The Big Spring City Council listens to public comment during a hearing on a proposal to use economic development funds to finance street and water-treatment renovations during its Tuesday meeting. (HERALD photo/Thomas Jenkins)
If Tuesday night's public hearing is any indication, Crossroads residents are firmly behind the 4B project to overhaul the municipality's water and wastewater facilities using up to $13 million in economic development funding set to go before voters next month.
More than a half-dozen area residents spoke in favor of the project during Tuesday night's meeting of the Big Spring City Council, which held a public hearing regarding the proposed project.
The project calls for the Big Spring Economic Development Corporation to provide $750,000 a year for the first two years, and then 40 percent of its sales tax revenue â€” with a floor of $500,000 and a ceiling of $750,000 for the following 18 years â€” with the city of Big Spring picking up the remainder of the tab on the renovations, which are expected to total up to $13 million.
Local resident Bo Fryar supports the initiative because she believes an improved infrastructure will help attract new businesses and residents to the Crossroads area.
â€śI am in favor of the 4B project. In our neighbor city of Coahoma, their voters voted for the same kind of project in 2010 where funds could be used to build city infrastructure, as well as to attract new businesses,â€ť Fryar said. â€śThey are doing a great job with that. In my opinion, the best thing you can do to draw new businesses into your community is to have good schools, good water, good streets and low taxes.â€ť
Norma Garcia echoed those remarks, saying the city must be ready to provide for the basic needs of a business.
â€śThe infrastructure in our community has been ignored for far too long,â€ť Garcia said. â€śWe can not expect to attract businesses, industry or even residents if we can not provide for the basic needs of our community, like a reliable water treatment and delivery system and good streets.â€ť
Local resident Loretta Farquhar also offered up her support for the 4B project.
â€śWhat is all this fuss about? Can't we all agree that we need good water and streets without potholes?â€ť Farquhar said. â€śTo clean up this decaying infrastructure is economic development in its trues form ... I support the decision to let our citizens vote on this issue.â€ť
Local resident and former mayor Cotton Mize said he has no problem with using the EDC funds for the project.
â€śWhen I look at the history of our economic development, I'm not really sure we're getting our money's worth,â€ť Mize said. â€śThere have been businesses that have come in and there have been some to leave, but I can't help but think some could have stayed if our water and streets had been a little more accessible to the people. If we use the money to (renovate the) water treatment plant, I can't help but believe our money is going to be a lot better spent. The water treatment plant will still be here, it won't be gone like some of the businesses will be.â€ť
Oscar Garcia, a former member of the Big Spring City Council, also spoke in favor of the project, saying area residents have a right to better water.
â€śThis is a quality of life issue, above all else,â€ť Garcia said. â€śWe have drinking water now that nobody drinks. This is water that should be accessible to everyone in the community, whether your income is $1 million a year or you're just above the poverty level. You have the right to have good tasting water. You have the right to have a life that is healthy and comfortable and a future for future generations.â€ť
Not everyone who offered up an opinion Tuesday night was in favor of using EDC funds for the project.
â€śI'm for the 4B project but I'm against the way we're paying for it,â€ť local businessman Bobby McDonald said. â€śWe're scuttling what I know we need. I've spent 10 years in conferences and seminars and I have never heard any company say they were going to a particular city because it had good water. They come for other purposes. I want good water and I want good streets ... but I'm not sure it attracts industry the way we want it to.
â€śDo you know what it would cost to pay for that bond? Here's a quarter and here's a penny. It would cost 26 cents a day to pay for that $11 million bond ... we need a reserve and our best reserve is that half-percent (sale tax) we have put back for the EDC. If the EDC is shackled, it can't serve its purpose.â€ť
Former EDC board president Larry McLellan also warned the council and voters against levying such a heavy tax against the EDC for the next 20 years, saying nothing in life â€” no matter how it looks â€” is free.
â€śI'm disappointed we're looking totally at the EDC to pay 80 percent of this. I think we could have broken this apart â€” a little with the taxes, a little with the water department,â€ť McLellan said. â€śThe 5-cent tax break we gave last year benefitted the average homeowner by $16.48. That would have raised $270,000 and that would have paid for one-third of this. For as little as $2 a week, we could fund it totally through an increase in the water rate. There are other avenues.
â€śIt doesn't bother me for the EDC to help, it bothers me that this if going to be for 20 years. I hope the citizens of Big Spring will realize 20 years is much too long to tie up our arms for economic development and for the vision of Big Spring and growth in Big Spring. I feel like we're looking in the wrong direction. Nothing is free. It looks free, but life is not free. You will get this and you will pay the price, believe me.â€ť
According to state law, because the Big Spring Economic Development Corporation, which is funded by local sales taxes, is designated a 4A entity, it can only fund 4B projects â€” in this case, an initiative to improve the city's infrastructure â€” if the project is approved by the city voters.
Early voting in this year's municipal elections is slated to begin Monday and end May 8, according to local election officials. The deadline to request a mail-out ballot is May 4.