The Bond Committee and Addison’s Positive Future

The Bond Committee and
Addison’s Positive Future
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)

It’s an exciting time in Addison, and I was once again fortunate to see it unfold first-hand.  I served on the 2019 Addison Bond Committee, as I did in 2012, when a similar bond committee brought a variety of projects forward.  The 2019 Bond Committee has been meeting since early this year, and completed its initial work with the presentation of its report to the Council on June 11, 2019.  If the Council adopts the Bond Committee’s recommendations, Addison will hold a bond election later this year, most likely in November 2019.

The bond package the Committee recommended provides Addison with the means to address some much-needed maintenance on a variety of facilities and roads.  The growth of our town over the past 35-40 years has been remarkable, but it has also added much wear and tear to our infrastructure.  The Committee was strong in recognizing the need for Addison to invest in its infrastructure, a view echoed and supported by the results of the recent citizens survey.  Beyond facilities and roads, the Committee recommended enhancements to trails and our health club, and included funding for land acquisitions that will, among other things, allow Addison to prompt and control development in underutilized areas of town. 

The proposals of the 2019 Bond Committee are not likely to be without cost and, specifically, some modest increase in Addison’s tax rate at some future point.  That isn’t a certainty, as no one can predict the future.  For example, in 2012, we anticipated that our bond proposals would result in an increase in the tax rate, but economic circumstances changed and, in the end, there was little, if any, impact on Addison’s tax rate. Nonetheless, the 2019 Bond Committee considered this issue and ultimately concluded that the projects recommended were important enough to justify some additional burden on residents, with an eye towards the significant benefits we will enjoy.  In my view, for Addison to remain viable as a residential and business home, as well as a tourist destination (think sales tax, a critical part of our budget), we must retain its character and its appearance.

All of which presents us with an exciting opportunity to fund important projects that will enhance the Addison experience for residents and visitors alike. 

Our staff took significant steps to provide accurate estimates for the proposed projects, an issue with some complexity.  For one thing, the timing of long-term projects is often uncertain and, as previously noted, we can’t predict the future, including ever-changing economic climates.  Sometimes things work out better than expected, as they did for Addison residents when the economic recovery effectively negated the anticipated tax burden of the 2012 proposals.

Beyond timing, municipalities like Addison must decide how detailed cost estimates will be, given that obtaining expert input regarding projects can be expensive.  The alternatives for cost estimates are straightforward in principle.  One option is to engineer projects before they have been considered by voters.  Such estimates are expected to be more reliable, but if voters reject the proposed projects, the planning is for naught, making the extra expense difficult to justify.  Another option is to estimate costs more informally, waiting to spend money on engineering and expertise until the results of the bond elections are known.  While conservative initially, this method presents estimates that are not as reliable when bond issues are considered.  In 2012, Addison chose the latter method, but in 2019 made the decision to employ expertise to assist in developing cost estimates for the various projects considered by the 2019 Bond Committee. 

All of which brings us to the unfortunate issue of some recent communications to the Council from Addison’s toxic ex-mayor. I have written much about this misguided ex-politician’s long history of playing the “blame game,” always looking to cast aspersions on others, but never accepting responsibility for anything.  I’ve often observed that the buck never stopped with the ex-mayor.  His current “blame game” concerns the 2012 bond process, during which he led Addison’s Council to use estimates, i.e., to not pay for more detailed, expert-driven engineering of projects until the voters spoke to the issues. The ex-mayor now claims that the 2012 Midway Road reconstruction estimates were inadequate so, as is his practice, he is casting about looking for people to blame, all while ignoring his own role as the leader of the entire 2012 bond process.  Apparently, he and the negatives and naysayers are rattling about regarding the anticipated bond election.

Their negative efforts are no surprise, nor is their choice to focus on the 2012 bond election.  They’ve been beating this drum for years.  Regarding Midway Road, they refuse to acknowledge that that the economic recovery brought higher construction and material costs, or that the scope of the current project is more extensive than the project considered in 2012.  But then, the facts really don’t matter to these folks.  The toxic ex-mayor has even made the ridiculous suggestion that each member of Council is required to “independently substantiate” the estimates prepared for the various projects the Committee has recommended.  Beyond shaking my head at the absurdity of this inappropriate demand for micro-management, which is clearly not the province of this or any other Council, I couldn’t help but wonder about what “independent substantiation” occurred when the ex-mayor led the Council to recommend the 2012 estimates he now claims were flawed.  The contradiction of his attacks is mind numbing.  More to the point, this hypocrisy and negativity adds nothing to discourse regarding Addison’s future.

Here are my thoughts on these communications, on which we were inexplicably copied.  If the ex-mayor did nothing else during his misguided tenure, he amply demonstrated that playing the “blame game” is destructive and divisive.  Addison voters have recognized this and that’s enabled all of us to simply move on.  The result is that Addison is headed down a positive, productive path towards a bright future that gets brighter all the time.  And if the ex-mayor and his cadre of negatives and naysayers can’t play a positive role in Addison’s future, then they need to move on as well.

In any event, Addison took a different approach this year, hiring professionals to prepare project estimates. Let’s take the street projects as an example. Addison hired the Jacobs Engineering Group, which compiled project data from Town staff.  This included current project plans, as-builts, GIS and survey information, utility plans and drainage reports. Jacobs then developed existing and typical cross sections that included the Town’s design standards and specifications from Addison’s Master Transportation Plan.  Next, Jacobs developed planning level cost estimates for each of the proposed projects using bid tabulations from other recent city and county construction projects, as well as similar TxDOT projects.  Jacobs then applied an escalation factor based on construction industry data to estimate costs, and then added costs associated with administrative, engineering, legal and construction support activities as a percentage of the total construction costs.  Each project cost estimate included improvements to paving, drainage, water and wastewater lines, traffic signals, lighting, landscaping, streetscape, Right-of-Way acquisition, and other soft costs.  Finally, Jacobs added a 20% contingency to the cost of each project, ensuring that the estimate provided was conservative.

These and other methodologies were designed to give Addison the best chance of ensuring accuracy regarding project estimates.  Of course, no estimate will be perfect, for all the reasons discussed herein.  But, given all the work and expertise applied to the current proposals, I believe Addison’s staff has provided solid information relating to the projects recommended forward by the Bond Committee.

Serving on these two Bond Committees was an honor and a privilege.  Both in 2012 and in 2019, I learned a great deal and had the opportunity to interact with staff and many other Addison residents.  Given the different configuration of the 2019 Bond Committee, this year in particular provided the opportunity to engage in some robust debates and discussions.  I’m grateful for these opportunities, and proud to endorse the recommendations we forwarded to Council on June 11th.

Addison continues to move forward in a positive, productive direction.  The Addison Way is truly back, and I’m hopeful that our momentum will include a successful election relating to what are clearly very important bond propositions.