Former Big Lake City Council Member Deona Thompson penned a letter to the editor in the October 18, 2018 edition of The Big Lake Wildcat urging the voters of Big Lake to vote against The City of Big Lake’s ‘Proposition A’ – a measure which would dissolve The Big Lake Economic Development Corporation and send its ½ sales tax to the City’s General Fund.

(Thompson's Full Letter to the Editor is republished at the bottom of this online article) 

In that letter, Thompson brought up several issues she has with the proposition, and given her experience on the city council, and as a former BLEDC director herself, we at the Wildcat felt it is our responsibility to bring the questions she has about the proposition to Big Lake Mayor Phil Pool.
 
We sat down with Mayor Pool and City Secretary Stacey Stroud late Tuesday evening to discuss ‘Proposition A.’
 
Our first question... Why did the city council go for a measure which takes the 1/2 cent sales tax and places it in the General Fund instead of seeking a dedicated Street Maintenance Sales Tax?
 
“A street maintenance tax can only be used on existing streets,’ Mayor Pool said. “Let’s say they finally find a developer out there at Delhi to build housing East of town. Those streets, once they are done, we can’t touch them with a street maintenance tax.”
 
Pool said only streets in place at the time the Street Maintenance Tax was voted in would be grandfathered in for the money’s use.
 
“The Street Maintenance Tax would also have to be voted on every four years,” Pool said. “If for some reason it were to fail in four years, that half cent of sales tax would be up for anyone to grab. The county could recapture it. Once it is out there it could be gone forever.”
 
We then moved to another point raised by former Council Member Thompson – the issue of once the money goes into the General Fund, there is no guarantee future City Councils will use it for streets.
 
“Well, lets talk about how this council will handle the money to begin with,” Pool said. “Once the money hits the General Fund there will be a separate bank account set up that it will go directly into. Anyone will be able to come look at the books and make sure it is there in that Street Fund.”
 
Pool said that street fund, which is estimated to be roughly $800,000.00 per year, will be used in partnership with the $500,000.00 the city currently spends on paving and infrastructure each budget.
 
“We are looking at being able to improve infrastructure and pave one street a year with that,” Pool said. “We are currently having to alternate between paving and infrastructure each budget. This will effectively double our pace.”
 
Pool said he has never looked at the 1/2 cent sales tax as a magic bullet which will save all the city streets.
 
“We know this isn’t a total solution,” Pool said. “It is a shot in the arm though.”
 
We then asked Pool again if there is any guarantee future councils and mayors will follow the same plan since there is nothing legally binding them to use the additional 1/2 cent sales tax on streets.
 
“I’ll give you my word, and you can quote me on this, if I am mayor and a new council does that I will step down immediately,” Pool said. “And if the time comes that there is a new mayor, I’ll sit them down and they are going to know exactly why we did this. I don’t see that being an issue though. It would be a foolish council that would take that money and use it elsewhere.”
 
Pool said voters put their trust into elected officials to run things the right way.
 
“If there comes a time when a council does not do what they say they’re going to do on this proposition, vote them out,” Pool said. “I will be the first one leading that charge.”
 
Pool finished his point by saying he wished there was a legal mechanism in place to guarantee the money will always be used for streets.
 
“I don’t like that it is not legally binding,” Pool said. “But all they can do is take our word. I can’t for the life of me think of any reason I’ve given anybody not to trust my word.”
 
Pool shifted the conversation to the reason the council placed the measure on the ballot.
 
“You know what really floors me about all this?” Pool asked. “This is what I don’t understand, and what I can’t get past. There are so many people upset about having a voice. All we did was give the people of Big Lake a voice at the ballot box.”
 
Pool noted the city council could dissolve the BLEDC with a simple resolution. That move would not only get rid of the BLEDC, but also the 1/2 cent sales tax associated with it.
 
“We said from the beginning that was never our intention,” Pool said. “We want the voters of Big Lake to decide.”
 
Pool said the condition of Big Lake’s streets has been the number one complaint the council has received for years.
 
“We don’t have an unlimited supply of money,” Pool said. “I’ve also been asked why we don’t just go for a bond? To go for a bond would be devastating for this community. Taxes would go up greatly. It just isn’t a viable option to sink bond money into streets.”
 
We then shifted the conversation from the streets to another point raised by former Council Member Thompson in her letter.
 
In it, she points out the city’s budget has $100,000 in it for architecture for a new city hall.
 
“A new city hall is the absolute last thing on our mind,” Pool said. “It originally came up three years ago when our floor started coming up. We have had that line item in place since then, and nothing has come from it.”
 
Pool said the current city hall has asbestos in the flooring, so any type of renovation would mean moving the entire city hall off-site for an abatement.
 
“The $100,000 wasn’t put in place for architecture either,” Pool said. “At the time we weren’t sure if we would need land, or anything else that comes along with a new building. There hasn’t been any new discussion on the matter. It remains on the bottom of our list of priorities.”
 
The first city budget which placed the $100,000 for a prospective city hall was approved by former City Council Member Deona Thompson in 2016 following her seconding the motion to move that budget for a vote.
 
Wrapping things up, Pool said he will be happy come November 7th no matter what is decided.
 
“I feel we did the right thing putting this out to the community to decide,” Pool said. “Either way, we will move forward making Big Lake a better place to live. This was never a shot at the Big Lake Economic Development. We all recognize the great work they have done. We just wanted to give the people of Big Lake a voice on the matter.”
 
City Secretary Stacey Stroud outlined the city’s current plans for street and infrastructure improvements in their new budget in the August 9, 2018 edition of The Big Lake Wildcat.
 
Stroud said the city has plans to use their current sales tax allocation (one cent) to upgrade infrastructure on Pennsylvania Avenue and a three block section of 12th Street.
 
The Pennsylvania project will partially be funded by a $275,000 grant from a Texas Community Development Block Grant (replace water line under Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd Street to 11th Street) and $300,000 of the city’s funding to replace gas and sewer lines.
 
The 12th Street project will replace all infrastructure under the three block section of 12th Street from Ohio Avenue to Louisiana Avenue using $200,000 of the city’s sales tax allocation.
 
Paving for Pennsylvania will be included in the city’s following budget for 2019-2020 and will total $1.035 million. That will make the Pennsylvania project a 24 month endeavor for the city.
 
Stroud said most of the infrastructure within Big Lake is between 30 and 50 years old while the paving is mostly over 25 years old.
 
Early voting is currently underway at the Reagan County Courthouse.
 
Election Day is November 6, 2018.
 
Election Day Polling Places are:
 
District Polling Place 1
Reagan County Appraisal District
409 E 2nd Street
Big Lake, TX 76932
 
District Polling Place 2
Reagan County Activity Center
1205 N Montana
Big Lake, TX 76932
District Polling Place 3
First Baptist Church
510 E. 7th St.
Big Lake, TX 76932
District Polling Place 4
Reagan County Courthouse Vestibule
(area between library and annex)
3rd at Plaza
Big Lake, TX 76932


LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Dear Citizens of Big Lake,
 
I want to urge our local citizens to vote NO on Proposition A and save the Big Lake Economic Development Corporation (BLEDC).  There are many good reasons to save the organization and not even one good reason NOT to on this November 6 ballot. 
 
The mayor and council gave their word that the new tax money will be “earmarked” for street repair.  However, by definition and by law, if Proposition A passes, that money will go into the General Funds bucket and this is a very misleading proposal. 
 
Why?  Because the city actually opted NOT to propose a STREET TAX.  They could have, but they didn’t. 
 
Instead, they voted for ballot wording and its related law as follows:  “…ADOPTION OF A LOCAL SALES AND USE TAX IN BIG LAKE, TEXAS.” 
 
In Texas, there actually IS a legally binding “Street Funds” category for taxing.  But they chose not to use it because it is so strictly governed by where it can be spent and how long it’s in effect.  The tax collection would only last 4 years (unless it’s re-voted) and state law REQUIRES it to be spent ONLY on streets.  This is NOT the tax they are proposing.
 
There are also two major problems with giving their word in this instance.  They won’t always be there -  but this new tax will (forever).  And:  Even if they are there, something always comes up.  I believe it’s a promise that cannot be kept in the long term. 
 
As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the law to stop the money from being used for anything they choose.  It will be too easy to pull out of the General Funds account, if the BLEDC is voted out.  At the drop of a hat those dollars could legally be used for new City Hall building (which is currently being planned).  Or it could go to covered Parking for employees.  Or a lawsuit.  Or new vehicles.  Or equipment.  Or anything else they choose.   There is absolutely nothing in the law to stop any of that and our streets will still be in poor condition.  There is nothing binding about a word.  I can respect the position they are in because I was once there.  But this is not a good plan.
 
The city has already budgeted $100k just for ARCHITECTURES to design a new building.  Most of us know that if they proceed and building begins, it will inevitably run “over budget”.  When that happens, they will likely cover overages with the new money (rather than paving streets) just because they can.  City hall buildings are built everywhere in this country, every year.  They should look for existing plans for a building and save that $100k.  Surely there are “canned” plans available that would need only minor tweaks.  So my question is will that money be squandered on drawings and building adjustments as they go along?  There is no guarantee that it won’t.  They will feel they have no choice at some point.  This is only one reason why I’m opposed to handing the ½ cent Sales Tax to the city.  It’s only one, but it’s the biggest one. 
 
Furthermore, the BLEDC has been investing in Big Lake since it was voted in by the citizens in 1999. But sadly, that is also exactly how long the City of Big Lake has been fighting them.  It’s the only entity that can legally invest in our businesses, jobs, and community enhancements.  This fight is also wrong in my opinion.  The state of Texas setup the Economic Development Act in order to give cities (of every size) a means to support and grow its own economy.   It is a big part of why “if Texas were a nation, it would be the 10th largest economy in the world”.
 
Cities where the EDC receives support from “city hall” are proven to be more successful.  That has never been the case in Big Lake.  The atmosphere surrounding recent events has turned severely hostile.  It’s a real shame, too. 
 
Unfortunately, it has long been the standard though, for anyone associated with the BLEDC to expect a public badgering for merely doing their jobs.  It happened with Judy White.  It happened during my six years there.  It has been happening in the seven years I’ve been gone.  It’s also my opinion that it is completely unacceptable.  Our city leaders should NEVER badger any citizen of this community in a public meeting, not for any reason.
 
Just think what might happen if they threw their support behind the BLEDC instead of working against it and campaigning to abolish it every year or two years.  It is time we stop the mindset of money-grabbing officials and insist on their support for the BLEDC. 
 
Please vote NO on Proposition A. 

Sincerely,

Deona Thompson

Letters to the Editor express the opinions of their author. They do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the staff, management or ownership of the Big Lake Wildcat.