County road bond issue ‘on hold’ after discussion
A possible bond election to raise funds for improvements to county roads, and help Milam County deal with expenses from upcoming capital murder trials, is on hold after commissioners discussed the issue in a special session last Tuesday.
County Judge Dave Barkemeyer had floated the possibility of sending a bond package before voters in November, together with an “off year” constitutional amendment election.
He told commissioners each of the county’s four precincts would need about $250,000. The four commissioners and financial advisors Al Westerman and Duane Westerman of Samco Capital Markets sat down to discuss such a plan.
UNSURE— Some commissioners were leery of the timing.
“People in my precinct prefer not doing it at this time,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Jeff Muegge of Thorndale said. “ They will not vote for it.”
“I think we should wait until the trial is over,” Precinct 3 Commissioner John Fisher of Rockdale said.
(Brandon Cotton of Rockdale is scheduled to go on trial for the murder of San Gabriel resident Sandra Phillips in October in a death penalty case, one of two trials in connection with the 2011 shooting.)
Precinct 2 Commissioner Kenneth Hollas of Cameron was cautious, but said he could see both sides.
“I feel a little like they (Fisher and Muegge) do,” he said. “I appreciate what you’re doing, trying to do for us. I know the murder trial is going to cost, but we like to pay as we go and haven’t gotten a lot of feedback. How are we going to maintain roads with the equipment we have?”
“Personally, I want a vote,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Chuck “Tank” Balch of Cameron said. “A half-mile of road costs a lot of money. We can’t do a job without money. We need to prioritize.”
Balch said he felt Precinct 1 “has a problem with some of the work done by previous commissioners.”
BOTTOM LINE—Barkemeyer noted that timing was key, with unknown expenses from this fall’s murder trial looming over the current budget process.
“Do we put it on the ballot? Is this a good time or not?” he asked. Advisors noted the county’s credit rating is currently down with interest rates trending higher.
A $5-million bond package was discussed. D. Westerman said he had already discussed the proposal with a bond counsel.
“If the trial is one million dollars, that’s not a problem in the current budget,” Barkemeyer said. “My objective is to get you (commissioners) some money now.”
He also discussed scenarios in which the murder trial could cost $3 million to $4 million.
Other ideas discussed included road taxes and bridge taxes.
‘ HOLD OFF’—“I hear you guys saying ‘ hold off’,” Barkemeyer said.
“We all have a little money. We can continue working on the roads,” Hollas said.
Barkemeyer urged commissioners to “do what we can with the roads,” adding “don’t burn reserves.”
“This is not over with,” Hollas said.
Commissioners brought the matter to a special session noting that a decision has to be made on voting for the November general election.
County Clerk Barbara Vansa presented commissioners with two options for voting, one on state constitutional amendments only and one on the amendments plus a bond election.
“Since it was decided we would not have a bond election at this time, the court unanimously okayed the first option,” she said.
Vansa said early voting for the general election will be held only in the county clerk’s office, and will include a Saturday early voting day.
“All 11 c0unty voting locations will be open on election day Nov. 5,” she said.