City special session

City special session

By Jim Rogers, Editor, The Winnsboro News

No action was taken by the Winnsboro City Council during a Special Session December 9th in which they responded to a petition signed by 195 Winnsboro voters. However, the council members did direct city staff to focus on specific projects in the City of Winnsboro Action Plans 2021-2031 and the cost of General Obligation bonds that could be presented to city voters as early as the May municipal election.

The petition called for the council to decide whether to vote for or against the rescission of the April 13, 2021 Resolution No. 2021-12 which notified the public of the city’s intent to issue Certificates of Obligation for the purpose of paying contractual obligations incurred or to be incurred for various projects throughout the City, including improvements to various streets, Market Street, Farmers Market and improvements and upgrades to existing city facilities, including city hall, 101 North Main Street and the civic center or to submit the question to the voters of the city in a May 2022 election for approval or disapproval.

The petition signed by the voters was received by the city June 10, 2021 and the process of verification of signatures began. The decision of the City Council weighed several options offered in the petition. Craig Cunningham, Senior Vice President of D. A. Davidson, financial advisor to the City Council, told the council Resolution 2021-12 was not a commitment to borrow funds and that if the council no longer wanted to pursue the entire package of projects named in the City of Winnsboro Action Plans 2021-2031 there was no further action required. He said the item would die for lack of further action. He pointed out that the Council could have chosen to place the authorization of the CO’s to a vote on the May 2022 election ballot but the ballot was required to contain all of the projects currently included in the 2021-2031 Plans and no item could have been eliminated.

Cunningham noted a third option, and the one chosen by the council, allows the council to pick and choose projects from the 2021-2031 Plans for the May ballot by utilizing General Obligation bonds to fund the projects. General Obligation bonds which allow the council to not include specific projects for funding must be voted on by registered city voters.

Cunningham stated that rates remain low and now is a good time to issue either Certificates of Obligation or General Obligation bonds. If the bonds were to be placed on the May 2022 ballot, the council would need to call for the bond election before February 18th or they would have to wait until the mid-term elections in November.

The council chose to take no action on the Certificates of Obligation and to discuss the GO’s as a funding option. The discussion began with councilperson Joan Morris stating street improvements were a concern of citizens. She questioned if street improvements could be placed

on a ballot? Cunningham answered in the affirmative. Councilman David Corning asked if “cherry picking” projects was an option. Again, Cunningham confirmed choosing specific projects for General Obligation bonds to present for voter approval was an option. Cunningham also pointed out that the council did not have to wait for new costs due to inflation before presenting the options to voters.

After Councilman Richard Parrish stated a need for a new animal shelter, which was not included in the 2021-2031 Action Plans, Mayor Andrea Newsome asked if it would be simpler to discard the 2021-2031 Action Plans and do a new study? She questioned how long it would take to do a new study and asked if an animal shelter was added, did the city have the land and what would be the cost for an architect? City Secretary Angie Pike told the council that the cost figures on items taken from the Action Plan could be put together prior to the February 18th deadline. She said adding an animal shelter to the mix would demand time but she thought cost figures could be accomplished by the deadline.

Councilman Parrish asked if General Obligation bonds were approved for one project, could excess funds be moved to another project if needed. Cunningham said, “No.” Cunningham said monies funded by GO’s must be used for the project the bond was approved to fund. The language of the proposition on the ballot determined the usage of the GO funds, according to Cunningham. He noted that excess funds from a GO would be used to pay on the bonds for which the funds were approved.
Councilman Parrish also asked if GO’s were approved, when would the service, repayment, of the bonds begin, Cunningham said an approval and sale of the bonds in May would allow payback to begin with the city’s 2023 budget.

Parrish told the council a number of projects would be beneficial to the city. He said the city needs to finish the Market Street project and the ADA compliant needs of the Farmers’ Market need to be addressed. He named work at the civic center and the parking problem downtown along with replacing an undersized, limited resources animal shelter as a greater priority than moving or improving city hall. Parrish asked the council to look at these projects first and later consider the remainder of the projects in the Action Plan.

Councilman Jim Hollowell said the building space for EMS, police and fire departments needed renovation.
Mayor Newsome instructed Cunningham to work with the City Administrator and City Construction Manager to update projects, add an animal shelter, and bring proposals to the council prior to the February 18th deadline to call for a May General Obligation bond election. She said she liked the GO bonds because they allow citizens to determine what projects to do. She said the city needs to complete what is started but some things might have to be ignored. She said the city needs to move forward without a big debt being placed on the citizens.

Local business owner since 1997, Shannon Monk told the council she had noticed missed opportunities in the past and did not want the council to miss an opportunity to move forward before the tide of interest rates could drag down momentum. She pointed to the opportunity lost for students in the Winnsboro school district to pay in-district tuition at Northeast Texas Community College when that proposal of locals being included in the district was voted down. She said with house sales and people looking for rental property moving at a fast pace, moving forward with funding items on the Action Plan was an investment for the future. She also told council that the public does not want to discard historical buildings in the city.

Jim Willis told the council he was encouraged to hear them discuss moving forward with specific items in the Action Plan and he asked the council to include the WCA project.

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