- Election has been called for November 3, 2020
- Ballot will contain three propositions as follows:
- Proposition A – $17,235,000 to augment funding of County Courthouse
- Proposition B – $1,295,000 to fund Road & Drainage improvements
- Proposition C – $1,370,000 to match $10.47m grant for Micro-Hospital
- Size of proposed Courthouse is 55,424 sq. ft. at total cost of $27.2m; other $9.95m coming from Federal & State grants and insurance proceeds
- County Improvement Plan also calls for 4,700 sq. ft. Community Building within the “Celebration Plaza” at a cost of $3.6m; 100% funded by a Texas General Land Office (GLO) grant
- Courthouse & Celebration Plaza to be co-located with proposed new City Hall in what has become locally known as the “Downtown Anchor Project”
- Anticipated interest rate on debt; less than 3.4%
- Anticipated length of debt; 25 years
- Impact on debt tax rate: The County intends to lower the debt tax rate by about 1/2 cent penny (from 5.2 cents to 4.7 cents) for tax year 2020 (Fiscal Year Ending 2021); passing the bond is not anticipated to have any effect on that
WHAT is the Downtown Anchor Project?
The Downtown Anchor Project is a proposed, multi-building project in downtown Rockport, located on land that previously housed the Aransas County Courthouse and contiguous lots. It will be a one-stop government complex that includes a new Aransas County Courthouse, a new Rockport City Hall and a community room and open public space, collectively known as Celebration Plaza.
WHY is the Downtown Anchor Project Needed?
- On August 25, 2017, Aransas County took a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm with wind gusts over 150 m.p.h. The hurricane-force winds, rain and associated tornados lasted for approximately 13 hours causing catastrophic destruction and wide-spread loss of property. Among the casualties were the 1956 Aransas County Courthouse and the 1988 Rockport City Hall. FEMA and the insurance companies declared both buildings totally destroyed/unsalvageable. The remains of both facilities were torn down.
- Following the hurricane, the County and City were forced to find new places and ways to house employees and deliver services to the public. At insurance company expense, the County rented and retrofitted temporary space within a shopping center. The insurance benefits for those quarters expire in September 2020, after which the County must pay that rent. Rent for the Courthouse and off-site document storage for upcoming year is approximately $264,000.
- Since Hurricane Harvey, the County and City have been operating in tight working conditions that have put constraints on their ability to serve the public. What was intended to be temporary, while sorting out the damage to their facilities, has been going on for three years. Consequently, it is prudent that both entities implement long-term solutions to their housing needs and their ability to efficiently provide mandated governmental services.
- Specifically with respect to the County, remaining in current space is not considered viable in the long-term; the facilities are already overcrowded and not able to accommodate the current needs of our Court systems and other key County departments. The County Court caseloads have grown steadily in the last few years. Data from the Judicial Court circuit showed that while population grew around 8.7% from 2013 to 2017, the Court case load grew 54.1% in Aransas County. In fact, due to perceived overcrowding and obsolesces, the County had hired architects to design a new Courthouse years before Hurricane Harvey struck. Earlier plans included approximately 75,000 sq. ft. but were abandoned due to cost concerns.
HOW was this Project Developed?
- Conceptual work began as County and City staff started working with various Federal and State agencies to identify non-debt funding sources available for the project. The joint project was conceived in meetings with FEMA leadership and the Governor’s Office in March/April 2018. The concept was simple but critical – the Courthouse and City Hall were destroyed and needed to be replaced; Co-locating these facilities would streamline costs and improve convenience for users of governmental services. When completed, it will provide a “one-stop” shop for County/City services in the heart of Rockport. A “Celebration Plaza”, funded 100% by a State grant, was included to recognize the sustainability of the community.
- The County began to look at immediate and long-term needs for the Courthouse. A request for proposal for architectural services was sent out and the firm of PGAL was selected.
- PGAL undertook a “needs” analysis by conducting interviews with County Departments and the various Judges who administer the Court Systems. The analysis also took into consideration recent legislative mandates for such things as record retention, security, etc. Finally, current construction codes dictating methods and technologies were utilized to give the facilities a more than 50-year lifespan. The new buildings will be built to current standards to resist future hurricanes, and provide for safety and security.
- In July of this year, proposed floor plans were provided to the County for approval after several weeks of discussion and review of draft designs.
WHAT Does the Downtown Anchor Project Include?
- County Courthouse – 55,424 square feet on four acres
- City Hall – 27,000 square feet on one acre
- Community Building – 4,700 square feet
- Open Space Plaza
- Parking – 295 total spaces (for all buildings including City Hall)
WHAT will it Look Like?
- The site plan, exterior elevations, and interior schematics are all available for viewing by going to the County or City websites www.aransascounty.org or www.cityofrockport.com Please note that these designs are subject to change.
WHAT is the Expected Cost and HOW will it be Funded?
- The County portions of the project include the Courthouse, currently estimated to cost $27.2 million. “Celebration Plaza” (the community building/open plaza/parking project) is estimated at $3.6 million. Greater detail on these cost estimates can be found on the attached “Sources and Uses of Funding”. Preliminary designs are still being reviewed for potential cost savings; Final costs can only be determined once construction contracts are executed.
- The County has received funding commitments from various Federal and State agencies and insurance proceeds to mitigate the costs of these projects. The total of these non-debt funding sources is approximately $9.95 million for the Courthouse. The entire $3.6 million cost of “Celebration Plaza” will be paid for with the GLO grant funds. Collectively, the Courthouse and Celebration Plaza are anticipated to cost $30,782,320. Of this amount, $13,547,320 (44% of the total) is anticipated to be paid by Federal & State grants and insurance.
- The balance of funds required ($17,235,000), the local effort, is expected to come from the issuance of debt. The County intends to lower the debt tax rate by approximately 1/2 cent penny (from 5.2 cents to 4.7 cents) for tax year 2020 (Fiscal Year Ending 2021). Passing this bond is not anticipated to have any effect on that rate. Per the County’s Financial Advisor, interest rates on debt are the lowest since 1952 and with excellent bond ratings (the County is rated AA+), the County would be well received by investors. The advisor notes that, in addition to a favorable interest rate environment, strong growth in the area since Hurricane Harvey, modest debt burdens that pay off fairly quickly, and with strategic use of reserve funds, the debt tax rate at the County should not need to be adjusted further.
WHAT other impacts might the Residents of Aransas County note?
- The County will have space to organize the delivery of most public services from a single location.
- The Court systems will be able to resume normal operations and provide waiting and break-out areas for jury pools, lawyers, and judges.
- Modern construction technology will be incorporated to improve the sustainability of these public buildings. The engineers and architects project the Project will have an estimated useful life exceeding 50 years.
- Separately from the bond election, the County is refinancing $2,930,000 of its Series 2011 Certificate of Obligation issue to take advantage of current low interest rates. This refunding is anticipated to reduce the rates from 3.94% to 1.68%, saving the taxpayers approximately $454,800 ($427,500 on a Net Present Value basis) over the remaining term of that issue. However, as these COs were paid from the Road & Bridge Tax rather from the Interest & Sinking (the “debt”) tax, it will not have an impact on the County’s debt tax rate.
More About the County’s Bond Election:
- In addition to the Courthouse/Celebration Plaza project, the election is also designed to take advantage of additional grant opportunities for hazard mitigation and post Hurricane development.
- The election ballot is set up with three propositions as follows:
- Proposition A is for $17,235,000 to fund the net costs (after application of non-debt funding sources) of the County Courthouse.
- Proposition B is for $1,295,000 to fund Hazard Mitigation projects (street repairs and drainage measures). Of this amount, $873,491 is already dedicated to matching grants in the amount of $10.4 million to fund such work in the County. The remaining funds in this category can be held either to match addition grants or fund projects directly.
- Proposition C is for $1,370,000 to fund the acquisition and equipping of a micro-hospital in Aransas County. This facility is primarily being funded by a $10,469,656 grant from the Texas General Land Office (GLO). $918,512 of the $1,370,000 is already dedicated to matching that grant. The remaining funds in this category can be held either to match addition grants or fund additional improvements directly.
- The expected debt tax rate impact: The County intends to lower the debt tax rate by approximately 1/2 cent penny (from 5.2 cents to 4.7 cents) for Tax year 2020 (Fiscal Year Ending 2021). Passing the bond is not anticipated to have any effect on that. This is possible due to historically low interest rates, strong growth in the tax base, modest existing debt at the County that pays off relatively quickly and the strategic use of County reserve funds.
- The Bond election date is November 3, 2020. Please call the Aransas County Elections Office at (361-729-7431) 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday to learn more about the polling locations and opportunities for early voting.
- For any additional information, visit here. Used with permission from the Aransas County Information and Long Term Recovery.