In Amarillo, this year’s general election is making history. Not only because of the presidential candidates listed on the ballot, but because residents will be voting on the largest collective bond proposal in the city’s history.
With seven individual proposals totaling $340 million, the city is asking taxpayers to foot the bill for numerous projects – some specific and some vague. Voters’ sentiments on the measures vary greatly and have resulted in the formation of two primary advocacy groups: Amarillo Taxpayers PAC, advocating against all seven measures, and Unite for Amarillo PAC, advocating for all seven measures.
Advocates for the bond measures generally label most, if not all, items on the ballot as “needs,” whether that be for improved safety or quality of life. On the other hand, those who sympathize with Amarillo Taxpayers PAC question the priority levels of the projects proposed, as well as the means by which the city plans to pay for them.
The bond proposals address needs such as public safety improvements and roads, as well as wants, such as park upgrades and an expansion to the city civic center. And while allowing residents to vote on the seven bond proposals separately is a positive, many have complained that needs are grouped in with what people consider wants or unnecessary, low priority projects.
For example, the third bond proposal on the ballot would allocate $42.5 million to “municipal facilities,” such as the construction of a new senior center. While most consider senior services a need, and thus support the proposed facility, the project makes up a relatively small fraction of the bond. Other projects include the renovation of the Santa Fe Depot building, upgrades to City Hall, and unspecified improvements to the local zoo. In other words, residents are forced to make an all-or-nothing vote.
In addition, most of the bonds include funding for projects or items with a short life span that would be best funded on a pay-as-you-go basis. For example, in the sixth bond proposal, $8 million of the $16.3 million being requested would be used to purchase assets such as vehicles and related equipment – items that municipalities should be budgeting for, rather than using bond debt.
With a price tag of approximately $83.4 million, the expansion and renovation of the city’s civic center is arguably the most controversial bond item of all seven. City officials state that the civic center is at risk of losing some of its major events due to inadequate space and an outdated facility, and would like to become more competitive in the convention industry. Amarillo residents have various concerns regarding this project, with the primary one being the financial feasibility of the facility once it is constructed.
Based on a non-binding referendum held in Amarillo last year, where voters approved the construction of a new sports complex, the city’s hotel occupancy tax revenue will be stretched thin with the complex alone. Given the unpredictability of the maintenance and operations (M&O) cost of a larger civic center and new ballpark, it’s no wonder taxpayers are concerned with who will ultimately foot the bill.
Without considering the additional M&O costs that would result from new public developments, the average homeowner would see an annual increase on their tax bill of $248 if all seven measures pass. 
To learn more about Amarillo’s individual bond proposals and information about the city’s current debt, visit the State Comptroller’s website at www.comptroller.texas.gov/transparency/local/bond-elections and click on “Upcoming Bond Election Roundup”.
Early voting for the general election ends November 4th and Election Day is November 8th.
 Based on an average home value in Amarillo of $123,838