Odessa residents who say they are frustrated with the Odessa City Council’s latest attempt to circumvent voter approval for millions in taxpayer-backed debt have launched an unpreceded petition effort to block the issuance and order an election that restores the voices of the voters, and forces city management to be more transparent with major spending projects.
The $130 million debt issuance being proposed by City Manager Michael Marrero’s office to make upgrades and improvements to the city’s water infrastructure would be funded by certificates of obligation (CO) which is a mechanism under state law that municipalities frequently abuse to pay for massive spending projects without seeking voter approval.
If passed, the debt, which is guaranteed by property taxes, would be paid back via increases in water rates and fees.
Proponents of the debt issuance have stressed caution that the city’s water infrastructure is in dire straits and that COs are appropriate in this circumstance because they allow rapid access to the funds, and the sooner the infrastructure is fixed the better.
Opponents point out that the city management and past and certain present councilmembers are only just now claiming the water infrastructure is in dire straits and have ignored the issue for years while going on “debt spending sprees for pet projects.”
Ector County Republican Party Chairwoman Tisha Crow, who is leading the petition drive, also says that residents have observed the city is currently sitting on tens of millions of cash-on-hand that could be used to pay for the bulk of the project and get project started even quicker than the COs could, but their refusal to pay for the project with available funds speaks for itself.
“Let’s be clear no one is against making every necessary improvement we need to our water infrastructure,” Crow told Odessa Headlines in a statement.
“But residents like me have a right to ask if it’s so dire, why are you refusing to pay for it now, or are there other pet projects secretly planned by the city godfathers that are more important to them than clean reliable water?” Crow stated.
Crow also said that hundreds of Odessans are pouring out to sign the petition every day and says when they present the petition blocking the debt issuance, it will “end an era of establishment reign, and usher in a new era of accountable government.”
Texas law provides that if citizens submit a petition signed by at least 5 percent of registered voters before the final council meeting to issue the debt, the COs will be converted into a public election.
According to the Ector County Elections Office, residents will need to submit 2798 signatures before the next council meeting on July 27.
Odessa Mayor Javier Joven told Odessa Headlines that if the citizens are successful, the election would be held on November 2, and that the elections office is currently estimating the cost to be less than $50,000 – substantially less than he previously thought.
Joven, along with Councilmembers Denise Swanner and Mark Matta, who were recently elected to the council last year, were the only three members of the council to vote against the debt issuance in favor of giving Odessans the right to vote on the issue.
The measure was forced through with the support of Councilmembers Tom Sprawls, Steve Thompson, Mari Willis, and Detra White in a 4-3 vote.
The final showdown will occur in council chambers at Odessa City Hall on Tuesday, July 27 at 6:00 PM.