Amarillo business owner asks court to stop City Hall project: What’s going on?

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – An Amarillo businessman, Roasters Coffee & Tea Owner Craig Gualtiere, petitioned Potter County Court to stop the City of Amarillo’s ongoing City Hall project with the claim the City has dismissed the will of voters.

Filed on June 22, Gualtiere’s complaint was self-described as a response to the Amarillo City Council’s ongoing discussions about the future of City Hall. Gualtiere claimed the City has continued efforts to follow through on “Proposition A“, a $275 million bond that was intended for the Civic Center and surrounding projects, despite its rejection by voters in the 2020 General Election.

The City of Amarillo, meanwhile, said that the building needs immediate attention in order for it to remain functional.

“There are several options on the table as far as what our City Hall can be in the future,” said Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said on June 23. “What is a certainty is that our City Hall is a 55-year-old building with serious structural and mechanical issues that need to be addressed now rather than later to avoid larger and more expensive problems in the future.”

In May, Amarillo Facilities Manager Jerry Danforth presented three options to the city council: renovating city hall, renovating the Amarillo Hardware building, or doing neither.

Danforth said the cost to renovate the existing city hall would be about $28.5 million. Renovating Amarillo Hardware and the process of moving over there would cost about $31 million. Lastly, the cost of not doing either renovation is estimated to be $5.5 million for the next two years to keep city hall running.

Gualtiere’s complaint cited a note from City Council meeting in November of 2020, “Even though Proposition A failed, the needs at City Hall and the Civic Center still exist[s].” The complaint argued that this signaled plans to follow Proposition A despite the election.

Proposition A included plans for an arena added to the Civic Center, an overhaul of the existing facility, a park area added, City Hall being moved, a new parking garage, and other improvements to the area. Gualtiere claimed that the City intends to unlawfully move forward with the proposition and complete its projects with City Hall by voting on $35 million in Certificates of Obligation in August, citing a scheduled meeting on August 10, 2021.

The City has not posted an agenda for that meeting.

Certificates of Obligation are usually backed by property taxes and other local revenues, according to a description from the Texas Comptroller. Unlike bonds like Proposition A, Certificates of Obligation do not require voter approval “unless 5 percent of qualified voters within the jurisdiction petition for an election on the spending in question.”

“Local governments pay for public infrastructure projects by issuing long-term debt, either through COs or the more common general obligation (GO) bonds, which require voter approval; or through revenue bonds that must be backed by a specific revenue stream, sometimes generated by the project itself.” said the Comptroller’s explanation, “Given their streamlined adoption process, COs can be particularly attractive when a local government wishes to, for example, take quick advantage of lower interest rates, purchase a newly available property or come into compliance with a federal or state regulation.”

Gualtiere claimed that the currently-developing City Hall project was previously a part of Proposition A. Because it is now set to be subject to a council vote for funding through Certificates of Obligation, Gualtiere argued that the City is, “using alternative means to secure funding for its plans, cavalierly dismissing the will of its citizens and taxpayers as clearly communicated by the negative vote against the issuance of bonds that were intended to have been used in part for this purpose.”

In the petition, Gaultiere cited Texas’ Local Government code Sec. 271.047. (d), which reads in part: “…the governing body of an issuer may not authorize a certificate to pay a contractual obligation to be incurred if a bond proposition to authorize the issuance of bonds for the same purpose was submitted to the voters during the preceding three years and failed to be approved.

Proposition A on the Nov. 3, 2020 ballot read as follows: “The issuance of $275,000,000 general obligation bonds for convention center expansion and improvement and the imposition of a tax sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on the bonds.”

Prop. A did not make mention of City Hall relocation plans. Although, as MyHighPlains.com reported last October and November, if passed, Prop. A would have included moving the existing City Hall.

“They sold this project to the taxpayers of Amarillo back in November, as an entirety project that been bulldozing City Hall, and then to build a new city hall,” Gaultiere said. “They sold it to the public as being one project. Now on suddenly in the 12th hour when the project failed on the ballot, all suddenly, ‘No, this is a completely different project.’ Well, um, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. And so we can’t get them to see our way of seeing things. So we’re going to ask a judge to, you know, see our side of the argument for once.”

He said he will also start a petition drive to gather signatures to stop the City Hall project.

“If we have enough valid signatures, it will actually send this proposal to an election or, in essence, a bond election where we’ll have our say,” added Gaultiere.

An installment for its Community Solutions discussion series, the City held “Community Solutions: The Future of City Hall” as a public meeting on the topic on June 28.

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