Voters to weigh in on $21 million bond package that will change the landscape of Stephenville.

Updated: Feb 3


By SARA VANDEN BERGE


I can’t remember a time since I began covering city politics that the need for upgraded facilities wasn’t a concern among residents and various elected officials who have transitioned in and out of office.


There have been ongoing discussions for years on the need for an improved senior citizens center, library and recreation hall, but no solid plan was ever developed or put into place, until now.


The Stephenville City Council has been working behind the scenes with various focus groups for months, putting together a bond package expected to go before voters in May.

Discussions on the bond began in earnest in the spring of 2019 when members of the city council began looking into the findings of a feasibility study that examined the condition of city-owned buildings and compared them to facilities in other cities of similar size.


I sat down with council members Brandon Huckabee and Ricky Thurman to learn more about the five-part, $21 million bond package.


Both say they are fully behind the measure and hope residents will be as well.


“It’s important for the citizens to understand the steps we have taken in the past few years to lower the tax rate while still reinvesting in our infrastructure,” Thurman said. “We have now reached a point when it’s time to let the citizens decide if they want to invest in more improvements. This is their decision.”


Both men say that if all five propositions are passed, the outcome will change the landscape of Stephenville, turning the city into a regional destination for tourism and commerce while improving the lives of its citizens and boosting local businesses.


“When I ran for city council the first time in 2018, I ran because I believed the city was at a crossroads,” Huckabee said. “This bond is the next step in the continued growth and prosperity of Stephenville.”

UNDERSTANDING THE FIVE PROPOSITIONS


The $21.9 million bond is divided into five parts, which will be voted on individually, meaning that voters could opt to pass some of the propositions, but not all five.


Here is a brief look at each:


1. COMBINED USE FACILITY: This includes the construction of a single facility at Stephenville City Park that will house a new library, senior citizens center and recreation hall with two gymnasiums. PRICETAG: $8 million.


2. DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION: This project will include improvements and complete reconstruction of brick streets, sidewalk reconstruction, lighting and improvements to the courthouse lawn and downtown plaza. PRICETAG: $5.4 million. (The majority of this cost will be used to fund pavement and sidewalks.)

3. STREET IMPROVEMENTS: This includes making improvements to portions of Cage, Swan First, Second, Fifth and Sixth streets. The proposal correlates with a more than $2 million grant the city received from the state to improve the storm water drainage system to these streets. PRICETAG: $3.86 million.


4. RECONSTRUCTION OF BELKNAP: This project involves a complete reconstruction of Belknap Street from the downtown area to the railroad tracks along with new curbs, sidewalks and additional improvements to underground utilities. (Note: the brick portion of the street will remain brick.) PRICETAG: $2.25 million.


5. BOSQUE RIVER TRAIL: This project would continue the expansion of the popular hiking, biking and walking trail with the goal of linking it from City Park to the Optimist-Jaycee Park. PRICETAG: $2 million.

WHAT’S NEXT?


The Stephenville City Council is expected to approve sending the bond package to voters at its next meeting on Feb. 2.


The city will then distribute information about the bond and its tax implications to residents before they head to the polls on May 1.


If the entire bond is passed, it will add approximately 10 cents to the ad valorem tax, meaning that on a $150,000 home in Stephenville, homeowners would see an estimated tax increase of $150 per year.


“If we can get this done and passed, it will change Stephenville,” Huckabee said.


The package was developed with input from a Facilities Committee consisting of board members from parks and recreation, the library and senior center.


“Combining these facilities is the most financially sound way to meet the programming needs of our citizens,” Thurman said.


The city is also working with a private citizen who has committed to raising $1 million for the library.

WHY NOT HARBIN AND LONG STREETS?


For those wondering why Harbin Street isn’t included in the bond package, it’s because the council has already approved $8.5 million for street reconstruction that is expected to begin in the next few months.


The city will pay for the project without raising taxes using the additional ad valorem and sales tax revenue generated by Washington Commons.


The city has also identified funding for a separate project to reconstruct Long Street (from Graham to Alexander) with no additional tax burden to citizens.


The $4.8 million project will also improve curbs, sidewalks and underground utilities and is expected to get underway later this year.

WHAT ABOUT THE OLD FACILITIES?


The current Senior Center could be sold or a portion of the building could be torn down.


Plans for the current public library include turning it into office space for SEDA, tourism and the downtown manager.


The current Rec Hall is expected to receive a much-needed face lift with funds from the Venue Tax passed by voters in November.


It will continue to be used along with the addition of a new baseball field at City Park.


Stay connected to Beneath the Surface News for more details on the bond package and the impact a revitalization effort of this magnitude would have on downtown businesses.