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GISD officially calls for $31M bond referendum

Galveston Independent School District’s board of trustees Wednesday officially called for a $31 million bond referendum.

“The citizens advisory committee’s work is just beginning,” Galveston ISD board President Matthew Hay said.

The $31 million May bond referendum would pay for immediate repairs at district facilities made necessary by deferred maintenance and would only increase the district’s debt cycle by one year, according to a presentation.

The May bond would not include a tax increase, officials said.

While district officials begin preparing for the May bond election, the district’s facilities advisory committee will begin a deeper dive into long-term needs, officials said.

District officials have discussed the possibility of a larger bond issue in November.

District officials have said the staggered bond elections are necessary because they don’t have time to prepare a comprehensive examination of long-term needs before the Feb. 16 deadline to call a May vote.

“Step 2 of this will be to create a plan to see how we can maximize the money we are spending,” said Abel Longoria, a member of the advisory committee.

The first part of the next phase will be to approve a group to conduct a full facilities and demographic study, Superintendent Kelli Moulton said.

An official proposal should be ready to go out to bid by the board’s next meeting, Hay said.

Trustees voted 5-0 Wednesday to approve calling for the first bond attempt since 2010, when voters shot down a $35 million referendum that would have included a sports complex to replace Kermit Courville Stadium.

The last successful district bond election was in 2003 for $69.45 million to renovate and modernize school facilities.

District officials and trustees have been mulling a bond election since learning the severity of problems caused by deferred maintenance at school buildings and that it would cost an estimated $65.1 million to correct the high priority needs, district officials said.

Trustee Anthony Brown said he hoped a demographic and facilities study would consider whether the district should keep all of its facilities.

Trustee Johnny Smecca then agreed that some facilities weren’t being used as much as they could be, but said he didn’t want district officials to sell property for cheap prices when they might also save money by just reconfiguring property.

“But I’m feeling good,” Smecca said. “I feel like Hay and I are doing a lot of the things we campaigned on.”


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centerpiece
Weather, other delays extend Market Street work to July

GALVESTON

Construction on one of downtown Galveston’s busiest streets will likely continue until the end of July after a rainy fall and winter delayed work on the project, officials said.

The project was initially slated for completion by March 30. But the project has been extended twice through change orders because of reviews needed to remove historic trolley rails, according to the city.

The construction along Market Street also ran into problems when one of the sections failed to pass a required compression test, which ensures the road’s surface and underlying soil can handle weight, Galveston spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.

But the redo of one section would not cause further delay or cost taxpayers more money because the contractor is bearing the cost, Fortin said.

For months, construction crews have been working on and off on a reconstruction project along Market Street. The city hired Houston-based Main Lane Industries to repave Market Street from 19th to 25th streets, replacing the asphalt with concrete and overhauling underground drainage and utilities, Fortin has said.

The city is paying for the $3.47 million project from federal disaster recovery money stemming from Hurricane Ike in 2008, according to the city.

Like most construction projects, the monthslong ordeal has disrupted daily life for some downtown residents and businesses.

Jillian Glover, a manager at The Proletariat, 2221 Market St., is looking forward to the completion of the road, she said Wednesday. The construction takes away several prime parking spaces from the bar and creates a noisier atmosphere, she said.

“It’s very inconvenient,” Glover said. “This is supposed to be a laid-back, chill place where you can take your coffee and sit out and relax, but instead there’s dirt flying in the air and it’s noisy.”

The construction, which started in August, tapered off after Hurricane Harvey and months of above-average rainfall, she said. But then it picked up again in early November during one of the busiest weekends on the island, motorcycle festival Lone Star Rally, Glover said.

“I thought that was a weird choice of weekend to start again,” Glover said.

Since then, Glover, who has a front-seat view of the construction, has seen crews sporadically, she said.

The work so far has focused on the westbound lane between 19th and 25th streets.


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I-45 expansion raises concerns about noise, drainage

LA MARQUE

State transportation officials Tuesday held a final public meeting about a $320 million proposed expansion of Interstate 45 scheduled to begin next year.

The expansion project proposes reconstructing and widening the interstate for about 10 miles from FM 1764 to just north of the Galveston Causeway, Texas Department of Transportation officials said.

Construction on the project would begin sometime in 2019 and include widening the six-lane interstate to eight lanes, along with rebuilding frontage roads, officials said.

While city officials had previously been concerned about the loss of businesses and business interruption from the project, the main concerns among residents at the meeting Tuesday at La Marque High School were about noise, drainage and the fact the project would move the highway closer to their homes and businesses.

“Our house is facing Interstate 45,” La Marque resident Danny Barnes said. “We are not opposed to this. Because of the increase in lanes and such, we want something to protect us from the noise.”

Noise barriers would be possible near several subdivisions along the interstate, said Sonny Kaiser, a planner with the firm Ecosystem Planning and Restoration, which is assisting the state with the project.

Resident Joanna Sharp said she wanted assurances the project wouldn’t make flooding a bigger problem in her neighborhood.

“They are actually going to bring the road closer to us,” she said. “We want to make sure they upgrade their drainage areas. We want to make sure that they adjust for the elevation and the drainage so it doesn’t affect our roads and our houses.”

Likewise, resident Mary Tarlton was worried about how the project would affect her mother’s house.

“They’re going to take the road even closer to her house,” she said. “I think they should do the widening and I’m not trying to stop progress. At the same time, I’m really worried about her safety.”

With the hearing done, the next steps will be to finalize an environmental analysis, complete a final design and begin buying rights of way for the expansion, transportation department spokesman Danny Perez said.

The plan would require about 20 acres of right of way in La Marque between FM 1764 and the Galveston Causeway, officials have previously said. The plan also calls for construction of new detention ponds, according to the department.

Property owners along I-45 would all be affected differently, depending on the amount of right of way the state needs and how far structures are set back from the property line, state officials have said.

But generally speaking, businesses affected by right of way acquisition would go into negotiations with the state over fair market value of the property and could recoup damages associated with the move, including reconstruction costs if a new building needed to be built, state officials have said.

The transportation agency expects to go out for a contract on the project in 2019.

“We want to make sure we keep traffic flowing for the next 10 or 20 years,” Perez said. “We have to keep up with the demand that we are seeing down here in Galveston County.”


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Coming soon

Renovations are underway at the College of the Mainland, stemming from a bond its board approved this fall.


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Clark faces three challengers in race for Pct. 4

Galveston County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken Clark has served in his position for 20 years, making him one of the longest-serving elected officials in Galveston County.

This year, Clark is facing three challengers who argue they should be the one to end his tenure on the commissioners court.

Clark is being challenged by former Friendswood City Councilman Billy Enochs, businesswoman Michelle Hatmaker and businessman Jim Bulgier, who all argue that Clark’s time on the commission should end.

Clark says he’s still up for more.

Clark was first elected in 1998, and sat on the court as it shifted from being dominated by Democrats to one controlled by Republicans, a consequence of a 2010 Republican surge in local politics.

“They’re going to say commissioners court has been divisive,” Clark said of criticisms he expected from his opponents. He argued that he has been effective in pushing conservative issues on the board, however.

In the past eight years, the court has been able to reduce taxes and reduce the size of government, he said, citing a redistricting in 2014 that cut the number of county constables and justice of the peace courts.

Clark said he was interested in another term to finish projects he has worked on that will benefit the community, such as a new Pelican Island Bridge, which he said could be an economic boon for the entire county.

“I am an effective conservative leader who is working hard and is responsive to my constituents,” Clark said. “I’m using my experience and historical knowledge and the relationships that I’ve developed to benefit all the taxpayers in Galveston County.”

Precinct 4 covers areas in the northwest part of the county, including parts of Friendswood, League City and Dickinson.

No Democrat is running for the Precinct 4 seat, meaning the winner of the primary race will be the presumptive commissioner-elect.

The winner of the race will serve a four-year term on the commissioners court. This year, a seat on the commission included a salary of $102,324, along with an automobile allowance of $12,000.

Enochs sat on the Friendswood City Council for six years. A director with Memorial Hermann Healthcare, his resume includes positions with the oil and gas industry, with a private space contractor, and as a major in Texas Air National Guard, where he developed disaster recovery operations experience.

Enochs said he was interested in finding ways to better unite the county government with city government, suggesting there might be some services, such as emergency dispatch operations that the governments could share as a group, or a unified health care system for public employees or a countywide master parks plan.

“We need to come up with a unified vision for the county,” Enochs said. “Right now, each of the cities goes at it alone. I would be pushing to try to get together and unite these cities.”

Enochs said he thought cities like Friendswood don’t feel a true partnership with the county government.

Hatmaker has never held elected office. In 2014, however, she ran a relatively close primary campaign against County Judge Mark Henry. She lost the nomination to Henry by about 1,000 votes.

Hatmaker said she felt her background in real estate and development gave her an edge on opponents in understanding where the county is heading.

“It’s definitely time for a change,” Hatmaker said. “I believe I’m the only candidate with a working history and a living history with both the north and the south part of the county. I lived in Galveston for most of my adult life and I built some very strong professional relationships on the island; and I grew up in the northern part of the county in the Clear Lake area.”

Those relationships will give her a “crossover” appeal when it comes to making deals and debating issues on the court, Hatmaker said.

Of all the candidates, Bulgier has the least local political history — having never held elected office or run for a political position. He also is the newest resident to Galveston County. Bulgier moved his legal address to Galveston County in the past two years and is still building his “forever home” in Friendswood, on the same street as Clark.

“The carpetbagging story is just not a true story,” Bulgier said, referring to claims made by his opponents about his residency. “I am a resident of Galveston County. I’ve had the property for over two years, and homesteaded it just this last year.”

No one has legally challenged Bulgier’s residency during the campaign.

Bulgier, who owns a construction and demolition business, said he’s familiar with county issues from having lived in the Harris County part of a Friendswood for a long time and from owning a dozen rental properties on Galveston Island.

Bulgier said the commissioners court could do a better job controlling county property valuations — which have continued to increase in recent years — by using its influence to appoint more conservative members to the Galveston Central Appraisal District.

“I think the first thing I would tell them is that we need someone that will be fair and realize who we’re working for,” Bulgier said.

He added that he intended to donate his salary to charity if he were elected.

The primary election is Feb. 20. Election Day is March 6.