Shot Heard Around the County
For people who do not live full time in Rockport, the area represents warm Gulf waters, sandy beaches, fishing, kayaking, birding, artists, second homes, RVing, a place to spend the winter or have an extended vacation.
For the full time residents of Rockport, recovery from Hurricane Harvey is still a top issue three years later. There are still residents who are having issues with contractors and insurance and still living in an RV. In other words, Rockport has not returned to normal.
Then comes COVID. For the tourist town of Rockport, the economy was hit and hit hard. Immediate decreases in collecting sales taxes, Hotel and Occupancy Taxes, loss of employment for every person who has a job which supports tourism and the town is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.
Texas State statutes and local ordinances require the County has a Courthouse and the City has a City Hall. Both were damaged beyond repair. Both need to be replaced.
In mid-July, the City and County received preliminary drawings for their respective buildings but did not have the required funds to build according to rough cost estimates.
On June 23 for Rockport and July 13 for Aransas County, the Intent to Issue Certificates of Obligation were approved unanimously. Each required a legal notice in the local newspaper and other places as required by law. Citizens had 45 days until the Intent would be made into an Order or Ordinance. See previous article for more information about the timeline of this process.
The citizens, led by Andrew Kane and some volunteers, circulated petitions, educated the public and then made their voices known to both governments. The citizens, by signing the petitions, said they required a vote on these large expenditures. The citizens felt approximately $14M for a City Hall and approximately $17M for a Courthouse was too much debt to acquire at this time.
The County opted to create a bond initiative for the November Election. Instead of the initial over $24M bond, the Commissioners and County Judge put three items on the ballot totaling just under $20M with the Courthouse at just over $17M.
The City did not believe the petitioners could get the required signatures and deliberately ignored the August 17 deadline to get a General Obligation Bond on the November 3 Ballot. The vote by the City Council to turn their intention into an Ordinance was schedule for August 18. The citizens handed in the petition on August 18 with the petition being certified during the City Council meeting that evening. The petition and its certification turned the Certificate of Obligation into a Bond election during the May 2021 Election.
In both cases, the citizens made their will felt, they wanted to vote. They wanted a say in how much debt the local governments could acquire and the impact on their property taxes.
The City found another way. It was deemed an emergency due to a disaster which occurred three years ago. The City Hall had to be rebuilt as soon as possible which meant the City needed the funds now.
An Anticipatory Tax Note was put on the City Council Agenda for August 31, 2020. After two and a half hours of citizens’ statements and discussions which included the City’s Financial Advisor and Legal Counsel, the Council voted 4-1 to sign the Tax Note into law. The dissenting Councilman, Bob Cunningham, stated the people made their will known and should not be ignored.
The people made their intentions known throughout the process and kept both governments aware of the status of the petitions. The people, unlike the governmental bodies, exchanged information, educated each other and got people involved in the process. The people talked with the government but only two members of either governing body communicated with petition signers during the whole process.
A recurring theme when talking with government officials was how could both have established PR persons and processes and get no one involved in the processes while a handful of people were able to get 1,100+ people involved and signing petitions with no money and a Facebook page in only two weeks? The petition organizers woke the people to issues needing their attention.
During the discussions in City Council meetings, the Mayor called the petitioners five percenters (referring to the percent of qualified voted need on the petition), ignorant of government workings and unwilling to participate in the budget process. He continually asks why no citizens went to the Budget Workshops (during normal working hours) and other open budget meetings. He accused the people of wanting to Defund the Police because new police cars were on the Certificate of Obligation and Councilman JD Villa made a similar statement.
Several times during these discussions, the Mayor and JD Villa, Ward 2 Councilman, said the people elected them to make decisions for their constituents. Four of the five members on the City Council were appointed or ran unopposed. This will be further discussed elsewhere.
The people are being taxed without proper representation in the City of Rockport. The 4-1 vote to approve the Tax Note was approved by the four people on the City Council who did not campaign to get the office they hold. History discusses a War of Independence over this specific issue.