While the fact officials with the city of Big Spring are eyeing an $11 million overhaul of municipal water and waste water facilities may not come as a surprise to area residents, how Mayor Tommy Duncan currently proposes the city pay for those improvements just might.
During Tuesday night’s meeting of the Big Spring City Council, Duncan said he plans to bring the project — which includes $7.138 million in repairs and upgrades at the existing water treatment facility and $3.738 in improvements at the waste water treatment facility — before the council in January in the form of a 4B project to be voted on by the citizens of Big Spring.
“The $11 million for this project is a huge amount of money. When we spend that we have to recognize we’re also responsible for about 180 miles of water mains, and if you remember last year we had some problems with those,” Duncan said. “We have about 125 miles of sewer mains, about 170 miles of paved roads and a couple-hundred acres of city parks around the community we are tasked with managing and keeping up with the budget we have.
“So, what I plan to do is come back to the council in January and ask you to consider allowing the voters to vote on a 4B project that would allow us to take a part of the sales tax revenue and divert it from economic development over to completion of this plan. That would allow us to continue to maintain operating the city, we would pay off some of our older bonds in 2014, and that would give us about $500,000 in revenue we would be able to invest in replacing some of these aged water mains and work on some streets.”
Duncan said the passage of such a 4B project would basically cut the Big Spring Economic Development Corporation’s budget in half, providing between $800,000 and $800,500 a year for the water project’s debt service and approximately $800,000 to $850,000 annually for the EDC to operate on.
“Bear in mind, these are all rough numbers we’re working with at this point,” he cautioned. “Until we can get some solid numbers from the contractors, all of this is based on rough estimates. However, that’s about where we believe it would leave us.”
While the council was willing to offer its support for sending the issue before the voters in 2012, it wasn’t without a fair dose of caution.
“I have to question whether or not it’s wise to use the EDC for all of the funding,” District 6 Councilman Terry Hansen said. “My hope would be that we wouldn’t take so much out of the EDC that we would cripple our economic development opportunities. Maybe we can do some of it from savings and some of it from other sources, if the voters should approve it. I think we have to keep in mind the EDC has either brought in our retained more than 500 jobs in the last three years, and I hope we don’t cripple their efforts.”
District 4 Councilwoman Gloria McDonald said she’d like to see an effort on the city’s part to secure state funding, possibly through grants, to help fund the project.
“Everybody is in a water crunch right now,” McDonald said. “I’m hearing more and more there may be some money out there in the form of grants. I think that’s something we need to look into before we take all of the funding from one place. I don’t want us to cripple any one institution because in two or three years something else will break and we’ll have to find the money somewhere else. Eventually, we’ll run out of places to take it from.”
Duncan was adamant the city — which has been cited repeated by the Texas Department on Environmental Quality for failing to meet minimum water standards during the past year — will have to make the repairs and upgrades, it’s simply a question of how to pay for them.
“We have three options to pay for this. The first is to divert the money from sales tax,” Duncan said. “With this, there’s no cost increase to the citizens, and in these financial times I think that’s important. The second option is to raise property taxes, and we would be looking at somewhere around 15 and 18 cents per $100, which would take our tax rate up significantly. The third option is to raise water rates, and, as i think everyone recognizes, we just doubled the base rate on water for our citizens. There are people who are really struggling to meet that, and for us to come back and ask to go up another $7 on that, or, in my mind, to up any on that, is just too much.”
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