At a recent Kyle City Council meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Kerry Urbanowicz (right) discusses the recreation center project. Councilmember David Wilson (left) listens. File photo.
By LANCE DUNCAN
KYLE — Once upon a time, Kyle city officials and the city’s feedback from residents stoked dreams of a $20 million recreation center.
But the times have changed, and the city struggles to decide if it wants to go through with such a much-anticipated amenity now that the city is $73 million in debt and more than half of the city’s 42.4-cent tax rate goes to debt service.
The heated issue of Kyle’s recreation center project came up again at the city council meeting this week as citizens and councilmembers struggled to find common ground. The council ultimately chose to move forward with the current development phase and pay the remaining $400,000 to the consulting firm doing the work.
In mid-September, the council chose to delay the project because of concerns about Kyle’s already heavy debt, along with the threat of property taxes rising to the 70-cent range in Fiscal Year 2011. At that point, the city was contemplating a 49.6-cent tax rate. The city later shaved the rate down, mostly by refinancing debt.
Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzales has repeatedly said that the initial planning for the rec center going back to 2007 was done long before the recent recession, and that the scope of the project – an estimated $20 million – may now be much larger than the city can reasonably afford.
At a planning workshop held before the city council meeting on Nov. 3, city staff revealed that the rec center project would add 12 to 14 cents to the city’s FY 2011 tax rate. Combined with other growing expenses, the rec center would add about 20 cents to the next property tax rate without also funding debt for a new library and a new police station, which are both on the way for Kyle.
The bond election for the rec center has been pushed back to November 2010 at the earliest, with May 2011 being considered as a fall-back position. However, as the vote has been pushed back from its original target of November 2009, which just passed, the issue has not become any less contentious for the citizens of Kyle, who made their strong opinions clear at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Two-time former Kyle Councilmember Mike Moore said Kyle can’t afford the rec center. Moore made comments praising the Hays County Food Bank, and said that if the rec center bond initiative passes, it would cause financial troubles for many people in Kyle, as more families would be relying on the food bank.
Kyle Resident Jennifer DiLeo spoke strongly in favor of the rec center, asking the council to “look beyond taxes.” DiLeo said many Kyle residents go to Buda or San Marcos to use the YMCA and recreation centers there, and suggested that the presence of the rec center in Kyle would draw new businesses to the city. DiLeo asked the council to resume development of the center, and claimed that a majority of Kyle citizens are in favor of it.
“You must consider the throng of voices in favor of this recreation center,” she said.
Resident Stanley See said a rec center is unnecessary for the city. See said that Kyle already has a YMCA (it’s actually outside of Buda), which was not built with taxpayer dollars. See also said that in October of 2009, sales tax receipts in Kyle were lower than in 2008, despite the arrival of new businesses, and that contributions from businesses to the state unemployment fund would double in 2010.
“Is it the business of government to own and manage these kinds of facilities?” he asked. See also raised the question of whether the rec center would really draw new businesses to Kyle more than a lower tax base would.
Former Kyle Mayor Ed Winn said he and his household are on a fixed income, and he is concerned about taxes going up. Winn was confident that the majority of citizens in Kyle are also feeling the tax squeeze, saying, “If you go now to voters, I think you’ll find that they will vote down your bond.”
Kyle resident Lori Huey said she thinks the city needs the rec center. She suggested that the council should anticipate growth, saying, “We need to continue with these plans and keep building Kyle.” She also said the project is supported by the school district and by Seton Hospital.
Councilmember and Mayor Pro-Tem Michelle Lopez said the design phase of the rec center project is already incorporated into the city’s budget and tax rate, and urged the council to allow the design process to finish.
Gonzales said that while the design process has been budgeted, the council needs to be concerned about how the actual construction will be funded.
Councilmember Ray Bryant said the council needs to continue educating residents about the costs involved if the rec center is constructed, and expressed concerns about the tax impact when the rec center is combined with the new library and police station.
Councilmember Lucy Johnson said she’s concerned that the design process may not be worthwhile if the wait for actual construction is long, because the price may significantly increase if the rec center is not constructed for many years.
“We’re continuing this project that I don’t think we can afford as a city,” she said, arguing for an official halt of the planning process. Johnson said she also was concerned about the city’s sales taxes decreasing in the past year, and said it would be best not to go forward with more design work until after the council’s next community improvement project workshop.
Councilmember David Wilson said he understands the importance of the rec center to many Kyle citizens.
“During my campaign process, many doors looked forward to the rec center,” he said. Wilson said he is not in favor of stopping at this particular point.
Lopez again argued that full information about the price and the tax increase should be available to the voters, and said finishing the planning process was the only way to provide that information.
Gonzales thanked all of the citizens who came and shared their opinions, but said there is no financial gain to be had by halting the planning process at this point, since it has already been budgeted and essentially funded. Gonzales said that the plans should have a decent shelf life before the costs of construction are higher, so long as the city can build the facility within two or three years.
Gonzales said he can see both sides of the issue, and that he understands the dread of a tax increase. He once again said that a 70-cent tax rate would be unacceptable, suggesting that the cost of the rec center could perhaps be lowered by bringing in a third party to assist with the funding.
Councilmember Becky Selbera said she was in favor of stopping the planning process, saying the economy can’t support the rec center. Selbera said that only 500 of the roughly 30,000 people who live in Kyle responded to the original survey about the center.
Johnson said that she was still in favor of ending the planning of the rec center.
“During the budget process, we discussed using remaining rec funds for something else,” she said. “I decided we should continue to keep the money in the budget, and I think we still should.”
Johnson again argued for suspending the process until after the council’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) workshop, but she and Selbera were the only visible votes in support. After convening in executive session to discuss the legality of not paying the remaining $400,000 to the consultants who are working on the design process, the council decided to allow the process to continue.Email | Print