DALLAS - Galveston County, Tex., will improve roads and consolidate administrative offices into renovated facilities if voters approve a $135 million general obligation bond package in November.
County commissioners set the election at their Wednesday morning session for the package that includes $75 million for road projects, $45 million to upgrade county facilities, and $15 million to improve flood control in the county, which is located on the Gulf of Mexico about 45 miles southeast of Houston.
"We're trying to deal with growth in this area, and get infrastructure into place," said Galveston County Judge James D. Yarbrough. "We'll be better off if we can get this work done soon."
"We usually try to finance our projects from our general fund, but we want to take advantage of the opportunity we have," he said. "Interest rates are still reasonably low, and the price of these projects goes up 2% to 3% every month that goes by."
The county’s GO debt is rated Aa2 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA by Fitch.
Galveston County, which includes the city and island of Galveston, has about 300,000 residents, up from 250,000 at the 2000 census. The county covers a total 872 square miles, with 398 square miles of dry land and 474 square miles below the surface of Galveston Bay.
The county has $232.2 million of outstanding debt.
Approval of the bonds could raise the county's property tax rate, set at 57 cents per $100 valuation for fiscal 2009, to 61.5 cents per $100 valuation.
"That's the worst-case scenario," Yarbrough said. "With the increase in the assessed property - which at times over the past few years has been in the double digits - and a low interest rate, it could be less.
Yarbrough said the list of road projects to be financed with $75 million of the bond proceeds was developed in consultation with the 13 cities in the county and the Texas Department of Transportation.
"We sold bonds for road work in 2000, and at that point we identified some projects that needed to be done in the future," he said. "Over the past 18 months we've been working with the municipalities in the county to acquire the rights-of-way for these roads so the projects can proceed."
The county will renovate several buildings with $45 million of the proceeds, including conversion of a large former retail store into offices for the county medical district and the Galveston County Central Appraisal District.
Consolidating the various offices into a single county-owned building will save taxpayers at least $125,000 a year in lease payments, Yarbrough said.
The county will also convert an old jailhouse into a storage area for county documents.
"These are records of the district attorney and other offices that have to be kept forever and ever," Yarbrough said. "The old jail building is strong enough to withstand storm winds that we sometimes get, and on high ground that won't flood."
The $15 million in bond proceeds for flood control efforts will enable the county to move ahead on a project in the Clear Creek area that Yarbrough said has been needed for years.
"We've talked about it with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 40 years," he said. "So far all we've done is study the hell out of it."