The bond between government and the governed

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There are many bonds in this world. The bond between friends, the bond between parent and child, then there is the kind of bond where residents entrust their elected leaders to spend large amounts of money on their behalf.

There are different types of bonds governments use to fund projects, some that need voter approval and some do not. But in the end, they are all funded through your tax money and all impact how much you pay. Think of the city and school district as your community financial managers. Then think about who is doing it right and who is doing it wrong.

Liberty Hill ISD is halfway through spending $98.6 million voters approved in 2018 to build two new schools, add on to another and renovate one more.

The first new campus is essentially complete and when all the bills are settled, the project with a $27.2 million construction budget will be under budget. There’s no guarantee every project will save money, but there’s no reason to assume they won’t. And there’s every reason to believe they won’t go over budget.

The City of Liberty Hill has recently spent the remainder of its funds from the most recent bond sale. These bonds, and the ones likely to be sold in December don’t require voter approval. And that’s alright – it is often the case – but that doesn’t eliminate the need for good, informed financial stewardship. A variety of projects have been funded with those proceeds and other monies in the past couple of years, and cost overruns are talked about like the inevitable result of any public project. It’s just reality. So when the municipal court building remodeling bid was awarded for $171,714, it may have just been inevitable that the final bill came in at $303,066, right?

The Council approved what should be the final change order to the Downtown Street and Utility Project on Monday, and bragged a little bit that it was a credit, saving the City $10,398. That is indeed good news, but since the original project that was bid out at $1,557,298 has tacked on an additional $302,501 since first being awarded, there can’t be much to celebrate on the financial management of that project.

These two projects alone added more than $434,000 to the $1.729 million originally awarded.

The changes regarding the wastewater plant expansion are an entirely different story, with a few million dollars in added costs for a project that comes with its own rules and funding sources for bonds — but still money you have to provide.

But hey, things happen right. It should be pretty simple to go back and see where these projects ran into financial issues.

Not as simple as you might think. It has taken detailed requests, patience, and sometimes a legal fight for the newspaper to get even some of the financial information from the City.

On the LHISD website there is a bond tab that allows anyone to see every detail of those school projects down to the last bill, check, drawing, change and update. No need to ask, no need to go dig for the information, it’s just there.

Why wouldn’t Liberty Hill do the same to keep taxpayers up to date on the status and cost of its projects? They are much smaller and surely much less cumbersome to manage.

The City of Liberty Hill has a lengthy list of future projects in the works, estimated to cost as much as $6 million pending some final decisions by the Council, and we can only hope those don’t average 25 percent in cost overruns because that would be $1.5 million of your money.

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