Possible $40 million bond, 'sanctuary city' elections, budget on council agenda Thursday

·5 min read

The Abilene City Council on Thursday will consider a $40 million bond election in November, when a vote to establish Abilene as a "sanctuary city for the unborn" will be taken as part of the general election.

The council voted to put the sanctuary city decision to voters after a successful petition earlier this year.

Voters will choose state office, including governor, on Nov. 8.

The bond could include two propositions:

  • $8 million for a new fire station.

  • $32 million in improvements to parks and recreation, including two new rec centers and a walking trail around Kirby Lake.

Council also will vote on the revised current fiscal year budget, the upcoming fiscal year budget, the upcoming tax rate and fees.

The proposed fiscal year tax rate is a 2.3-cent reduction from last year, but because it is higher than the city's "no new revenue" rate, it is considered a tax increase for residents, said Mike Rains, director of finance for the city.

The newly-renamed Cesar Chavez Recreation Center in Arthur Sears Park Thursday March 31, 2022.
The newly-renamed Cesar Chavez Recreation Center in Arthur Sears Park Thursday March 31, 2022.

The council in first reading in July passed a 2023 budget with $313.4 million in revenue and $316.7 million in expenses allocated for city operations, with a tax rate of 76.21 cents per $100 of property value.

The current fiscal year budget's tax rate is 78.51 cents per $100. Property tax assessed values are expected to increase by $4.8 million in FY 2023.

Calling a bond?

The council can choose to move both or either bond propositions forward for voters to consider in November, or it may choose to table discussion given current economic conditions, putting off an election until the regular city election in May.

"(The) council has the freedom to take any of those options, or something in the middle," City Manager Robert Hanna said. "This is really their opportunity to have a final public discussion and call that election."

Both propositions were recommended by a blue ribbon committee appointed to study a limited set of bond possibilities.

Fueling fire

Proposition A is building fire station No. 9 to serve south Abilene, located off of FM 707, not far from where a proposed walking trail at Kirby might be.

"This station, No. 9, would serve the south side of Abilene," Hanna said. "Station 8 now is the station that leads some of those calls, and the response times, depending on what other calls are happening in the city, can be delayed by eight minutes, or more."

That, Hanna argued, is not an acceptable level of service in an area sprouting up subdivisions.

A "Sunday drive" to the south side of Abilene will easily reveal a number of subdivisions popping up on FM 707 and farther up on Maple Street.

"These are all areas in our city limits," Hanna said.

If the council chooses to not call the election, Hanna said he plans have other conversations about moving forward with Station 9 because it is a critical need for the community to maintain its level of fire service.

But he wants residents to have a chance to vote on the new station, he said, which will cost $8 million and then require staffing costs yearly of anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million.

Funds for a new engine for the proposed station has already been set aside and placed in the city's fire apparatus fund, about $1 million, assuming the council approves the budgets. It will come from the city's minor improvement fund.

City first, but ready to help

Hanna emphasized the proposed station was not being built to serve south Taylor County, but south Abilene.

"The purpose and point of this fire station is to make sure we provide adequate fire protection for our citizens in our community," he said.

That doesn't mean the station won't ever participate in joint service response with other agencies, he said.

"When the grass fires happen we help, we call in the volunteer fire departments to help us," he said. "We're all in this together. But the primary purpose of this station is to serve the southern city of Abilene."

Trails and valleys

Proposition B focuses primarily on two recreation centers, replacing the Cesar Chavez Recreation Center, 2250 Ambler Ave., and the G.V. Daniels Recreation Center, 541 North 8th St.

The proposition also throws in a quality of life amenity, a trail system around Kirby Lake.

"Our recreation centers are end of life, there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it," Hanna said. "Any citizen that walks into center Chavez or G.V. Daniels, and some of them do regularly, will tell you that these buildings are old, and they may or may not have been maintained as best as they possibly could have been."

It's more cost effective, Hanna said, to demolish and build new centers.

"The blue ribbon committee has decided that it is important enough to put this on the ballot measure for citizen consideration," Hanna said. "We chose these two recreation centers ... because they're some of the most utilized and some of the most in need of improvement."

Recreation centers were discussed during the city's last bond election in 2015, failing by a narrow margin to make that ballot measure, Hanna said.

"In my opinion as city manager, we either need to do this, or we need to get out of the recreation center business," he said. "Our facilities are going to become a liability at some point in time."

If the council does not choose to put the updated centers before the public, he said, "then I'm going to engage them on what do you want to do with our rec centers?"

"They are not where they need to be, and we're going to open ourselves up, in my opinion, to some concerns down the road," he said. "We're there now. But 10 years from now, we certainly will be."

Brian Bethel covers city and county government and general news for the Abilene Reporter-News.  If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Possible $40 million bond, 'sanctuary city,' budget on council agenda