Those of you who were living here in 2004 will remember we twice voted ‘NO’ to construction of a County Courthouse on valuable commercial property alongside I-30. Why is the location an issue? Apart from minor fees and fines, the County’s only source of income is property tax. Construction of the courthouse on prime commercial real estate was folly because it deprives us of prime tax revenue in perpetuity. It has been said the Courthouse will represent the Citizens of Rockwall County. Instead, it represents the foolishness of a commissioners court that ignores the will of the voters and squanders our County treasury as though it were Monopoly money.
I post here the comments of Mr. Jerry Hogan. (Disclosure – Mr. Hogan is a candidate for Rockwall County Judge.)
In 2004 the citizens of Rockwall County voted against a bond issue that would authorize the building of a new County Government Center to be built adjacent to I-30 in the land owned by the County next to the present library. The voters said they did not want to see the Center built on that valuable land next to I-30. When this bond failed, the Commissioners Court, seemingly not hearing the voters, put the same proposal up for a second bond election the following year. This time it was for a scaled down Justice Center. Again the voters overwhelming said no to the proposal.
On Tuesday, May 13, 2008, led by Judge Chris Florance, the Commissioners Court found a way to go totally around the voters and authorized a $30 million issuance of Tax Notes to build the new Justice Center in exactly the same place the citizens had twice voted against. Voting for the Tax Note was Judge Chris Florance, Commissioner Jerry Wimpee, and then Commissioner Bruce Beatty. Both Commissioner Dave Magnuss and Commissioner Lorrie Grinnan voted against the Tax Note scheme.
Shortly after this action, the Court hired an architecture firm to start the design of the new Justice Center. As later revealed in briefing to the Court, the guidance to the architect was to build a building costing $30 million since this is what they had authorized. For some unknown reason, they also decided to borrow the money authorized by their Tax Note action and we, the citizens of the county, have been paying interest on the money since last year, even though I can think of no logical reason to obligate the county for the funds at that early date.
Since the architect was hired, he has periodically come back to the Court for update briefing and to get decisions from the Court on how the building was to look etc. During this time, it is significant to note that no Master Plan for the land use was ever developed and consequently questions of the same nature continued to surface, e.g., where the access roads would be, where the water pond would be located, the location of the building on the land, etc. For the past 18 months, these type discussions have been on-going.
On Dec 16, 2009, the architect presented the final cost numbers to the Court. It became quickly evident they had a serious problem. Rather than the building coming in at a price of $30 million, it was nearer $31.3million. Many “other” costs were not included in this number. Some of these items included furniture at $1.5 million, impact fees, extra space needed but not included in the original $30 million direction etc. Total cost when all of these other items were included came to $37.2 million. Many of these items, e.g., furniture, simply was never thought of when guidance was being given to the architect. Rather than saying “Design us a building with a TOTAL cost of construction and fit-out, including everything needed, not to exceed $30 million,” they must have said “Design us a $30 million building.” Big difference.
When presented with this cost number, the Court started focusing on small items in the design, e.g.,” would the arches be brick or prepared concrete,” “would accent stripes on columns be natural stone or concrete,” etc, rather than the three big issues they had: 1. Do they start all over to get a design that could be built and put in service for no more than $30 million, 2. Do they start removing and changing the current design to get the price down to $30 million, or 3. Do they simply authorize more money to build the facility?
Commissioner Grinnan pointed out the decline in forecasted income for the County based upon conservations with Mr. Ray Helms, head of the Centralized Appraisal District. According to Mr. Helms, there will be a decrease of at least 1% next year for forecasted revenue in the County. This decrease is likely to last at least two years. Ms. Grinnan also pointed out that if monies are pulled from the existing reserve fund, the amount needed will drop the level of the fund below that needed for the County to maintain its high bond rating.
Commissioner Magness made a motion that $37.2 million be the number authorized for the building. This was seconded by Commissioner Wimpee. Judge Florance and Commissioner Bailey voted for the motion; Commissioner Grinnan voted no..
Fiscal conservatism, adhering to the wishes and direction of the voters, and the use of good common sense have all been absent since May 13, 2008 when the Commissioners Court, led by Judge Chris Florance, started this activity to build a new Justice Center on the land adjacent to I-30; exactly where the voters said twice, “Don’t do it.”
Runaway spending and an apparent disregard of the changing economic reality will position our County taxpayers for a dramatic property tax increases. Precinct 2 Commissioner Lorie Grinnan is apparently the only champion for fiscal responsibility on the Court.
Shall we use the “How much money do we have?” method to manage County affairs? Or do you prefer common-sense fiscal responsibility? Financial uncertainty on the part of TxDOT and our 2008 Road Bond further underscore the absolute necessity for wise stewardship of taxpayer money.
I encourage you to contact your Rockwall County Commissioners Court to express your will. They may not WANT to hear from you, but they NEED to hear from you.
Chris Florance County Judge
Jerry Wimpee Precinct 1 Commissioner
Lorie Grinnan Precinct 2 Commissioner
Dennis Bailey Precinct 3 Commissioner
David Magness Precinct 4 Commissioner
Main Telephone Number (972) 204-6000
Email through County website http://www.rockwallcountytexas.com/emailpage.aspx