May 11, 2019

Mallory Herrmann

The city council continued a conversation about a possible no-tax-increase bond issue (or issues) for the August ballot this year.

After a series of meetings, including consideration by the council’s community and economic development committee, the council has worked with city staff to narrow the list of projects for inclusion on the ballot to six public safety and infrastructure items.

Those projects are new fire stations for the city’s Station No. 4 and Station No. 5, in-car video replacement for police cars, updates to renovations for the police station and municipal courts building, updates for the city’s network infrastructure, and curb repair and replacement.

City staff presented three ballot questions for the city council to consider at their May 7 meeting. The projects were split up in order to meet categorization requirements as outlined by the bond council: only initiatives that are related to each other can be combined on the same ballot question. David Bushek, city attorney, recommended a public safety, a network infrastructure, and a city curb question for the August ballot.

Based on conversation with the council and city staff, however, Bushek agreed that the infrastructure updates could be included as a public safety initiative and eliminate the second ballot question. The proposed infrastructure updates include renovations and upgrades to the city’s wireless and fiber optic communication network systems to improve citywide communication.

And once the infrastructure and public safety initiatives were combined into one question, the council agreed that it didn’t make sense for a stand-alone question for curb replacement projects for only $450,000.

At Mayor Bill Baird’s recommendation, city staff will prepare a more in-depth presentation on what curb improvement and replacement projects could be completed — and how much funding might make a significant impact on the city’s curbs. The council will consider whether to ask voters for a larger amount of money for curb projects, and whether to include the question at all in this election cycle.

Consideration of these projects for a no-tax-increase bond issue is the result of a presentation from Bette Wordelman, finance director, on the city’s capacity for debt issuance. During that presentation in January, Wordelman referenced a commitment made to voters in the late 1990s to keep a consistent tax levy for debt service, which the city has largely been able to maintain. The current tax levy for debt service is $0.4697 per $100.00 assessed valuation.

In order to maintain that level in 2020 and beyond, the city will need to authorize high enough bond issuance to accommodate any unpredictable changes in either the assessed valuation or interest rates.

The city is therefore seeking voter approval in 2019 and issue at least a small portion of what’s authorized, which is estimated at approximately $30 million (subject to changes in assessed valuation and other variances over the coming years). The six projects identified have a total estimated cost of about $19.9 million.

There is a May 28 deadline to certify ballot language with the Election Authority. The city council will meet again to consider final ballot language at their May 14 meeting.