Members of the Amarillo City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to move forward with an $8,150,000 debt issuance in order to build a new water park.

The vote was taken as part of the city council’s consent agenda and approved the publication of intention to issue certificates of obligation. The COs in question are set to be used for “costs incurred for acquiring, construction, improving, and equipping park facilities”—specifically a new aquatic facility, according to information included in a memo attached to the city council meeting agenda.

While the vote moved forward unanimously, many Amarillo taxpayers expressed concerns about such a vote, especially at a time when the city is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. Amarillo business owner Danny South opposed the vote, mentioning Amarillo voters have voted down bonds for projects that included aquatic facilities in 2013 and 2016.

“Historically, if we look at this water park/swimming pool for Amarillo, this idea has been tried twice before, and the taxpayers vehemently said ‘no’ both times,” South said in an interview.

According to the Texas Comptroller’s website, COs are often associated with emergency spending. However, since state law doesn’t limit their usage for important emergency purposes, local governments frequently use them for luxury spending projects instead of using general obligation bonds—which require voter approval. 

Residents who are opposed to the spending are not completely without a means to stop the debt issuance.

State law provides that if those against the debt issuance file a petition signed by at least 5 percent of the registered voters before the final issuance of the debt obligations, an election will be triggered, allowing voters to have a say on the issuance of the debt.

Thomas Warren

Thomas Warren, III is the editor-in-chief of the Amarillo Pioneer newspaper in Amarillo, Texas.


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