberger Aquifer through a drilling effort that will eventually produce 729 gallons of drinking water per minute. Through the efforts of retired geologists, who identified the potential of a well into the aquifer, the city was able to tap into a formation that was previously thought not to have water this far south.
In its long-range plans, the city did outline a scenario where wastewater could be treated and made available for potable use, but the city currently does not have the facilities to do that sort of treatment. In addition, the expense of that treatment is hard to estimate, but a 2016 California-based think tank suggested that it would be about $1,900 per acre foot to treat wastewater for indirect potable use.
The city currently uses wastewater for irrigation at city parks, Scott Schreiner Golf Course and other locations, but that water has a different treatment standard than that of drinking water.
In addition, Texas is one of the few states that has innovated around the notion of wastewater being converted into potable water, and it’s an option in places such as Wichita Falls and Big Spring.
In a nod to critics of the city’s water supply issues, there remain issues with getting water to and from places in terms of the transportation, and that may have been one of the underlying issues in the recent announcement that the Vintage Heights housing project in south Kerrville was not going to happen.
One of the challenges for most cities is keeping the roads under repair, and one of the challenges for the city of Kerrville is that it doesn’t control many of the roads that people travel every day — that’s done by the Texas Department of Transportation.
In addition, like many cities, Kerrville has deferred millions of dollars in maintenance to city streets and, even worse, past city councils and city leaders have deferred even more drainage projects. Some of that work is now underway, and the city expects to spend about $8 million on repaving roads and $2 million fixing drainage.
We asked Kerrville City Manager Mark McDaniel about this specific issue, and he said it’s a problem facing many cities in Texas and across the country. McDaniel said the city is working to catch up and to develop a multi-year program to maintain your streets — not just your worst streets. We’d say that’s another good reason for spending.