Nacogdoches man petitioning for improvement projects to be on ballot

Nacogdoches man pushing for improvement projects to be on ballot
Nacogdoches man pushing for improvement projects to be on ballot
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 12:03 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2022 at 9:30 PM CDT
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NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Should a city be required to get voter approval before taking on any new debt?

That’s the big question in Nacogdoches.

The approved to move forward with certificates of obligation last week, which would fund projects like consolidating two city fire stations, fix drainage issues and replace deteriorated play ground equipment. All bypassing voter approval.

Philip Blackburn is a concerned citizen in Nacogdoches and worries about the $21 million that’d come from tax payer dollars without their approval. And after interest rates, it could be more than $30 million.

“$32.8 ,million worth of debt saddled to the back of the taxpayer,” Blackburn said. “And this was decided with three votes.”

Those votes were from three council members during a meeting on July 19. Two dissenting votes were from Chad Huckabee and Kathleen Bellinger, who were for the projects but wanted to give the final say to voters.

On August 24, the certificates of obligation were approved to move forward unanimously by city council.

But a petition created by Blackburn has citizens pushing back against the certificates of obligation, and would shake up things ahead of a budget approval for the City of Nacogdoches. The budget will be voted on for approval on Sept. 13, and according to Mario Canizares, the budget is written currently taking into account the certificates of obligation.

“It would be difficult because it’s already been set and established,” Canizares said. “So ,we would have to work with the appraisal district to either issue refunds to the community or see if the tax rate could be reset.”

Canizares says if the certificates of obligation are issued, which is up for vote on September 20, that tax rates wouldn’t rise, but stay the same. That’s because Nacogdoches is finishing paying off certificates of obligation that were issued in the early 2000s.

But if the current certificates of obligation aren’t issued, tax payers might see a decrease in their taxes, according to Canizares.

Blackburn says this could create a slippery slope where the council turns to the certificate of obligation for problems instead of bond obligations, which need voter approval.

“If you have a way to bypass the voter, it’s just to tempting when you need money,” Blackburn said. “You’re just going to use a (certificate of obligation.)”

Though Canizares says if the city issues another certificate of obligation it would likely be when one expires, as they’re doing now.

“It’s been 20 years (since the last certificate of obligation) those bonds are paid off or are being paid off as we speak,” Canizares said. “We’re at a point where we’re at a capacity to do some projects. So we have some immediate needs to go and try and do some things.”

The next dates for bonds to be brought to voters are November 2022, May 2023 and November of 2023. Blackburn says if the petition is successful, he’d like to see it on the May 2023 ballot.

Canizares says with the possibility of a new mayor and city council members due to elections in May, they wouldn’t be able to put it on the ballot until November 2023, 18 months from now.

The city council says with firefighters living in a building form the 1950s, and with some firefighters eligible for retirement, they may lose some of their first responders if they wait that long.

Canizares says that the fire chief welcomes the public to see their living conditions.

“See for yourself for anyone who has an interest in seeing the conditions in which our firefighters live in day in and day out,” Canizares said.

The petition needs 880 signatures by Sept. 20 to stop the certificates of obligation from being issued. It currently has roughly 600.

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+ Nacogdoches City Council discuss renovating fire stations