NOTE: I wrote this in response to Clark Thurmond's opinion piece in the Williamson County Sun on Oct 29, 2023. The Sun asked me to edit it as it exceeded their 350-word limit. I resubmitted a 347-word version, but they did not choose to publish in the Oct 31 issue. Here is the full version:
Clark Thurmond made some excellent points in his editorial in the latest issue of the Sun (Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023). Before anyone votes (and everyone should) on any of the bond proposals from the city, a clear understanding of city debt is essential.
Mr. Thurmond says he has "grown nervous about all this borrowing" and he is not alone. When I first learned of the $130 million in new bond proposals, I too wondered if Georgetown was taking on more debt than it could handle. My first "knee-jerk" reaction was to vote no.
However, before you vote, please take into consideration the following points:
1. Bond packages approved by the voters do not require the city to spend the money. It only authorizes the city to issue bonds up to the limit approved for a specific purpose.
2. Mr. Thurmond states that "you can rent or buy office space depending on circumstance and need." However, I believe available office space is somewhat limited in Georgetown. The city currently leases office space costing about $800,000 per year. Based on the cost per square foot, the city is getting a huge discount, for now. As the city continues to grow, if residents wish to keep city services as they are now -- let alone try to improve them -- more office space will be needed. Over the next 30 years, I've come to the reluctant conclusion that building a new service center is the least expensive of the options, and will provide better service to the city's residents.
3. While the total debt obligation of the city can be frightening, debt rolls over from year to year, and currently our debt service is easily handled by that portion of property taxes that are earmarked for that purpose. A "rule-of-thumb" for city debt (from City Management: Keys to Success, by Orville W. Powell) is that the ratio of general obligation debt to total appraised value should be less than 15%, preferably 8% to 10%. If I did the math correctly, and I used total bond obligations, not just general obligation bonds, Georgetown's ratio is less than 5%. And all the bond proposals are not expected to result in an increase in the tax rate (though they do authorize an increase, which is prudent, in order to maintain Georgetown's excellent credit rating).
4. While Mr. Thurmond says we should not approve the animal shelter bond because there is no finalized plan, there are two options (expand the city's shelter, or combine with the county) that are being considered. If we wait until a plan is finalized, it may be too late. It takes about two years – at least -- to get a bond package in front of voters. It’s better to plan ahead. This doesn't require the city to issue a bond and spend the money. It only authorizes the city to do so as needed.
5. A partnership with the YMCA will not set a precedent, as Mr. Thurmond predicts. Why would it? This is a one-time deal. The city will need a recreation center on the west side at some point. To build our own could cost as much as $100 million, according to city estimates. The $10 million is a fantastic deal, and the YMCA pays all operating costs.
We need to vote to authorize the city to be able to issue these bonds as needed in order to maintain and improve the services residents have come to expect.