McLennan County leaders are moving forward with issuing a $10 million certificate of obligation to fund street work, among other projects, as well as plans to replace the Themis statue, which has stood atop the courthouse since 1902.
Commissioners Tuesday approved publicizing a notice of intention to issue a $10 million certificate of obligation with a 3 percent interest rate before the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The county plans to issue as much as $50 million in certificates of obligation during the next three years. The court will consider $20 million certificates of obligation in both fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
The county’s financial adviser, Mark McLiney, with SAMCO Capital Markets, said issuing the $10 million before the end of this fiscal year allows the county to get a bank-qualified interest rate.
“Because of your great taxable value growth, it looks like we can issue $10 million without any impact to the I&S tax rate,” he said.
County Judge Scott Felton said there are several road projects that will amount to about $32 million. The certificate of obligation will cover costs associated with improvements to Speegleville Road, Surrey Ridge Lane and Chapel Road. While the county is eyeing the $50 million mark, Felton said, it is possible that some of the projects could come in under their projections and the county won’t have to issue bonds for that full amount.
“It could be (that) we come up and say we really don’t need that much money,” he said.
Commissioner Will Jones said it is a good time to move forward with projects, with interest rates as low as they are.
“You’re talking about borrowing $50 million for 1.36 cents over the next three years. To me, that’s just really, really low,” Jones said. “It’s well below my goal of what I had in mind when we first started talking about these issues.”
The proposed $50 million also is set to cover costs associated with correcting some of the high-dollar issues cited in the more than 350 violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act cited by the Department of Justice.
After 114 years crowning the historic McLennan County Courthouse, Themis will be replaced with an identical statue because a storm with 65-mph wind gusts two years ago ripped off the statue’s left arm and the scales of justice it held.
Commissioners expect the project to cost $366,228, but will send the work out for bid soon.
Chapman said $291,951 of the cost is covered by the county’s insurer, the Texas Association of Counties, leaving the county to pay the remaining $74,277.
Themis will be removed from the courthouse and shipped to an ornamental metal fabricator, where it will be used to create an identical statue, this time made of cast aluminum.
Chapman said there are a limited number of businesses that do that type of work. He said it could take six to eight weeks for the statute to be completed.
Commissioners don’t yet have plans for what they will do with the original statue.
Chapman said they would like to store the original Themis somewhere to be displayed.
“Hopefully, we can do something with the other one to show off its historical importance,” he said.
Themis was lowered to the ground in 2011 for a paint job and restoration. It took 50 men, more than 20 trucks, a 220-foot-tall crane and a 50-foot-long flatbed trailer to restore the 6,000-pound statue.
Agency budget requests
Creative Waco is seeking $55,000 from the county in the fiscal year 2017 budget to help market the region as a cultural destination, investigate high-impact ideas for tourism and arts, and measure the results of efforts.
Director Fiona Bond said Creative Waco recently submitted a bid to the Texas Commission on the Arts in hopes of being designated a cultural district. There are almost 30 cultural districts in the state. Bond said Creative Waco aims to make Waco and McLennan County a cultural hub, as arts are an essential component of growing a strong economy. Communities see $10 of direct economic impact per year for every $1 invested in the arts, she said.
“When we invest in cultural designations as a matter of priority, we see benefits such as increased tourism, attraction and retention of talent and jobs, community resilience and revitalization, better educational outcomes, reduced unemployment, and a greater sense of community pride and social cohesiveness,” she said.
Bond said Creative Waco wants to achieve for Waco what other communities, including Fort Worth and Abilene, have done by investing in their arts and cultural assets as an economic engine to stimulate tourism and economic development.
Commissioners did not take action on the request Tuesday.
The court has started fiscal year 2017 budget talks, but nothing is final until the court officially adopts the budget.
The county has until Aug. 26 to adopt its final budget, and the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
The Waco-McLennan County Library also is seeking more funding for fiscal year 2017 from the county, but for the second meeting in a row Commissioner Kelly Snell asked to defer a vote as he seeks more information about the hike.
The library is asking for $904,908 from the county, which is about $139,000 more than the current budget cycle. The increase includes the city of Waco’s plans for a 2.75 percent salary increase for employees, starting Oct. 1. The libraries’ staff members are city employees.
The library is requesting $121,102 for additional staff and $4,940 for equipment replacement. The county pays one-sixth of the library’s expenses, and the city pays the rest.
In fiscal year 2016, the county’s portion of the library budget was $765,919. It was $723,529 in 2015, $711,111 in 2014, $690,958 in 2013, $679,998 in 2012 and $677,727 in 2011.
Chapman said the county was supposed to give the library notice by July 1 about the funding, but will ask for an extension.