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Education
editor's pick
Midway board gets more leeway on bond package after property values come in higher than expected
 Brooke Crum  / 
 08.08.19

The Midway Independent School District Board of Trustees postponed calling a November bond election Thursday night in light of newly certified property values that give the board more options on how to package the bond projects without raising the tax rate.

The board plans to meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday to further discuss the bond issue.

The McLennan County Appraisal District recently released certified property values that show greater growth for the Midway ISD region than first estimated when the board started its bond issue discussions, said Victor Quiroga, the district’s financial adviser with Specialized Public Finance Inc. in San Antonio.

When Quiroga met with the board June 4, he estimated property value growth for 2020 would be about 4.8%, but the growth rate has been certified at 6.34%, he said. That allows the district greater bonding capacity.

With the newly certified numbers, Midway ISD could call for a $160 million bond election without raising the tax rate, Quiroga said. That is $31 million more than the trustees thought they had to work with last week.

Additionally, Quiroga said, the district’s finances are in good shape, which also helps its bonding capacity. Currently, the district will be able to pay off all its debt within 14 years.

“The district is in very good shape with respect to your outstanding bonds,” Quiroga said. “You have relatively limited debt, and not only that you’re paying it off relatively quickly.”

A Midway ISD facility study committee recommended May 21 that the school board call a Nov. 5 bond election for $177 million that would address the needs of the growing school district. The deadline to call for an election is Aug. 19.

The bond package as proposed includes building a new elementary school, eliminating intermediate schools and repurposing the buildings, as well as renovating Midway Middle School.

The school district of about 8,200 students is expected to surge to 10,700 in 10 years, according to the facility committee’s estimates.

Board members discussed last week how to fund the bond package without raising the tax rate. That left them with the option of a $129 million bond issue that would fund all projects except for additions to the high school for the career and technology education program, but trustees said that expansion could be included in a future bond package.

The discussion Thursday showed that board members still did not want to raise the tax rate, but they considered other options that include the expanded CTE program facilities.

The board considered three main options:

  • a $160 million bond package with no tax rate increase that would be paid off in 20 years with a 3.35% interest rate
  • a $129 million bond package with up to a 2.78 cent tax rate decrease that would be paid off in 20 years with a 3.35% interest rate
  • a $129 million bond package with no tax rate increase that would be paid off in 15 years with a 2.96% interest rate.

A community survey conducted between June 24 and July 5 found little support for the entire $177 million bond package. Out of 30,758 registered voters, 1,135 verified registered voters or households participated and completed the survey. The survey was distributed to both residents and district employees.

Survey respondents showed significantly more support for a $126 million or even a $153 million bond issue. At the time of the survey, the district expected it would have to increase the tax rate by 2 cents per $100 of property value to raise the $153 million.

Board Vice President Tom Pagel said he likes the option of offering some tax relief to constituents by calling for the $129 million bond that would allow the district to decrease its tax rate and pay off some of its debt earlier than anticipated.

New board member Andy Popejoy said he believes the CTE program is important and he would like to see all proposed bond projects pass, but he understands the idea that tax relief is more palatable to voters.

Board Secretary Susan Vick said the board could go with another option, a $148 million bond package that excludes all projects at the high school but still allows for some tax relief. The risk with that option is that putting all the high school projects in a future bond package may alienate voters without high school-age children.

Board President Pete Rusek said a bond package will only help the district if it can garner enough support to pass.

“If we can’t do that, we’re really behind the eight ball,” Rusek said. “I want to call a bond that’ll pass. I’m not sure which one that is.”

Board member Pam Watts said she wanted some time to reflect on the new options presented Thursday evening.

“There’s been far too much effort and legwork and discussion getting to where we are now to decide something so pivotal in a relatively few amount of minutes. I’d like the time,” Watts said. “We have some good choices to make, and all of them are good, but that doesn’t mean they are easy.”


Government
editor's pick
Eat, sleep, shop
Magnolia Market expansion, Marriott hotel get nod for TIF backing
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 
 08.08.19

A third hotel planned on Mary Avenue and a major expansion of Magnolia Market at the Silos each won recommendations Thursday for public backing from the downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board.

The board recommended $1,063,198 for Magnolia Silos LLC to pay for drainage work and other public improvements associated with an expansion that will roughly double the size of Magnolia Market at the Silos, Sixth Street and Webster Avenue. The board also recommended $8,723,774 for various elements of an AC Hotel by Marriott just down the road at Sixth Street and Mary Avenue.

Magnolia’s expansion will include a “retail village” with a new main entrance to the complex, a coffee shop, furniture showroom and, if all goes well, a restored historical Waco church building. Magnolia initially planned to apply for TIF money at the board’s June meeting but temporarily withdrew.

Magnolia founders Chip and Joanna Gaines are restoring the former Second Presbyterian Church at 13th Street and Jefferson Avenue in hopes of moving the building to Magnolia Market and making it the complex’s second focal point, said Susie Wimberly, director of capital projects for Magnolia. The Gaineses’ company bought the abandoned building in 2017.

“We’ll still have our entrance over by the market, but in the master plan we are shifting so our new main entrance comes off of Eighth Street,” Wimberly said.

Work on the coffee shop and furniture showroom, housed in a building that most recently served as a CrossFit gym, is already well underway.

The expansion project will eat up one of the Silos’ gravel parking lots. Wimberly said a new gravel lot at Sixth Street and Jackson Avenue, still free and open to the public, will fill the void.

“We’ve got a committee that’s working on … some alternative parking options for our guests,” Wimberly said. “What we’re taking away from here is already replaced in that lot.”

The expansion also includes plans to pave parts of the complex now covered with gravel and to add water features and more out-of-the-way spots for guests to sit and relax.

In an effort to make lot lines parallel where one is angled now, Magnolia also plans to buy a small slice of land next to an AT&T building neighboring the complex. The companies have entered a maintenance agreement to make aesthetic changes to the AT&T building that will make it look more in keeping with Magnolia’s aesthetic.

The recommended TIF grant would cover 10.2% of the about $10.4 million total project cost.

Marriott

Just down the street from the Silos is the site of a planned AC Hotel by Marriott, which will include conference center space, a restaurant with outdoor seating and a parking garage with 145 public parking spaces. The development would take the place of an Olmsted-Kirk Paper Co. building, which the company had previously announced plans to leave for another Waco location.

The five-story, 95,976-square-foot hotel will have 182 rooms and 16,963 square feet of conference center space with high ceilings meant to accommodate performances. The five-level parking garage will have a total of 327 parking spaces.

The board approved a city staff recommendation that SRH Hospitality Waco Downtown Investments LLC receive $8,723,774 of for facade and public improvements associated with the project. The TIF grant would cover 21.6% of the total project cost of more than $40 million.

SRH Hospitality CEO Paul Barham said the AC Marriott brand is a good fit for Waco’s population and needs.

“It’s a very much a hotel geared toward social business,” Barham said.

The project includes 18,000 square feet of commercial space in front of the parking garage, which will be at the back of the building.

Project manager David Pollack said the site at Sixth and Mary comes with some challenges. Disused railroad tracks limit the right-of-way, water lines serving the area will need to be replaced with larger ones and overhead power lines in the area will have to be buried.

“What Oncor told us was they really didn’t want to continue piecemeal downtown rectification of the insufficiency of the power system,” Pollack said. “That’s why Oncor is involved in a big way on this, they’re trying to resolve it for the neighborhood.”

The TIF recommendation includes $3.8 million for the public portion of the parking structure, $550,000 for the power lines and $638,000 for other utility upgrades.

Elsewhere on Mary Avenue downtown, a Hyatt Place and an Embassy Suites are also planned, each with TIF backing and parking garages with sections open to the public.

The TIF board’s recommendations will go to the Waco City Council for final approval.


AP
Texas relaxed gun laws after recent mass shootings
 
 08.08.19

AUSTIN — After dozens of people, including toddlers and teenagers, were gunned down in separate mass shootings at a church Sutherland Springs and a high school in suburban Houston, Texas Republicans came to the Capitol this year with their eyes on new gun laws.

The goal was not to limit access to weapons or ban assault-style rifles, but to expand gun rights. After a pro-gun legislative session applauded by the National Rifle Association, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed new laws that eased restrictions on where firearms can be carried, from schools to churches, apartments and foster homes, and barred cities from passing their own gun and ammunition sales limits.

After last weekend’s massacre of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart by an attacker with a military-style rifle, Texas’ Republican leadership is still unlikely to push for gun restrictions in a state that has long embraced firearms and has nearly 1.4 million handgun license holders, experts and advocates on both sides of the gun issue say. The shooting comes nearly 21 months after the Sutherland Springs massacre that killed more than two dozen people and more than a year after the Santa Fe shooting that killed 10.

“When Texas Republicans look at these massacres, they don’t blame guns, or gun laws. They blame people. They may blame institutions, schools, families, mental health, but not guns,” said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University. “If a school massacre and a church massacre didn’t change people’s opinion, the El Paso massacre isn’t going to.”

Texas’ resistance to tightening gun laws stands in contrast to how some Republican-led states have reacted after mass shootings.

After a 2018 attack at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that state became one of more than a dozen with “red flag” laws, which generally allow law enforcement or family members to ask a judge to order the seizure or surrender of guns from someone deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Florida also raised the legal age of buying a gun from 18 to 21.

On Tuesday, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine proposed requiring background checks for nearly all gun sales and adopting a red flag law in his state, where a gunman killed nine people at a Dayton entertainment district just hours after the El Paso shooting.

Texas has no restrictions on gun sales and allows licensed handgun owners to carry their weapons openly or concealed. Long gun or rifles, like the one used in the El Paso massacre, can be openly carried in public. Alice Tripp, legislative director and lobbyist for the NRA-affiliated Texas State Rifle Association, said Texans won’t follow other states on gun laws.

“We’re smarter. We’re self-determined and independent and look for the root cause of problems,” Tripp said. “We don’t follow people who simply say for political purposes, ‘We should have done this or that.’ We look for laws that could have made a difference.”

Abbott and other state leaders have focused on mental health, social media and video games since the El Paso shooting.

Abbott met Wednesday with Democratic lawmakers from El Paso who have pushed for gun control and said he wants to keep guns away from “deranged killers.” Abbott said the state should battle hate, racism and terrorism, but made no mention of gun restrictions.

“Our job is to keep Texans safe,” Abbott said. “We take that job seriously. We will act swiftly and aggressively to address it.”

Abbott said he will meet with experts this month to discuss how Texas can respond — much as he did after shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe.

Those meetings resulted in Abbott issuing a 43-page report with proposals for more armed guards in schools, boosting mental health screenings, new restrictions on home gun storage, and consideration of red flag laws.

Gun rights supporters immediately pushed back on anything that could be interpreted as restricting gun ownership, and the Legislature’s Republican majority pivoted to expanding run rights. The only victory gun control supporters could claim was a small item in a $250 billion state budget: $1 million for a public awareness campaign on safe gun storage at home.

“They made things worse,” said Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense. “I went naively into the session thinking ‘Progress here we come.’ But we ran head on into this idea that more guns make us safer.”


Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file 

Midway’s Leo Peralta celebrates one of his 125 career goals during the 2014 season.


Crime
editor's pick
Local attorney setting up campaign for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 
 08.08.19

Gina Parker is an attorney, a businesswoman and a Republican Party activist. She is a former prosecutor, a former beauty queen, and now, she wants to be a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Describing herself as a “constitutional conservative,” Parker is running against Judge Bert Richardson for Place 3 on the state’s highest criminal court.

“I have been active in statewide politics,” Parker said. “I served at the state party level as associate general counsel and state party treasurer. I was on the ballot security committee and I have statewide contacts. It is going to be important to get out the vote in 2020, and I have grassroots political involvement and connections. I think I will be a real asset to the Republican ticket.”

Parker, who quoted former First Lady Nancy Reagan by saying, “ladies never reveal their age,” graduated from Baylor University in 1983. She was crowned Miss Waco in 1984 and participated in the Miss Texas Pageant during her first quarter at Baylor Law School.

Most recently, Parker sought the gubernatorial appointment to replace 10th Court of Appeals Justice Al Scoggins, a nod that went to Judge John Neill, of Johnson County, in January.

Parker also ran unsuccessfully for state Republican Party chairwoman and served as a commissioner and eventual chairwoman of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation for nine years. She also served as national judicial reform chairwoman for the National Eagle Forum.

Parker said she has been encouraged to run by her attorney friends and others on both sides of the political spectrum.

“That, to me, is the best stamp of approval you can have when members of the bar, some Democrat attorney friends and some Republican attorney friends, say you will make an excellent judge because you will be fair and balanced and you will do the right thing,” Parker said. “That is really encouraging because that is the most important characteristic for a judge — that they are fair and impartial and follow the law. That I can make a firm commitment to.”

Parker, who is married to Dr. Kevin Kallal, a physician with a family practice in Keller, has been a licensed attorney since 1986 and worked three years as an assistant county attorney in Bell County and a year as a McLennan County prosecutor before opening her own practice in 1991. Parker lists her areas of practice as auto and trucking accident cases, criminal defense law, business law and general civil cases.

She also has owned Dental Creations since 2001, a company that manufactures products for use in dental labs and offices. Parker said she has used her dental business as a mission of sorts to give people with criminal records a second chance in the workforce and to improve the financial situation of women who have been abused.

“It’s really exciting when you give someone with a felony record a second chance,” she said.

Richardson was elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014. He served as an assistant district attorney for Bexar County and an assistant U.S. attorney. He was appointed judge of the 379th State District Court of Bexar County in 1999.

He is perhaps best known in McLennan County as the judge who was appointed to hear the application for writ of habeas corpus filed by convicted murderer Darlene Gentry.

Richardson presided over several lengthy hearings in Gentry’s appeal but did not issue an opinion in the case until seven years later, three years after he had been elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Richardson recommended that Gentry should be denied a new trial, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which ordered the writ hearings, agreed.

Gentry is serving 60 years in prison in the November 2005 shooting death of her husband, Waymon Keith Gentry, the father of her three sons.