AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – After a nearly two-hour conversation between city of Amarillo officials as well as members of the City Council, the council, during Tuesday’s meeting, approved the notice of intent to issue up to $7 million of certificates of obligation in a 4-1 vote, funding updates to athletic field lighting throughout the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. 

According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, this comes after an extensive conversation occurred at the last city council meeting, with officials laying out the intention of which parks needed to receive improvements to their athletic field lighting, costing around $8.26 million. Those parks include the softball complex and soccer fields at John Stiff Park as well as the softball and soccer complexes at Southeast Park. 

However, facility improvements at a few parks in low to moderate-income areas, including facilities at El Alamo Park, as well as softball fields at Thompson Park and River Road Park, are expected to be able to be funded through the second round of funds the city will receive through the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Officials expect the ARP funds to be able to cover just under a quarter of the total cost of the project. 

Laura Storrs, the chief financial officer for the city of Amarillo and an assistant city manager, said an ultimate approval of the use of the certificates of obligation gives the city the ability to conduct the full scope of the lighting project. By issuing $7 million in certificates of obligation, Storrs stressed that the city will be able to use the ARP funds, as well as potential grant funding, for the project, issuing debt for the remaining amount, which would have an approximate impact of $0.004 on the city’s tax rate.

“So, the action that they took today is they directed us to go ahead and advertise for issuing a certificate of obligation, which is a bond, a debt issuance, not to exceed $7 million. What we will do is… there will be a notice that’s posted out in the newspaper and on the city’s website. It will show the date and time of when the council will take action,” Storrs told MyHighPlains.com after Tuesday’s meeting. 

But the approval of the certificates of obligation is required to occur 45 days after the initial notice, Storrs said. If the council approves the use of certificates of obligation in late March, the city would not receive any funding until April, approximately the same time the city expects it will receive its second round of ARP funds. 

“In the meantime, we’re going to be going through the procurement process, to work on trying to get everything secure so as soon as the funding is in, we can start on construction,” she said. “…We can just start moving full steam ahead on it and hopefully get those lights in sooner than later because we certainly know there are areas without lighting right now and with some of the wind storms we’ve had recently, we’ve lost some more light poles” 

The majority of the council supported the certificates of obligation approach for this project, along with the use of the ARP funds and potential grant funds. However, Place One council member Cole Stanley continued to express his reservations about the certificates of obligation route, stressing it should be a last resort option. He encouraged the council to look at the more than $8 million the city has set aside for capital projects, which officials stressed has already been allocated for a number of specific capital projects. 

Stanley also brought forward an option to bring this forward to the Amarillo voters as a general obligation bond, something he said that he believed voters would support. Stanley said he did not feel comfortable for the council issuing the debt by itself. 

“For me, it’s a red line. I don’t have the option of supporting a CO when we do have cash on hand fully, even for this project which I wholly support,” Stanley said. “…The big issue for me is it circumvents our taxpayer in the way of not giving them an opportunity to weigh in on this. I think this would be supported.” 

In response to Stanley’s line of questioning, members of the council said during the meeting that doing a general obligation bond would just delay the necessary project. 

“Constituents elect us to make decisions like this,” Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said during Tuesday’s meeting. “This is a small impact on the tax rate. It is a highly impactful quality of life decision and one that has been delayed. We didn’t have lights last summer. It will take us a year to put these in, and meanwhile we have the safety issue of old poles being blown down on our high wind days. It’s something that has an urgency to it from a time point of view. That’s what citizens elect us to do.” 

In this case, the certificates of obligation are being used to replace something that was needed to be replaced through a city department, Storrs said. 

“It’s replacing something that we already had that is way past its useful life,” she said. “These, they’re beyond repair at this point… By replacing it, we’re going to upgrade because there’s new technology now, like LED lights, which will actually be energy savings.” 

Michael Kashuba, the director of the city’s parks and recreation department, previously told MyHighPlains.com that this athletic lighting project is a priority for the department, helping the city of Amarillo as a whole. 

“It gives you the opportunity to host more tournaments. We’ve had a lot of inconsistent lighting, so at some of our ballfields, the lights will just randomly turn off. It not only provides that consistency for the user, but it also provides an opportunity to do more economic development,” Kashuba previously said. “When we host those bigger tournaments, and those associations we work with, they use almost every field that we own as a city. So, making sure that we retain that capacity for those associations and also from an economic standpoint for the city.”

During the March 22 meeting of the Amarillo City Council, the council is expected to vote to consider the ordinance, authorizing the certificates of obligation for the athletic field lighting project.