Proposal offers park option to districts

Mary Ann Hefner lives on Lake Lyndon B. Johnson in Central Texas, but children in her community don’t have a local park with a playground. “As far as where you can take children, it’s only our little elementary school,” said Hefner, president of the Kingsland Municipal Utility District in Llano County.

Hefner and other members of the statewide Association of Water Board Directors are backing a constitutional amendment, Proposition 4, that would allow some utility districts to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance the development and maintenance of parks, trails or recreation facilities.

The proposition is one of 22 amendments on Saturday’s ballot.

Supporters of the amendment say many unincorporated areas, which don’t get to take advantage of city tax revenues used for recreation, have too few parks. And counties often lack the money or are reluctant to develop athletic fields and playgrounds on open land before it is developed.

“It’s an economic development tool,” said Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, the House author of the bill to create the amendment. Municipal utility districts, called MUDs — which provide water and other services to residential developments in unincorporated areas — would have to have a plan and go to the voters with a bond issue that is clearly laid out for a specific purpose, he said.

Opponents of Proposition 4 say tax dollars should be used only for water and conservation issues. They worry new parks could become a subsidy for developers who might benefit from the construction.

“It’s terrible for taxpayers because it gives another government entity an opportunity to reach into our pockets,” said Peggy Venable, who heads the conservative watchdog group Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy.

Texas Citizens Action Network, a consumers group that wants less government and taxes, opposes the amendment because it pertains only to a few large counties and because it is a broadening of government powers, said Jim Cardle, the group’s president.

Under current law, MUDs and water conservation and reclamation districts can use revenue to build some park and recreational facilities incidental to their operation but cannot sell tax bonds. Their constitutional authority to make such improvements is “cloudy,” say water officials.

The amendment would clearly give the districts the authority to make the improvements and sell bonds after getting voter approval.

The amendment would apply to districts in or partly in Bastrop, Bexar, Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Montgomery, Tarrant, Travis, Waller and Williamson counties and to the Tarrant Regional Water District, which supplies water to much of the western half of the Metroplex.

Neil Strassman, (817) 548-5520