Now that voters have given Williamson County their blessing to borrow $315 million for roads and parks projects, officials are taking steps to assure taxpayers the money is spent effectively.
The county plans to split the management of the road bond program into two areas — design and construction — and is opening up competition for those jobs, rather than the extending multi-million-dollar contract that has been in place for more than a decade, said Bob Daigh, the county’s senior infrastructure director.
The two firms that have managed the county’s road bond program since 2001, Prime Strategies and HNTB, will likely apply to keep those jobs, Daigh said. Representatives from those firms did not return messages for comment.
Since 2007, the county has paid Prime Strategies and HNTB about $17.4 million to manage more than $500 million in roadway projects, according to county spokeswoman Connie Watson. The cost of paying the two firms is about 3.47 percent of the road bond program, which Watson said is less than the industry average of 5 to 8 percent.
County commissioners this week also banned the use of capital appreciation bonds, which allow the borrower to pay back a large sum of money all at once, with interest rates that compound over the years. The county has never issued any such bonds, county auditor David Flores said, but the Leander Independent School District has — a decision that has drawn criticism from some residents.
“I want to communicate a message to our voters, that we’re very serious about this, how we mange the county’s finances,” said Commissioner Cynthia Long, whose precinct includes Leander and Cedar Park.
The tweaks to the bond policies, which were aired at the commissioners court meeting Tuesday, follow two threads of public criticism.
In recent weeks, citizens — and Commissioner Lisa Birkman — have questioned the decision to award contracts to firms that didn’t offer the lowest price. Some residents have also said the political action committee Citizens for Better Williamson County Transportation, which ran a campaign supporting the roads bond measure, was not transparent enough about its donors. Much of the group’s funding, including $20,000 from HNTB and an industry group that counts the company as a member, came from firms that got paid by the county to work on previous bond projects.
Voters approved the bonds Nov. 5 by margins of more than 10 percent.