May election brings new wave of local debt

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The tiny rural school district of Peaster outside Fort Worth will have no new stadium for its fledgling high school football team. The school district in Round Rock will have to make due with its 8,800 capacity, artificial-turfed stadium that was built in 1974 with (gasp) no video scoreboard. And the Sherman Bearcats will have to struggle through another season without a renovation to their field, built in 1940, in the North Texas town.

Voters in cities and school districts across the state were typically generous in Saturday’s bond elections, approving 66 measures while turning back 25, with a number of elections still undetermined.

Voters gave the ok to new jails, police facilities, municipal sports complexes and street improvements.

And if it floods in San Antonio ten years down the line, someone should call attention to the $139 million that voters approved for drainage improvements. The $280 million voters approved in 2007 and 2012 didn’t quite get the job done.

Voters in Bexar County, where San Antonio sits, were among the most generous in the state, signing off on $830 million in bonds for the city, including the drainage projects, $450 million for Alamo Community College for new buildings and renovations and another $254 million in three county school districts for new buildings, renovations and an athletic facility.

Here are a few of the larger measures that were approved by voters:

  • Lewisville ISD – $737 million for buildings, school renovations, softball fields, indoor athletic centers, press box renovations and more.
  • Collin County Community College District – $600 million for facility upgrades and three new campuses.
  • Clear Creek ISD outside Houston – $487 million for new schools, playgrounds, security upgrades and renovations.
  • Northwest ISD, outside Fort Worth — $399 million for new schools, a natatorium, and an outdoor sports field house.

Voters in smaller school districts and towns were more likely to turn back bond measures, according to a review of Saturday’s results. Westworth Village in Tarrant County, population 2,253, refused a $3.5 million community center by a 57 percent margin. School districts in Alvord, enrollment 681, and Thorndale, enrollment 608, couldn’t get voters on board for schools and/or renovations.

Bond proposals are stated in a set amount, but voters are usually not informed of the total amount of payouts needed to pay the bond debt off. For example, Lewisville ISD’s bond amount was sold as $737.5 million, but with a scheduled payoff in 2041, the total amount paid is $1.1 billion.

Opponents of bond measures pop up primarily in school district bond elections, where there is a disputed need.

In Round Rock, a well-organized campaign was run on the ground and via social media.

“We won votes the hard way, mainly with one-on-one contacts,” noted a post-election summary on the Facebook page of Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers, which opposed the measures. “We had NO mailers. We went door-to-door and talked or left flyers. We talked to friends and neighbors. There was social media too, but it was all part of the conversation.”

In Lewisville ISD, the opposition spent around $1,800 raised among ten people, said Frank Vaughn, who led the failed opposition group, Lewisville CARES.

“The district sends out mailers using district money,” Vaughn noted, and it also used a consultancy to advocate for the bond, he said.

Municipalities and districts are prohibited from using public money for advocacy, according to statute.

Peaster, where 58 percent of voters decided against the football stadium, has already announced it will have a football team for the first time.

The district defaulted on a bond payment in 2014 and was seeking the money for the stadium, a gym renovation, a new track and three new buses.

The high school’s enrollment is around 300 and the overall enrollment of 1,057 has dipped by 17 students since 2011.

Peaster Superintendent Matt Adams did not return a call seeking comment.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or [email protected]

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