Chelsea L. McGowan
There was a modest turnout Thursday evening for the first city council meeting held in Hudson Oaks’ new City Hall building. Attendees and councilmembers heard presentations for almost two hours, notably County Judge Mark Riley, State Rep. Phil King and Weatherford College President Joe Birmingham.
King addressed the council first, elaborating on his discomfort with the far-reaching arm of the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.
“What I envisioned was a pretty small operation with a $300,000 budget at the most,” King said. “What we drafted included no taxing authority, no right to eminent domain, no residential or agricultural authority, and it’d have to be approved by voters. The voters did approve the conservation district, but they apparently see their authority as much broader than I had envisioned.”
King went on to explain he was shocked to hear the appointed members of the district had drafted a budget of more than $1 million, a fifth of which was set aside for attorney’s fees.
“That’s crazy,” he said. “We need to look at options that bring about more accountability than that. I think that their lawyer is driving the train, and I think they’re getting some bad advice.”
King urged the council to adopt a resolution urging the district to comply with what he called “the original vision of the voters.”
“I have no question that if this is the situation in our preliminary year, we’ll be looking at $3 or $5 million budgets a few years down the line,” he said. “We need to make this organization follow the original vision of the voters. I’ll be honest with you ... some of what they’re doing is in a gray area. We should go and put our arm around them and bring them back in line with what the voters wanted. If that doesn’t work, we’ll move to legislation and, as a last resort, perhaps litigation.”
Mayor Pat Deen said an item will be placed on an upcoming agenda that will allow the council to pass a resolution in support of King’s attempted roll-back of the district’s authority.
Riley spoke next, sharing a presentation explaining the $80 million transportation bond issue that will be voted on Nov. 4.
Riley has presented this information recently to a number of county organizations in an effort to educate voters about what is included in the proposed bond.
“What’s presented is something for every part of the county,” he said. “It truly is a community bond. Individuals will make the decision based on the factual information they have. This is a community problem, and the community will vote to handle it the way they see fit.”
Riley was also able to report more than 7,000 Parker County residents had cast early voting ballots as of the closing of the polls on Wednesday.
Birmingham presented a slide show detailing some of the proposed construction included in the controversial $96 million bond the college is asking taxpayers to vote for.
“Our general message is that we need space,” he said. “We increased our enrollment by 6 percent this year, but we still had to turn away students. We have classrooms built for 20 students that are holding 35 students. We have 40-year-old facilities that are out of date.”
According to a slide in the presentation, the bond issue’s passage would add an additional $35 to the average property tax of a Parker County home.
Birmingham also said the college’s current tax rate is lower than it was in 1999, although the facility is serving many more students.
“The project total is $120 million, which is about a 10 percent reduction from the bond issue that didn’t pass last year,” he said. “We need the space, and we’ll use the space to keep growing and adding programs.”
Councilmembers also heard staff presentations on a number of items, including plans to hold a tree-lighting ceremony in conjunction with the official grand opening of the new city hall facility.
Plans have tentatively been set for an evening celebration Saturday, Dec. 6, and more information will become available as plans are finalized.
Chelsea L. McGowan
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