After discussing potential bond measures for the last several weeks, the Kaufman County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to put two separate bond measures on the ballot in the upcoming election on Nov. 5.
Both bond measures are part of a plan to significantly revamp infrastructure and facilities in Kaufman County in response to the explosive population growth that has occurred and is projected to continue.
The first measure is a $104 million bond package that would go toward the reconstruction and improvement of 73 separate roads over the next 10 years. Half of the roads that would be included in the package are county roads; the other half are state roads. While the county’s transportation coalition is confident that these funds would be able to make a significant dent in the well-documented road maintenance issues that have plagued Kaufman County for years, coalition member John Polster revealed that the $104 million is actually a drastically abbreviated version of their original list of necessary improvements. The price tag for that original list was estimated at $1 billion.
The other measure is a $50 million bond package that would go toward county facilities. The majority of those funds would be utilized for the construction of a new justice center adjacent to the county’s correctional facility which would essentially replace the current county courthouse as all of the courtrooms and many county departments would move to the new building.
The funding for the $104 million bond package would be spread out across 10 years with the county receiving $20 million biannually. The funding for the $50 million package would come in two waves: $30 million in 2020 and another $20 million in 2022.
Jason Hughes from Hilltop Securities estimated that the INS tax rate (currently 6.4 cents for the upcoming year) would be increased by between 1.3 cents and 1.7 cents. According to Hughes, this would result in the average Kaufman homeowner paying about $15 more annually in taxes, based on his projections utilizing a 4.5 percent interest rate on the bond’s finance.
Droves of supporters from municipalities across Kaufman County attended the Aug. 14 commissioners court meeting to voice their support for the bond proposals. Kaufman Mayor Jeff Jordan, who has already voiced his ardent support for the road bond, spoke about his time working in the Kaufman County Courthouse in the ‘90s and how important it is, in his view, for the county to fund a new justice center in order for the county to keep up with its population growth.
“Even back in the late ‘90s when the population of Kaufman County was probably around 50,000, and we’re approaching 150,000 rapidly at this point, that courthouse was out of room,” Jordan said. “That building was not designed for the population that this county has reached and certainly not designed for the population that this county is fast approaching. We now have two district courts and two courts at law, and I believe we’re nearing the point where we’re going to have another court at law and another district court. The time is now. This isn’t a need that’s going to go away, and it’s cheaper to do it today than it is tomorrow. I’ve learned that the hard way during my time as mayor.”
Terrell Mayor Pro Tem Grady Simpson echoed Jordan’s statements and drew a comparison to the Dallas Cowboys’ ongoing contract negotiations with quarterback Dak Prescott.
“If the Cowboys had signed [Prescott] earlier, they wouldn’t be having to talk about $40 million now,” Simpson said with a laugh. “We don’t want to be under that situation.”
Simpson went on to describe his time growing up in Terrell and how vital he feels the proposed justice center and road work could be for the continued growth of both Terrell and Kaufman County.
“I was born and raised in Terrell and this wonderful county,” Simpson said. “Everyone talked about how Terrell never grows and how Rockwall and all these other places are growing, but you know what? It wasn’t our time. But guess what? It’s our time. And we cannot move into a brighter future with an old mindset. We’ve got to cultivate a new mind, if we want to build a new future.”
Other supporters of the bond proposals that took the stand included Crandall City Manager Jana Shelton, Talty City Manager James Stroman, Terrell Economic Development Corporation president Ray Dunlap, and Terrell Interim City Manager Mike Sims.
The commissioners also approved the creation of two new assistance districts; one for an upcoming subdivision near Crandall in precinct 1 called Kingsboro East and another in the city limits of Cottonwood in precinct 4. These assistance districts allow two percent of the taxes from all sales that take place in the county, including online purchases, to be retained by Kaufman County to put back into the district directly.
“This is a way for our residents and communities to keep two percent of the sales tax that you pay anyway in, essentially, a home rule situation,” precinct 4 commissioner Ken Cates said. “It’s a great program for the county.”
“It’s either that or they go to the state,” precinct 1 commissioner Mike Hunt added. “So we’d rather keep it home and invest it in our development.”
Voter approval is required for the assistance districts to be ratified, so residents who live in the proposed districts will have an additional proposition on their ballot on Nov. 5.
The commissioners also approved an addendum for the four patrol service interlocal agreements the county has with the precinct 2 constable’s office. While the previous termination period for those contracts was 30 days, the new addendum drafted by Assistant D A Rebecca Lundberg lengthens that period substantially to 180 days. Lundberg and Kaufman County Judge Hal Richards explained that the goal of this change is to provide a better safety net for the officers who are employed through those interlocal contracts since the county does not fund those positions directly.
“I feared that circumstances might change in one of these districts and they might not have adequate funding for these deputy constables,” Richards said. “If they decided to cancel, that would give those deputy constables six months’ notice instead of 30 days’ notice so they can take care of other arrangements because we don’t have those positions funded otherwise.”
The court also heard from county resident Downey Smalley who aired his grievances regarding a county ordinance preventing him from continuing to maintain his septic unit himself. Although Smalley is certified to carry out such maintenance according to guidelines set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a county ordinance requires that all maintenance be done by maintenance providers. However, Smalley has been conducting his own maintenance for many years and requested a variance to allow him to continue to do so. While Richards said that he appreciated Smalley’s comments, he suggested that the commissioners move to table the item until next week.
“What I’d like for us to do is get clarity on all of the facts before we vote on it,” Richards explained.
The commissioners agreed to table the item.
During the meeting, the commissioners also tabled an item calling for the appropriation of the county’s road and bridge budget by road miles, approved a request from Forney ISD for the county to patch some pot holes on their property, approved the termination of the K-9 program for the precinct 4 constable’s office and the retirement of deputy K-9 Nemo to his handler deputy Keith Wheeler, approved permission to solicit annual contracts for electrical services, HVAC services, plumbing services and general construction services, approved the disposal of county-owned assets, approved funding for night-vision goggles for the Kaufman County SWAT team through a grant from U.S. homeland security, approved the final plat for precinct 2 subdivision Windmill Farms 4D phase 2, approved an order for “No Thru Trucks” signs to be placed on County Road 319, 322, 351 and 352 in precinct 3, approved a three-year contract for Financial Software maintenance with STW, approved the auditor’s monthly report for July 2019, and approved line item transfers and claims for payment.
The commissioners also entered into an unadvertised executive session to discuss “anticipated contemplated litigation and discuss the needs of the county with regards to a potential administrative associate judge,” according to Richards. The commissioners made no action upon returning from executive session.