The Midland City Council will be voting Tuesday on whether to take the first step in authorizing roughly $22.4 million in new city debt via Certificates of Obligation (CO), which do not require voter approval, and should typically be used in emergency circumstances only.
Not only does Midland have a history of abusing CO’s by circumventing voter approval, the projects they plan to finance aren’t core projects or, by any means, “emergencies”.
The recommended projects, proposed by City Manager Courtney Sharp’s office, vary from playground and city pool upgrades, to renovations of the municipal golf shop and cart barn. Other projects include a Right of Way Acquisition, traffic signals, and drainage projects. The golf facilities alone are estimated to cost taxpayers $2.5 million.
By funding projects through CO’s, council members are able to raise additional debt while bypassing voters completely. Should the recommended projects be approved, the city – which already holds $129 million in debt – will have approximately $151.4 million, excluding interest.
Considering the Permian’s current economic state and the sheer level of debt already owned by the city, projects using emergency-related debt instruments should be limited to those of high priority – not projects like upgrading the municipal pool, “Dennis the Menace Park,” and golf shop. With Texas’ growing problem of local debt, municipalities should exercise greater prudence before taking on new financial liabilities and further burdening taxpayers.
According to the Texas Local Government Code, cities, counties, and districts are authorized to issue debt in the form of Certificates of Obligation without voter approval. However, steps must be made – such as a public notice of intent – prior to a final vote in order to notify residents.
Unfortunately, the timeline for public feedback is short and notifications relatively subtle, often resulting in little pushback from taxpayers and less accountability of local government spending. Should the timeline proposed by the City Manager’s office go according to plan, council will make their final decision in late February.
Should Tuesday’s resolution pass, the code does give taxpayers the ability to change the council’s course of action. According to Section 271.049 – C of the code, if the municipal clerk receives a petition signed by at least five percent of qualified voters in the municipality before the date set for the authorization of the certificates, the authorization of the certificates cannot be done unless approved in a public bond election.
In other words, by utilizing the right to petition, citizens could potentially have the ability to stop, or at least delay, the issuance of millions of dollars in additional debt.
Midland City Council will be voting on a resolution to notify the public on the issuance of CO’s at 10am on December 15th at City Hall. A public comment portion will be held during the meeting to give residents an opportunity to voice their opinion.