Petition to halt tax found to be invalid

Christopher Maher, Jim Wells County Corresondent

San Diego - The San Diego City Council received information Wednesday on a number of options for funding a proposed $4 million street and drainage repair project.

The council has been working on the proposed project for more than a year, and last year passed an ordinance to begin the process of issuing certificates of obligation for the needed amount, which would have established a property tax for the first time in the city's history.

In September, residents circulated a petition that received 268 signatures demanding the city halt the process, and residents filled the city hall during a council meeting to express their disapproval.

On Wednesday, financial advisor Robert Tijerina and bond counsel Juan Aguilera discussed a number of options for funding the proposed project with the city council, including issuing certificates of obligation and establishing a property tax.

Tijerina said the city currently receives income primarily from sales taxes, franchise taxes and garbage fees, and said that revenue has barely been sufficient to keep normal operations running.

"It really amazes me the city is able to function without a tax rate," Tijerina said. "So far the city has been fortunate the revenue from those sources has been coming in."

Tijerina said one option for funding would be to establish a property tax to fund maintenance and operations, which would free up other revenue to be used on the city's streets. State law allows cities to impose a combined tax for maintenance and operations and an interest and sinking fund, which would pay for debt such as certificates of obligations or bonds, of up to $1.50 per $100 valuation.

Aguilera stressed that while the city could approve such a tax rate, that was not the only option.

"When (Tijerina) says you can issue $1.50 (in property taxes, per $100 valuation), we're not saying you should do that, we're just telling you what the law provides."

Aguilera also said he had reviewed the petition submitted to the city last year by voters demanding the city cancel its plans for issuing certificates of obligation, and he had found the petition did not include elements such as a list of the county of residence or dates of birth for each signer.

"I'm here to tell you this is not a valid petition," Aguilera said. "But although this is not a valid petition, I think the voters have told you what they think."

Aguilera said the council could consider re-issuing the certificates of obligation to fund the project, but recommended additional communication with citizens before the council took any action.

The council did not take any action on the presentation Wednesday.

During the hearing of visitors portion of the meeting, the council heard from the family of Herberto Gonzalez, a San Diego resident who lost his home last month when burglars set it on fire.

Gonzalez's daughters, Cynthia Marquez and Betty Trigo, thanked the San Diego Police Department for their work in getting arrests in the case. Both women also asked the council to work with the county to re-establish a Neighborhood Watch program in the city.

"I know there are political races going on, but I'd like to see people set that aside," Trigo said. "I'd like to see the city and the county work together."

In other business, the council voted to reject a bid proposal received for construction of the new city hall, and called a special meeting for next week to ask for new bids on the project.

City officials said Wednesday that after a previous request for bids, only one construction company submitted a proposal, which was significantly higher than the expected cost.

Architect Nora Parizot told the council she had several ideas for reducing the projected costs, and expected additional companies to submit bids. The council is expected to call a special meeting Jan. 16 to re-start the bid process.

The council also authorized City Manager Ernesto Sanchez to make decisions regarding a lease proposal from Xerox Corporation for a copier.

The council also met with Chief Joe Olvera in executive session during an agenda item that was listed as "discussion and possible action on police department personnel." Upon returning to open session, the council took no action on the item.

Following the meeting, Mayor Alonzo Lopez Jr. declined to identify what issues were discussed during that closed session. However, when asked if the item was in any way related to the department's recent arrest of Duval County Sheriff Santiago Barrera's son, Lopez said that was not the topic of discussion.

"No, nothing at all," Lopez said. "I know there's a lot of talk going around about that, but it was nothing about that."