Bond: City of Galveston

Reviewer’s Report:
Bond Information Website

   This is new to me: bond proposals that feature a smorgasbord of small projects, which may or may not be done depending on priority (on which more later). Usually I see bond proposals with one big project: a school, a courthouse, etc. The website for the bond lists two columns of streets needing repairs, noting that this is a partial list. Where’s the complete list? How did you establish that you needed $62 million dollars in the first place? Can’t we at least check your math?

   This alone is enough to make a person throw their hands in the air. However, I was able to seize upon this one blurb under the list “$5.5 million dollars (approx 10 miles of roadway) in additional mill & Overlay projects will be prioritized in accordance…” So, what does a mill & overlay project run?

   Tarrant County recently opened bidding on a mill & overlay project to re-do 16 miles of streets for an estimated cost of $8.65 million, so someone else is coming up with the same figures which may or may not mean that there’s a reasonable standard for this work. However, searching the Texas DOT website figures for various (low) bids received has no mention of ‘mill & overlay’. There are processes that put together can possibly approximate this (but no ‘mill’ – there is a plane – and no ‘overlay’), but again there’s nothing bundled that I can find for comparison. Hours of searching and conversions and calculations and reading (did you know that Galveston mandated their roads to be either 22’ or 24’ across, including 6’ for each shoulder, depending on the amount of planned traffic – I didn’t either), and at the end of all of this, nothing substantive that I can point to and say: here’s what others are bidding and/or paying.

   And there’s the rub: what do we have to compare to? How do we hold the county accountable for being reasonably thrifty with our tax dollars?
Finally, this bond snapped into focus: I suspect we’re going to see more and more of these infrastructure bonds, where there’s not enough tax revenues to pay for the infrastructure work needed over a given period of time. Hence, a bond, and your taxes will go up to pay this down. Oh and we’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with it all.

   If you’re looking for a recommendation, I say this bond should be voted down. I have a lot of issues with this bond as proposed. First, who’s determining the priority of projects (as above)? Second, how can we hold Galveston accountable for substantial completion of the projects for which they’re seeking funds, when they’re only disclosing a partial list? And of this list, it’s vague enough (street and/or drainage along 35th street from Post Office to Broadway) to defy any cost analysis or comparison. Finally, with so many small projects, can they be reasonably effective in budgetary discipline for each one?

   If this bond passes as presented; fasten your seat belts; there will be more coming in short order for other municipalities. This bond features: lots of money, no comparisons, a bunch of small deliverables, none of which are written in stone. Call me a skeptic, but this bond smells fishy.

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