Commissioners eye future projects that may come first
Gillespie County Commissioners were asked to consider a big-ticket wish list item by city officials at its budget workshop Monday at the Gillespie County Courthouse.
Commissioners are debating whether they will ask voters to pass a bond issue to fund a sports complex construction on the 42-acre Oak Crest Park, located at State Highway 16 South and Fair Drive and currently owned by the City of Fredericksburg.
The city tried and failed to pass a bond to pay for the sports park in November, with efforts by special interest groups and a low voter turnout leaving the issue 100 votes short of passing.
No decisions were made in Monday’s meeting, but commissioners allowed city officials and leaders representing various youth sports organizations to explain the sports park proposal and the county’s pending involvement.
“I’m not speaking for the court, but from my own personal opinion, I’m not in favor of the county running the bond issue for the city on this,” Gillespie County Judge Mark Stroeher said. “If we do that, and we have our own needs coming up in the future, it’s going to probably decrease the likelihood of getting a bond passed for county needs.”
“And it’s on city-owned property,” he said. “I’m in favor of us looking at trying to participate in it somehow, but that’s something we need to talk about. I don’t want to jeopardize our ability to do a bond issue for our county needs in our future.”
The county’s strategic two-year plan calls for work on courthouse expansion, a possible county courthouse annex and the proposed relief route that will potentially require the county to purchase land.
Commissioners said the fear is that adding a bond for park will load the county with debt needed for other pressing issues.
The commissioners’ court plans on sitting down and having talks with the city representatives on the best way to approach funding of the sports park.
“We really need to balance those things,” said Donnie Schuch, County Commissioner Precinct 4. “I’m totally in favor of the sports park and getting things put together for it. I think we would participate on some level but adding more debt to a bank that we need isn’t wise, that’s my opinion. We want to talk about it some more.”
The city wants to put the matter to another vote.
“I understand your opinion fully, because I have to deal with the same issues with the City of Fredericksburg,” Fredericksburg City Councilman Tom Musselman said. “All I am saying is that we live in a society where we give people the right to make decisions through the vote. There might be enough people out there to say we really need to reserve our bond and debt capacity for other things. So be it. But there comes a point where we have to go to people and say ‘Do you approve of this or do you not approve of that?’”
“We’ve done that before. We’ve had things pass, we’ve had things fail,” he said. “It might get overwhelmingly defeated, but you don’t know until you have a vote.”
Lowering the price
The court agreed to hear proposals from council members and representatives from the city.
Andrea Warren, the city’s director of parks and recreation, presented the commissioners a handout with the expected cost of the current park proposal as compared to last year’s master plan.
An updated plan brings the total cost down from about $12.6 million to between $7.5 million and $8.2 million, depending on whether or not the city uses money earned from selling 10 acres of land to the county for airport expansion.
“We’ve cut back the sports park to basically just (baseball) fields and soccer fields,” Warren said. “We’ve gotten rid of as much of the fluff as possible, so no concession stands, no playgrounds, no pavilions. These are the most updated numbers showing what we’re looking at if we do go forward on the sports park.”
The city may consider proposing an $8 million bond issue, set for next May, to pay for the park, according to City Manager Kent Myers.
A county-wide bond means a tax increase of 1.4 cents, compared to a three-cent rise if the bond is limited to city property owners.
Myers said the city held meetings to get feedback from the public after the park bond’s defeat in November, and costs distributed throughout the county, compared to solely a city tax hike, would help bond passage moving forward.
“What we heard from the citizens was that they wanted to consider doing a county-wide bond issue, because the families that would use the facility live throughout the county,” Myers said. “The council also heard that they wanted to get the cost down, so we’ve done that. So, what we’re presenting today is a revised budget, with the hope that the county will consider this as a county-wide bond issue next May.”
“By spreading the cost throughout the county, we can get this down to a very small tax increase. I think the last estimate was somewhere between 1 and 1.5 cents. So that was another attraction for county wide (bond) versus just having it in the city,” he said.
Those numbers, Myers said, are based on last year’s valuations so that the tax increase will be smaller once the new values are considered.
Proponents of putting the issue to vote touted an increase in revenue from visiting families playing in tournaments at the sports park.
“I just wanted to bring up the possibility of this complex not only being used for our own personal community, but for it being capitalized through hosting tournaments,” said Austin Loza, Fredericksburg First Baptist Church Minister of Youth and Recreation who also volunteers for sports organizations in town.
“The D-Back complex [in Kerrville] is owned by the city but privately run, and they have anywhere from 30 to 40 teams coming into Kerrville, staying the night and spending money, eating out.” Loza said. “I would say that we could probably host 20 teams a week, for at least 16 weekends out of the year.”
Loza estimated that rate to equal 15,000 thousand people visiting the city because of the park, at four people per family.
“If we can provide something for our own community, yet also provide an opportunity to our community to make a profit on a resource we have in our town, I think it’s worth considering,” he said.
Schuch followed that by asking whether or not Hotel Occupancy Tax funds would contribute to costs, as well.
“It’s an attraction for overnight folks,” he said. “The statute says you can spend that money on the sports park if it attracts overnight visitors.”
County Commissioner Pct. 2 Billy Roeder voiced concern about limited hotel space in Fredericksburg, stating that a lack of rooms to fill the projected needs of potential visitors might outweigh the revenue streams.
“That’s just a thought,” he said. “If you’re full and you’re trying to get more, where are we going to put them? In the farming and ranching business, you’ve got a trailer that can hold 10 cows and you’re trying to put 20 in there, it doesn’t work. The theory is good, but overnight, it’s pretty full.”
Assistant City Manager Clinton Bailey pointed out two hotel projects currently under development, including the 150-room Seven Hills Resort and Conference Center and the 84-room Fredericksburg Hotel.
There was also some confusion on the nature of the meeting.
Both Stroeher and Schuch thought they were going to discuss another sale of city land at the Oak Crest Park location.
City officials said that there was no intention of selling more land at the time.
The City of Fredericksburg sold 10 acres of land to the county in 2017. Gillespie County paid $674,433 for the parcel, which is earmarked for future Gillespie County Airport expansion.
The court also thought only a few city council members were going to speak, but leaders from Fredericksburg Little League (president Jim Riley), the local American Youth Soccer Organization chapter (Gina Seracen) and the Fredericksburg Tennis Association (president Seeyle Harrison) voiced their concerns about the sports park issue.
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