County committee suggests $640 million bond election
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
When Williamson County Commissioners named a committee to study the need for a bond election, they tasked the group of eight with answering two questions.
The first was to determine if a bond election was necessary, and the second to attach a dollar figure to a proposal if needed.
The committee unanimously voted June 6 that a bond election should be called, and put a price tag of $573 million on the initial proposal for road projects and an additional $67 million for parks and trails.
Now, calling an election and the final determination of which projects to include and how much to ask voters to approve is in the hands of Commissioners.
A number of projects that made the committee’s cut will impact Liberty Hill, but none of the four road projects proposed by Mayor Rick Hall in May were suggested for funding.
At the top of the list for Liberty Hill is the widening from two lanes to five of Bagdad Road south to CR 281 with a shared use path being a priority. The projected cost, according to county estimates is $41.2 million.
Widening Bagdad Road made the list for both Liberty Hill and Leander, but when the final list was presented, the committee proposed the Leander portion, from San Gabriel Parkway north to the Leander City Limits, but not the portion north of that to Loop 332 requested by Liberty Hill.
Other Liberty Hill proposals left off the list included the extension of Long Run Road, which would extend from US 183 to CR 214 just north of the Stonewall Subdivision, the widening of CR 200 north from the intersection of SH 29 to CR 201, and the Richard Wear Bypass, which planned to connect SH 29 east of the railroad tracks to CR 200 north of the tracks.
Liberty Hill also proposed a shared use path along SH 29 to US 183 to connect with proposed trails from the county and Leander and that plan was included in the parks portion of the final proposal at $1.3 million.
There was $3.3 million allocated for further improvements at River Ranch Park, currently under phase one construction, that would add shelters and cabins, a covered arena and restrooms with a pavilion.
“We talk about transportation and we talk about safety for our citizens, but we also need to make sure we preserve opportunities for recreation,” said Pct. 4 Committee member Bryon Brochers. “We have so many homes and businesses that are being built that some children don’t know what the outdoors are and we can’t just enjoy a stroll outside as readily as we would like to. I think it is equally as important that we maintain our lifestyle and our heritage and keep some of these projects moving.”
While none of the road projects were funded, some money was allocated for right of way (ROW) acquisition for the Bagdad Road expansion. The committee proposed $35 million be included in the bond proposal for ROW acquisition across the county for future projects.
“The money in that bucket, as those opportunities become available, means the County will have the ability to get after that right of way,” said Pct. 2 Committee member Matt Powell. “That’s what we were trying to do. I personally think the lion’s share of those projects will happen sooner rather than later and should the commissioners court take our recommendation and put this forward with the right of way budget intact and the voters approve it, I think they will be armed with the ability to work with Liberty Hill as those projects become available.”
A number of county-proposed projects in the Liberty Hill area did make the cut.
“We had a lot of discussion about all of the projects, in fact as recently as earlier today we had some discussion of some of the Liberty Hill projects,” Powell said. “Liberty Hill is in an interesting situation because the city limits are comparatively small but there is a lot of ETJ, so really people who consider themselves Liberty Hill residents are really a lot more than just those inside the city limits.”
He added that looking at the list of projects proposed, there was still a significant amount of money being proposed for projects that will impact Liberty Hill even without the requested projects.
“When I sat down and did the math, so many of the Williamson County sponsored projects would have been strong contenders if they would have been within the Liberty Hill city limits,” Powell said. “When you take the county projects and attach them to the nearest community, Liberty Hill actually has more county-funded projects per capita than any other city.”
The SH 29 Bypass, planned to run south around Liberty Hill from just west of Liberty Hill High School to SH 29 east of downtown, was partially funded. The project, proposed in three phases, would first construct the middle portion that would connect RR 1869 west of downtown to CR 279 south of town. The projected cost is $11 million. The plan also included $2.2 million for ROW acquisition for phases one and three.
“We all know how important that 29 loop is,” Powell said. “At some point in the not-to-distant future that is going to be the epicenter for economic development in or near Liberty Hill. That’s what we were trying to maximize and I think once these projects start getting on the ground Liberty Hill is not only going to be moving around a lot better, but will also give their economic development a leg up. That was important in my recent meetings with city leadership.”
The County also plans to extend CR 214 to US 183 – estimated at $2.3 million – should the bond be approved. The northwest portion of Kauffman Loop, at the intersection of SH 29 and Ronald Reagan, is also on the list, as well as widening Ronald Reagan north from SH 29 to FM 3405. Those two projects are estimated at a combined $26.7 million.
If called, this would be the third bond election for road and park projects called by the County since 2000. The first was for $375 million, the second in 2006 was for $250 million and the 2013 bond was for $315 million. Each has passed with a slightly slimmer majority than the previous bond, but all prevailed with 55 percent of the vote or more.
Committee members believed the total proposed so far for this November’s bond election would likely shrink from the current $573 million.
“I don’t think any of us expect that County Commissioners are going to approve putting a $573 million bond on the ballot,” Powell said. “I think that’s unlikely, so we understand the projects we brought forward are our cut list.”
Committee members asked that Commissioners keep in mind how much local participation cities were willing to invest in proposed projects as they made their final decision.
“I think this is going to continue to be pared down,” said Joe Bob Ellison. “I think the County Commissioners should continue to keep in mind the taxable value that some cities have and whether they are investing in these projects themselves. And if there are precincts that aren’t financially coming to the table in a layman’s view when you know they probably can financially because of their taxable home values that should be a lower level project.”