Amarillo City Council votes to increase debt despite voters opposing ballot measures

Despite voters rejecting local ballot measures in northern and southern parts of the state that would have increased debt to fund spending projects, local officials are bypassing voters to push through the measures anyway.

The Amarillo City Council voted Tuesday to spend roughly $5.5 million on buildings and land in the downtown warehouse district despite voters having soundly rejected the proposal.

Amarillo voters previously rejected a $275 million bond proposed to fund the majority of a $319 million downtown renovation plan. The $5.5 million was part of this proposal.

In an Amarillo City Council meeting, members said they would vote on a resolution that “declares the expectation to reimburse expenditures for purchasing property at 500 South Grant Street, 621 South Johnson Street, and 707 South Johnson Street … demolition of buildings, and site preparation with proceeds of future debt.”

The debt total from certificates of obligation expected to be issued are over $5.5 million, with a total cost of $6,965,336, once paid in full.

A memo attached to a city of Amarillo agenda says the $5,570,000 in debt would be paid off by taxpayers through ad valorem taxes and a “limited pledge” from Amarillo’s waterworks and sewer system.

The city council’s plan is to turn an abandoned warehouse at 621 South Johnson into a new city hall. The existing city hall would be demolished and plans for renovating the downtown area and expanding the convention center would be implemented. A majority of voters, 62 percent, rejected these plans in a ballot proposition on Nov. 3.

Despite voter opposition, the city council approved the purchase of three properties on Grant and Johnson streets. The old Amarillo hardware building has been considered as a possible option to be converted into a new city hall.

The issuance of certificates of obligation of more than $1 million is still on the table according to a memo to city staff from City Manager Jared Miller.

The certificates would be issued in order to reimburse a developer’s request for improvements already made in the Greenways Public Improvement District.

Miller sent a memo to city staff saying the decision to propose the debt issuance came after a unanimous vote by the Greenways PID Advisory Board to approve the reimbursement request.

“To fund this reimbursement, City GO bond proceeds are being proposed as the funding mechanism with debt service payments for this issuance being paid by property owner PID assessments,” Miller wrote.

Taxpayers would again be on the hook for increased ad valorem taxes and a “limited pledge” from Amarillo’s waterworks and sewer system.