Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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November 2, 2013

Bond packages, state issues up for vote Tuesday

Corsicana — If early voting numbers mean anything in an “off-cycle” election year, interest is high in the Nov. 5 General Election in Navarro County.

A total of 1,393 early votes were cast during the early voting period that ran from Oct. 21 through Friday. An additional 218 requests for mail-in ballots were received as well, according to Danda Parker, Navarro County Elections Administrator.

Two bond issues of local interest, and nine statewide propositions make up the ballot for voters on Tuesday. Polls will open at 7 a.m. and remain open until 7 p.m.

Countywide, voters are being asked to decide on a $7.5 million bond issue to help fund part of a proposed restoration of the Navarro County Courthouse.

Navarro County commissioners decided to put the matter up to a public vote after first considering issuing Certificates of Obligation — which did not require a public vote — to fund the county’s share of the cost of the work.

The restoration work as been bid at just over $9 million, but additional costs of technology, temporary office space, relocation expenses, utilities, extra security personnel and the cost of a new county annex have pushed the project’s price tag over the $12 million mark. A $4.4 million state grant, and a $1 million pledge from the Navarro Community Foundation are available to the county for the project if the bond is approved.

Proponents of the bond have said that no tax increase “is anticipated” to complete the project. Navarro County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr. said commissioners have agreed to use money from the county’s fund balance in the 2013-14 budget year to help pay for expenses not eligible to be paid by either bond or state grant money, should the bond be approved and the project go forward.

In a document provided by Davenport to the Daily Sun and published on Oct. 19 outlining the costs of the project and proposed use of funds, the phrase “Further, the County intends to use some portion of fund balance to manage the tax rate in FYE 2014-2018 to keep a level tax rate”  appears, but Davenport said the court has to vote each year to decide what the county tax rate will be, based on projected income and expenses. There has been no public vote or action by commissioners on its intent to use fund balance for future years for the proposed restoration project, and the topic is not one that the Texas Open Meetings Act allows to be discussed in a closed session.

Also on Tuesday’s ballot, voters in the Kerens Independent School District will be asked to vote on whether or not to sell bonds to fix up their school district.

On the ballot in the school district is the option for a $16.7 million bond election to build a new middle and high school, renovate the elementary with new security features, build a new gym/choir room, and a new field house. The current middle school was built about 50 years ago, the high school about 40 years ago. The current field house is the former ag building, which is 45 years old, but it also has no weight room for girls and no changing room for visiting teams.

The new structures will take into account modern conveniences like central air conditioning — currently, the buildings are cooled with either window units or large noisy a/c boxes in some of the classrooms.

Kerens currently has the lowest tax rate of any of the county’s seven districts, at $1.11 for each $100 in appraised value, and the lowest debt rate, at just 7 cents. If voters approve the bond package, it will push the debt rate to 37 cents, and the total tax rate to $1.41.

Also on the ballot are nine new constitutional amendments. The Texas Constitution has been amended more than 500 times since it was written 137 years ago (compared with the U.S. Constitution which has been amended 27 times in 226 years), and these proposed amendments are neither more or less profound than the others.

Here’s what they are, in a nutshell:

Proposition 1 would let the spouses of people killed in the military get a property tax break, either partial or all of its market value.

Proposition 2 will allow the dissolution of a State Medical Education Board and Fund, both of which dissolved in reality about 25 years ago.

Proposition 3 would let aircraft parts stay longer in the state before they’re subject to property taxes.

Proposition 4 lets the legislature give a partial property tax break to veterans with partial disabilities.

Proposition 5 widens the scope of reverse mortgages and gives banks more leverage in dealing with borrowers.

Proposition 6 is the amendment that would allow taking $1.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund and putting it into a separate lending fund to help water development boards and co-ops. This has been touted by Corsicana Rep. Byron Cook as one of the smartest uses of the state’s savings account, since the interest off the water project loans would be considerably higher than what’s earned now, while also improving access to clean water throughout the state.

Proposition 7 will allow home-rule cities to appoint people to political vacancies when there’s a year or less in the term.

Proposition 8 would allow Hidalgo County to set a higher tax rate for its hospital district.

Proposition 9 would put additional levels into the penalties for judges who misbehave, including warnings, reprimands, and orders to get more education/training. Currently, all the State Commission on Judicial Conduct can do to bad judges is public shaming and recommend removal or retirement.

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The Daily Sun will publish election returns to its online newspaper and Facebook and Twitter accounts on Tuesday evening.

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Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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