In just a couple of weeks, San Marcos voters will decide whether to support all or part of a$31.7 million bond package, the city’s first bond referendum in more than a decade.
The package on the May 6 ballot has $17.2 million for public safety improvements and $14.5 million for a library expansion. The last time the city held a bond referendum was in 2005 for transportation projects.
If both propositions are approved, the city’s tax rate would increase by 8.37 cents per $100 of valuation, adding about $126 to the tax bill for the average-valued San Marcos home, valued at $150,000.
City officials have said the improvements the bonds would support are necessary to keep up with the needs of a city that consistentlyranks among the fastest-growing in the nation.
Public safety proposition
The public safety portion of the bond package would fund renovations of the city’s 23-year-old Police Department building for $5.5 million and relocation of Fire Station No. 2 for $5.2 million, as well as the construction of a new fire station for $4.5 million and a fire training field for $2 million.
The renovations to the police headquarters would include the addition of security and perimeter fencing, parking lot improvements, replacement of HVAC equipment, creation of a SWAT storage facility and an expansion to the 911 center.
During the storms last week, for instance, Assistant Chief Bob Klett said flooding in the parking lot prevented him from getting inside the station because of poor drainage. If the bond proposal doesn’t pass, drainage improvements and other urgent fixes will have to be made using other funding, he said.
Under the proposal, Fire Station No. 2 would be moved to a location officials say is more efficient at Wonder World Drive and RM 12, near the high-endLa Cima development.
And the proposed fire training field would allow firefighters to train in more realistic “live fire” simulations in which actual fire or smoke is used.
When new firefighters are hired, they are taken to a fire training facility in Buda, said Fire Chief Les Stephens. But after that, firefighters aren’t able to receive additional training, as they can’t be taken out of San Marcos in case an emergency occurs.
“It’s a high-risk, low-frequency situation,” Stephens said. “They need the opportunity to practice. You don’t want to show up on game day and not have had an opportunity to practice.”
The second half of the bond package consists of $14.5 million for a 29,000-square-foot expansion of the San Marcos Public Library. Library Director Diane Insley said the 22-year-old facility was built to hold 150,000 items. The library’s collection hit that mark four years ago and now is home to 165,000 items.
The building is one open space that could use divisions to reduce noise and designate more dedicated areas, she said.
“We probably do more programming than any library our size in the state,” Insley said.
Rachel Sanborn, president of Friends of the San Marcos Public Library, a nonprofit that raises money for the library, said if the bond proposal passes, the organization has pledged to give $500,000 toward “interior” purchases, such as books and furniture, which would not be covered by the bonds.
In Tuesday’s storms, the librarysuffered rain damage, and 18 computers were destroyed, though books were saved.
Sanborn said the library plays an integral role in providing job search and professional services for thousands of people, including low-income residents, in addition to programming for children, families and adults. The bonds will ensure those programs continue and expand, she said.
“It’s one of those things that we can’t let pass or slide for another 10 years,” Sanborn said. “This is the time to do it, while we’re anticipating a larger population growth.”
Range of views
Some residents reject the idea of a 16 percent jump in the tax rate, including Sam Brannon, a member of the Save Hays political action committee, which opposed theHays County bonds approved by voters last fall. Brannon alsounsuccessfully ranforSan Marcos mayor last November.
Brannon said even without rate increases, taxes are going up because ofrising property values.On top of that, he said he thinks the city overuses certificates of obligation — bonds that don’t require voter approval.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation for many as the cost of living in San Marcos continues to soar,” he said.
Others, such as San Marcos resident Jennifer Fischer, say the need for the improvements outweighs any concern about tax impact. Fischer said she supports the library proposal because she wants to see improvements such as the partitioning of the library by age group and a new drive-up drop box for returning books.
“It’s 2017, and we, along with other patrons, have been waiting years for this,” Fischer said. “My family will continue to be regulars, but I ask that this project come to fruition while my wee ones can still enjoy all it will have to offer.”
If the $31.7 million bond package is approved, the owner of an average-valued San Marcos home, worth $150,000, would pay an extra $125.55 per year.
If just the public safety proposition passes, that owner would pay about $80 more per year. If just the library proposition passes, the bill would be about $46 more per year.
The tax rate increase would be 8.37 cents per $100 of valuation: 5.3 cents for the public safety proposition and 3.07 cents for the library proposition. Passage of both would make for a total tax rate of 61.39 cents per $100 of valuation.
San Marcos’ current tax rate of 53.02 cents per $100 of valuation has been in place for the past decade; however, as home values rise, tax bills have risen accordingly.