County does not envision carrying bond, but may contribute to project
Another city-county budget meeting on Monday meant more talks about a potential sports park project.
The park was the last item on the agenda for the Gillespie County Commissioners Court and Fredericksburg City Council joint budget meeting Monday, Aug. 6, at City Hall.
Both entities talked about funding for a potential multi-purpose sports park at the current 42-acre Oak Crest Park site located near the Gillespie County Airport. Nothing was finalized.
City officials have asked commissioners about a partnership in getting the park underway.
The commissioners want word on the city’s plan for the park and whether or not more Oak Crest Park land is for sale before making any commitment to help with funding.
“What we need to know is if you want to sell part of the property,” Pct. 4 Commissioner Donnie Schuch said. “We need to know so we can budget for it.”
“We kind of need to know y’alls plan for the sports park so we can try to determine what kind of contribution (the county can make),” Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher said. “We need to know what we’re contributing to.”
A city bond issue to fund the park for an estimated $12.6 million failed in November 2017. The city scaled back the original plans to an estimated $8.2 million.
Fredericksburg Mayor Linda Langerhans says the city council views passing a county-wide bond sale as the best option for paying for the new sports park.
This will spread the funds throughout Gillespie County, rather than just on city residents, and lower the potential tax increase from 3.4 cents for city residents to 1-1.2 cents per taxpayer countywide.
“That’s a big difference to get the people who really want the sports park to vote in favor of it,” Langerhans said. “I’m not trying to push y’all into it. I’m just saying that this is our conversation.”
Commissioners maintained their position on not wanting to take on a bond election for the sports park, but helping in some way isn’t out of the question.
“It doesn’t make sense for the county to do that because the bond is basically a city project,” Stroeher said. “It’s on city-owned land. It’s a city design. We have no input on the design. It would impair our ability to go out for a bond issue on some of the things identified in our long-range planning study. It doesn’t make sense for us to include that whole debt on our financial side.”
The only consensus is that more conversations must take place before the county puts anything in the budget.
City Councilman Charlie Kiehne agreed that city officials need to continue the dialogue on the park plans.
“We’re all county residents. We all live in the county and pay county taxes,” Kiehne said. “I think it’s very important for our youth to have fields to play on. It keeps them off the street and gives them an opportunity to exercise. I agree. I think we need to move forward. We need to kick the can forward. We need to have a conversation in the near future and decide.”
“You’ve indicated that the county doesn’t want to do a bond election. If that’s the result, then the city needs to move forward on what they need to do, but if there’s information we can give y’all to maybe move you in that direction, with either plans or more input (let us know),” he said.
Land for sale
Stroeher and Langerhans tried to clear the air on some confusion between city and county entities during the July 30 budget workshop.
City representatives told the Commissioners Court during last month’s meeting that there was no future land sale in the works, which commissioners had thought was one of the agenda items set for that day’s talks.
“I asked about it and we were told that there was no potential selling of property,” Stroeher said. “That’s where the sports park’s going to be. We haven’t put any money in our budget for the purchase of that land because we were told that’s what y’all intended to do (with it) and that’s what it’s designed for … We were trying to get clarification for that, and it was pretty clear to us that y’all had no interest in that.”
Kiehne, who was present at the county’s July budget workshop, confirmed that Stroeher heard that correctly, and city officials tried to set the record straight on meetings about the land.
The mayor told commissioners that she, council member Jerry Luckenbach and Assistant City Manager Clinton Bailey met with the Gillespie County Airport Advisory Board to talk about use of city land for future airport expansion.
Bailey then talked to airport manager Tony Lombardi and concluded the Airport Advisory Board is interested in land for future expansion.
“I think the five council members all have different opinions and don’t always get all of the information either,” Langerhans said. “I think there are some different opinions and I think we still need to spend some time on that, whether we want to sell some land or not, whether we want to go out for another bond election or whether we want to come harass (the commissioners court) about a bond election, or if we need to go out and do some fundraiser.”
The only thing that is solid, Langerhans said, is that the city has earmarked $607,000 in its budget for maintenance work on baseball fields located in city parks. This includes the two large baseball fields at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park and some fields at Oak Crest Park.
The mayor said that revamping the larger baseball fields at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park makes parting with some of the Oak Crest Park land easier.
“That is less space for ballfields that we would require on the existing property,” Langerhans said. “If we renovate the existing fields at some point, whether or not that is starting with the concession stand and the amenable amount of work, that will help, too.”
Kiehne spoke out against selling any of the park land at the moment. He thinks clear vision for the sports park needs to come in the works before that can happen.
“I personally can’t see selling property until we do have a solid plan,” Kiehne said. “I don’t like selling property because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Right now, I wouldn’t want to stand on a stump and say that I would want to sell the county 12 acres without knowing exactly what we’re going to do with that sports park.”
The city sold 10 acres of the Oak Crest Park property to Gillespie County in 2017 for airport grounds expansion, earning $674,433 from the purchase.
Youth leader speaks out
Dan Kemp, president of the American Youth Soccer Organization chapter in Fredericksburg, asked the decision makers to come to a conclusion and consider soccer’s needs as well.
The AYSO made temporary fields next to the Oak Crest Park baseball fields this year to support the league’s growing numbers.
“I listen to all of this stuff. We’ve talked about this forever,” Kemp said. “Let’s make a decision. Plant your flag and let’s go. I thought we had 42 (acres) and that were going to be done. We didn’t pass the bond? Great, let’s revamp it. We tried to spend too much. We brought the price down. Agreed. We have temporary fields that are good. We don’t have water, but our agreement is we’ll take care of it.”