The city of Amarillo is asking voters to approve big increases in debt and taxes in hopes of laying a “foundation” for the future. But will adding several hundred million in new debt lay a foundation or push the city into a sea of red ink?
Amarillo’s current debt load is fairly manageable, with outstanding debts (principal only) totaling $185 million or $931 owed per person as of fiscal year 2015, according to the Texas Bond Review Board. This compares well with other, similarly-sized cities. However, the city’s bond package could dramatically change that.
The city’s $340 million bond package consists of seven different propositions, including: Streets ($89.5 M); Public Safety ($20.1 M); Municipal Facilities ($42.5 M); Neighborhood Parks ($22.2 M); Civic Center ($83.4 M); Fleet ($16.3 M); and Athletic Facilities ($65.6 M). If voters approve all of the propositions, then the city’s debt could soar by almost 200 percent to $525 million or a local debt per capita of $2,641. That’s a huge jump with big tax implications.
Assuming passage of the bond package in its entirety, the average homeowner in Randall and Potter counties could expect a sizeable tax increase in the next few years, totaling $248 annually and in perpetuity. That’s a significant tax increase to ask families to absorb, 9.25 percent and 8.27 percent respectively.
And what do Amarilloans get for all this new debt and higher taxes? Waterslides, splash pads, and dog parks.
That’s right, included in the city’s list of proposed projects are several concerning items, including: a $1.1 million request for “four new splash pads”; a $5 million ask for help “refurbish[ing] Liberty Theater”; a $7.4 million request for park and roadway improvement that include a “skate park expansion, dog park improvements…[and] a synthetic surface for multi-sports leagues”; and a head-scratching $4.5 million proposal to build “a 4,400 square foot leisure pool with play features…and waterslides”.
It’s hard to see how splash pads and waterslides are going to lay a foundation for the future, unless it’s one filled with sky-high debt and taxes.