The League City council made the right decision Tuesday to seek direct voter input on the newly proposed $145 million bond initiative.
Doing so is an important step in more closely bringing the decision to take on debt into the hands of those who will ultimately pay the debt service, the voters. The bond referendum, set for May, will be the city’s first in 27 years.
Resident Chuck DiFalco said Tuesday he was pleased with the city’s decision to consider a referendum.
“I don’t know how many years I’ve been pounding on the table for direct democracy,” he said before the council voted unanimously to call the referendum. “I’m glad you all might approve this for a May election. I’m pleased with the specificity of some of these items.”
In contrast to general obligation bond referendums, the city has employed a tool known as a certificate of obligation. The key difference is the decision of taking on debt is in the hands of city officials, as opposed to being taken before the voters. Essentially, a majority vote by the city council could obligate the residents to debt.
While perfectly legal in Texas, certificates of obligation are generally designed for emergency spending. But in the minds of those opposed to the practice, elected officials were using the tools as a line of credit and saddling the community with project debt without a referendum, as required before a city can issue general obligation bonds.
The city council deserves a nod for having the courage to take this $145 million bond package before the voters. There were other options — but this one shows a commitment to transparency the public should expect from those in elective office.
The bond will bring forth three separate propositions — one each for traffic and drainage projects, along with a third for a sales tax increase. Two others, one for a library and another for a police department shooting range, are not included in the package going before the voters.
The approved ballot items will include options for voters to approve or reject $73 million for drainage projects and $72 million for streets and traffic projects, officials said.
And while there may have been good arguments for including the library and shooting range, there is a logic in streamlining the bond issue to be as clear and direct as possible.
Doing so will allow the voters to focus on a short list of more broadly beneficial projects, instead of risking the potential for voters to become divided by more energized opinions about the library and shooting range.
This is not meant as a slight to either of the projects left off the list, but rather stressing the taking of a clear and easily described narrative will be key in the bond getting a fair shake.
Voters want to both know and understand what they are getting when asked to approve a bond. Drainage and road projects are highly relatable. Libraries and shooting ranges not so much and may invite distractive opinions.
There is a $145 million bond initiative going before voters in May.
Keeping it simple and highly relatable is a solid strategy in order to give the voters a clearly defined decision to make. And having an open and productive vote may go a long ways to retiring the questionable practice of certificates of obligation.
• Leonard Woolsey