By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun
Precinct 4 Navarro County Commissioner James Olsen said Monday he believes the public should decide whether or not to issue debt to fund the courthouse restoration.
His remarks came as commissioners were considering hiring a bond attorney to prepare legal paperwork for a Certificate of Obligation issue to fund the county’s share of the proposed restoration of the 100-year-old courthouse.
“As all of us know there’s been quite an outcry for us to actually have a bond election,” Olsen said in the meeting.
County Judge H.M. Davenport responded to Olsen’s statement by saying it was “one or two people.”
“There’s been quite a few to me, personally,” Olsen countered, suggesting it might be something for the court to consider.
Davenport said the county told the Texas Historical Commission when it accepted the grant it intended to fund its share with Certificates of Obligation rather than through a bond issue pre-approved by voters.
He said if the county were to change direction now, it would lose the state grant, according to information he was given by the Texas Historical Commission. Davenport said he received that reply by email after inquiring about the possibility of a bond vote rather than a Certificate of Obligation issue.
“They’d love to have our funds back. They’ll pull it a heart beat,” Davenport said. He said the Texas Historical Commission’s current budget for new restoration projects is only about $4.2 million. It’s been as high as $20 million annually in recent years. Davenport said he’s been told he’ll have to appear before the commission’s quarterly meeting later this month should consideration be given to changing from a certificate issue to a bond election.
“May I ask that you tell them it's because of the will of the people?” Olsen said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Davenport said.
“I’m not saying what does and doesn’t matter,” Olsen said. “I don’t know that we can put a price on the voice of the people.”
The Texas Historical Commission has awarded the county a grant of $4.44 million to help pay for the project. To date the low bid for the project — less the cost of any annex building that will be required going forward — is $10.564 million, according to the project’s architect, 1113 Architects. An annex building will be required after a courthouse restoration because changes dictated by the state will eliminate some office space now in use in the building.
The county accepted the award from the state in 2012 with plans to use Certificates of Obligation to fund its share of the costs. That method allows for a public vote on the debt issue, but only if petitions containing valid signatures of 5 percent of the county’s registered voters are submitted within 30 days of the commissioners’ vote to issue the debt.
Davenport argued that a Certificate of Obligation issue still allows the public to have input “if they so choose to get the vote in the process — it does not negate that,” making reference to the petition option the public has to call for a vote. He disputed claims raised last week during a public forum statement by Bobby Vickery that a Certificate of Obligation issue was meant for use by entities for “emergency” purposes.
“I don’t know what basket he pulled that rabbit out of,” Davenport said. “We were very prudent, I think, in choosing this particular method,” Davenport added.
However, Olsen said he doesn’t believe the public should have to go to that end to be heard.
“I think it should be the people’s decision without having to work for it,” he said following Monday’s meeting. “I think the numbers have moved to that level that it should be the people’s (decision).”
Davenport said after the meeting the people he’s hearing from are supportive of the project.
“Their question is ‘When are you moving out? When is the project going to start?’ — it has never been ‘now listen here, we want to vote on this.’”
Using the current timetable, the commissioners court is scheduled to vote on its intent to issue Certificates of Obligation for the project at its Monday, July 8 regular meeting. The publication of a legal notice following that vote, should a majority of the court vote to issue the debt, triggers the 30-day window for a petition drive.
Commissioners did vote at Monday’s special meeting to approve the hiring the firm McCall, Parkhurtt and Horton to prepare the Certificate of Obligation documents. They were the lowest qualified bidder for the work.
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