Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, left, and Specialized Public Finance Consultant Dan Wegmiller, right, at last week’s meeting of the Hays County Commissioners Court. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County’s governing body resumed course towards up to $74 million in capital improvements and bond sales after dropping anchor briefly last week to check for dark economic clouds on the horizon.
With that, the county will go forward on a $73 million government center and other office facility improvements. Increases in the county’s property tax rate are almost certain to follow.
The Hays County Commissioners Court solicited advice from its bond agent, Specialized Public Finance (SPF), which presented three four-year property tax rate scenarios: one in which property values neither increase nor decrease next year, another in which values increase by 2.5 percent next year, and another in which property values decrease one percent. All three scenarios entail property tax increases, ranging from 0.71 cents per $100 of valuation to 1.19 cents per $100 by next fiscal year, and from 2.43 cents per $100 to 2.97 cents per $100 by 2014.
Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberely) set up the debt workshop two weeks ago over the mild reproaches of Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle), the latter of whom is running against Sumter in the Democratic Primary for county judge in March. Barton said the workshop was an “effective tap dance” that cost the county thousands of dollars, while Sumter said the county needed to prepare for possible declines in property values next year.
“I would say it cost — my guess is (the workshop) cost somewhere between five and $15,000 because we had … bankers, staff, auditors, engineers, program managers, several different groups of engineers, at the judge’s instruction, preparing data today,” Barton said. “Since that data actually reinforced what a lot of us had been saying for weeks — this was supposed to be a broad-ranging discussion on whether we should move forward at all, and what we should do, and the sky is falling — and you noticed today that it didn’t go in that direction. And that’s because, after spending thousands of dollars to recompile and reiterate data that we’d already seen, we found out that, except for an upcoming election, nothing has really changed, and that we’re going to move forward just as we always were.”
Sumter said the workshop was not costly, adding that it was necessary because it enabled the court to discover that selling the government center bonds in two issuances might save the county money. The workshop yielded different tax rate projections that what County Auditor Bill Herzog made two weeks before.
On Jan. 13, the day after Sumter voiced her concerns about property values and said she would schedule a debt workshop, Herzog said the county’s property tax rate would increase less than one-half of a cent for Fiscal Year 2011 if property value increases up to 2.5 percent or declines up to one percent. During last week’s the debt workshop, SPF estimated that the same changes in property values would increase the tax rate by 1.19 cents.
“(SPF consultant) Dan Wegmiller doesn’t charge us anything, he’s free,” Sumter said. “(Broaddus and Associates consultant) Bob Hinkle was also there for other items. (HDR consultant) Jeff Curren and (Prime Strategies consultant) Mike Weaver usually come to do updates in our courtroom. Yes, they probably charged us for being there, but they were essential because if there were questions about roads and that budget … they needed to be there to answer those questions. So, no, it was money well-spent, and it wasn’t very much. It wasn’t thousands of dollars.”
Hays County accountant Vickie Wilhelm said it will not be possible to find out how much Tuesday’s workshop cost the county until the consultants who were there for that item — and who opt to charge the county for being there — send their bills.
SPF’s property tax rate projection under Scenario 1, which entails a .71 cent county property tax increase for next year, assumes 2.5 percent growth in property values each year for the next four years. Scenario 2, which entails a 1.05 cent tax increase for next year, assumes no property value growth next year and 2.5 percent growth in subsequent years. Scenario 3, which entails a 1.19 cent tax increase for next year, assumes a one percent property value decline in 2011 property values and then 2.5 percent increases in subsequent years.
The court voted unanimously to publish notice of a March 30 sale of up to $72 million in certificates of obligation (COs) for a 233,600-square-foot county office complex, the groundbreaking ceremony for which is slated for April 7. Though the county has hired a design-builder for the government center, a price will not be negotiated until middle or late March. The current contract with design-builder Balfour Beatty specifies a not-to-exceed amount of $58,288,337.
The court also voted unanimously last week to execute a design-build contract with Flynn Construction for an expansion of the Resource Protection, Transportation and Planning Department (RPTP) building, the cost of which has not yet been negotiated — though the contract specifies a not-to-exceed amount of $1,452,500. The county paid MRB Group $66,102 for schematic design and programming services for the RPTP building expansion before ending that firm’s involvement in the project in October.
Flynn Construction will offer at least some of the same services for which MRB Group was paid. Broaddus and Associates (B&A) project manager Codi Newsom said it is too early to tell how much of MRB’s work will be preserved in the final design. The RPTP department is going through some internal reorganization, which may render some of MRB’s work useless but may increase the efficiency of county operations. As of Jan. 5, the county paid B&A $27,968.35 for managing the RPTP project.
The court further cast a unanimous vote on Tuesday to authorize an expenditure of an additional $68,120 in state-mandated repairs to the county jail’s roof, putting the current contract total for that project at $567,570. The original contract amount for the roof repairs was $424,000, which county officials said did not cover the costs of some items they knew all along they would need.
“We allowed (Texas Fifth Wall Roofing) to move forward on that first phase because we didn’t have bids yet for the skylights and the other work that needed to be done,” said Hays County Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) last week. “So once we received those, then we let them proceed.”
The recent change order included $25,200 more for skylights than was originally planned, because the bid documents listed eight skylights instead of the actual 12. At least $42,920 of the change order will go to remedy structural problems discovered during current roof repair efforts. Fifty-five percent of the new roof has been installed, and a mobile kitchen should be operational by the end of the week so that repairs to the jail’s internal kitchen may proceed.
The lowest mobile kitchen provider bid solicited by the county came in at $11,200 per month, plus a $3,500 setup charge. A Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) inspector, during an April 2009 jail inspection, requested by the county sheriff, found at least seven areas of noncompliance with state law. A major noncompliance issue involved the jail’s deteriorating roof, which the county had not fixed by the time TCJS conducted its regular annual inspection — a surprise inspection — near the end of September. As of Jan. 5, the county paid B&A $61,581.81 for overseeing the county jail repairs, plus $70,244.70 for related consultant fees.
Sumter and Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff have expressed support for the building of a new jail of at least 1,000 beds. The current jail has 362 beds. Herzog in November estimated a new jail might cost “close to $50-or-$60 million.”
The county hired PBS&J to design the government center but discontinued the firm’s involvement last year after B&A — hired after PBS&J — recommended a total redesign of the building. HDR is the new architect for the building.
The county paid PBS&J $2.4 million for design work related to the government center project and the two entities are now engaged in litigation over the status of the contract. County Auditor Bill Herzog said PBS&J had completed about 40 percent of its scope of work, and Broaddus and Associates Austin Area Manager Brenda Jenkins said PBS&J’s “site analysis, utility review, space relationship and programming effort, allowed us to cut 20 percent of the time needed to get us to this new design outcome.”
As of mid-January, the county had paid B&A $498,055.61 for work related to the government center project.Email | Print