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By CHARLES RICHARDS
Mayor AJ Hashmi says now that the Paris City Council has made the $50 million, 10-year commitment to replace the underground network of water and sewer lines, it’s up to the citizens of Paris to get behind the project.
Hashmi was greeted warmly Friday at the Rotary Club when he talked about the council’s determination to tackle the infrastructure problem.
The mayor said he is exhilarated by the civic club’s response and is optimistic that citizens will support the effort.
There are two different kinds of bond issues – 1) revenue bonds, which is indebtedness approved by voters in an election; and 2) certificates of obligation, a type of debt in which voters typically have no say.
A city might logically use certificates of obligation rather than revenue bonds in an emergency situation – if a fire station were destroyed in a tornado — to avoid the months it would take to bring a bond issue to voters.
Three years ago, the Paris City Council issued certificates of obligation to improve South Collegiate Drive alongside the new Paris High School, and Stillhouse Road by North Lamar High School. Council members said they feared voters might defeat a bond issue.
City manager John Godwin said he understands that rationale.
“In places I’ve worked, we’ve used certificates of obligation for things that maybe are not going to be popular. For example, if you need a new city hall or you need a new warehouse or you need a new animal shelter. And you know that if you put them on the ballot, they’re going to vote no. But you know you really need one,” the city manager said.
“Sometimes, voters don’t care if you have an old city hall or not. Like in Fairview, we were in an old house. We needed a new city hall, and we used certificates of obligation for that,” Godwin said.
“Now, when we needed a new fire station, we had a (revenue bond) election, and it was approved overwhelmingly. So, it kind of depends on what you’re building. You have to make a judgment call on what’s appropriate and what’s not,” he said.
Hashmi said he wants no part of certificates of obligation “because that would mean we decided to do it and we did it.”
“I want community participation. These things are going to be successful only if the community is with the program and they are part and parcel of it,” Hashmi said.
The city council has already committed about $5 million, mostly by pulling money out of reserves, to pay for the first year’s worth of putting in new streets and sidewalks, improved drainage, new water lines, and new sewer lines.
However, privately there seems to be agreement on the council that voters should have a say in an expensive 10-year program of work.
“You could sell certificates of obligation, which wouldn’t have to have an election, but for that kind of money, the mayor and I certainly agree you should have an election,” the city manager said.
“Seems like the thing to do if we’re talking about 50 million dollars. We need to make some significant improvements on infrastructure,” Godwin added.
The city manager reminded the council last week that in Texas, elections must be held on one of two “uniform election dates” – either the second Saturday in May (coinciding with city council elections) or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (when county, state and federal elections are held).
If the council desires to have a bond election next May, it must call the election at least 71 days in advance – the second week in February – to allow sufficient time for ballot language to be submitted to and reviewed by the state attorney general’s office and for the ballot be translated into Spanish and printed.
The law allows for providing voters with informational brochures, newsletters, website postings, etc., but the city may not expend funds to promote a “yes” or “no” vote. However, elected officials may pass a resolution in favor of the issue, and may speak in favor of the issue, and may speak in favor of its passage.
As individuals, council members could also speak on behalf of a bond election and could contribute to a political action committee formed to urge approval of the bond issue.
Some cities create a “speaker’s bureau” to help explain the purpose of the bond election.
Godwin said a significant portion of the debt would be offset by savings to the city that would result from replacement of the 689,000 feet of deteriorated underground water and sewer lines inside Loop 286 ranging from 40 to 113 years old.
The city manager said city workers are called upon to address about 500 system leaks a year, and no sooner do they fix one leak than they are called back a few days later to fix another leak only a few feet away from the last repair.
Not only is there a huge cost of time, labor and equipment, but an estimated 350 million gallons of water is lost to leakage each year – a combined cost to the city upward of $500,000 a year, the manager said.
There will always be some leakage, even in brand new pipes, the manager said. But the city clearly would save a lot of money by eliminating the huge leakage that is now occurring, Godwin said.
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