For almost three years local government entities, either on their own, or with the help of the Aransas County Long Term Recovery Team (LTRT), have been steadily working to repair or replace government owned or operated assets that were either heavily damaged, or destroyed, by Hurricane Harvey.
There have been some bumpy moments between government entities, putting a strain on some relationships, but they continue to work for the betterment of the whole.
The gauntlet of bureaucratic red tape local officials and the LTRT have endured is nothing short of amazing, and the fruits of their labor are about to pay off, or not, in the form of several major projects.
The political capital expended, if wasted, will be a stain that will rear its ugly head in the future, if we start down the road of turning down that which is in front of us for the taking.
The Fulton Beach Road Mitigation Project appears to be on hold for the time being after property owners along that route let it be known they are not happy with plans to build breakwaters a short distance offshore as part of a $3.1 million living shoreline project funded by FEMA. What eventually happens with that project is anyone’s guess.
But that project is not the one that concerns me.
The thing that concerns me the most is the potential roadblock the proposed new courthouse has apparently hit.
A group of taxpayers have spearheaded a petition drive in an attempt to force an election to decide whether or not Aransas County can issue up to $24.25 million in certificates of obligation to construct a new courthouse as planned.
The new courthouse would be paired with a new Rockport City Hall on property across the street (to the east) from the site of the old courthouse.
The courthouse, city hall, a community building, and public plaza, are collectively known as the Downtown Anchor Project (DAP).
I don’t intend to rehash financial details of the DAP in this space, because they have already been published in this newspaper.
First and foremost, let it be known I 100% believe in the right of residents to petition their government, so don’t read what I say here as being against that sacred right.
What scares the heck out of me, however, is the possibility of a lot of hard work being flushed down the toilet because a voter, who could be participating in a monumental decision, makes his or her decision based on inaccurate information, or strictly short-term thinking.
We are at a unique point in our history. We suffered a big blow at the hands of Harvey, but federal funds, state aide, and insurance proceeds, coupled with historically low interest rates, minimal debt held by Aransas County and the City of Rockport, and the creative financial mind of Bob Henderson, the financial advisor for the City of Rockport as far back as the formation of the original Rockport Beach Park in the mid-1980s, as well as the county’s financial advisor, are collectively giving taxpayers a unique opportunity to get a big bang for our buck.
The old courthouse and city hall needed to be replaced prior to Harvey, and the storm just sped up that calendar, and provided opportunities that otherwise would not have been afforded us.
Although it is certainly fine for residents to petition their government, a wrong decision will have serious short- and long-term consequences (see front page story in this edition).
Of course, voters should vote the way they want, if it comes to that, but I hope each one takes into consideration all factors involved.
As a 36-plus year resident, I’ve seen us cut off our nose in spite of our face on a number of occasions due to short-term thinking.
The former courthouse was seen as ugly by just about everyone, especially compared to the one it replaced. During my tenure here it became too small and high maintenance (leaky roof and continuous air conditioning issues).
Rockport City Hall was too small the day it opened back in the 80s, and its twin police station (in style only) had to be abandoned early due to black mold issues.
Since Harvey, Aransas County has operated out of a temporary courthouse built inside the Harbor Oaks Village Shopping Center.
Taxpayers are paying rent for their own courthouse!
Rockport City Hall is operating out of temporary offices inside the Rockport Service Center on the Highway 35 Bypass.
Local voters have routinely turned down bond issues for our schools, with the last (and I believe, only one passing since I’ve lived here) being approved to build the new middle school, back when my 30-something oldest daughter was about to enter that campus.
We turned down an opportunity to build a new high school near the intersection of FM 2165 and the Highway 35 Bypass. That debt, I’m almost certain, would already be paid off.
Whatever decision is made, either by voters, or our elected officials, I hope it’s made with the long-term wellbeing of our entire county in mind.
We aren’t going to have this opportunity again any time soon.
I liken this decision to any major financial decision one might make as he or she nears retirement. No matter what decision is made, it will affect him or her for many years, and most likely the rest of their lives.
To put it in perspective, I will be more than 120 years old when a new courthouse turns the age the old one was when it was destroyed.
I will be more than 90 years old when the new city hall turns the age the old one was when it was damaged beyond repair.
To me it’s a no-brainer, if only based on the financial side of things.
We built a brand new four-bedroom house for our daughters when they were in college because it was the right thing to do financially. It literally cost us less, with two renters, then paying two apartment rents and related bills. Our ability to do that had everything to do with a decision we made to pay for our daughters’ college in 1996 when the Texas Tomorrow Fund was first offered. At the time, we most certainly could have spent the money on other short-term needs, but making that decision allowed us to build a house, which was later sold for a profit, versus paying rent and having nothing to show for having done so.
Making long-term financial decisions based on short-term gain is always the wrong move.
The downtown Rockport area has basically looked the same for the past 36 years. Sure, there have been properties that have been spruced up, and amenities added to public spaces, but the basic footprint hasn’t changed. In fact, since Harvey, some of the footprint is no longer there.
There are always plans being made and money being spent figuring out ways to increase downtown foot traffic.
I challenge elected officials, as well as every taxpayer, to consider the mid- to long-term future, not just the short-term.
The Rockport Center for the Arts is about to build a beautiful downtown campus that would not have been possible, at least in this short timeframe, had Harvey not decimated our shores.
The DAP will bring a large amount of traffic to a downtown area that has been needed and prayed for, for years.
Picture those two facilities, coupled with whatever develops at the old HEB property and Rockport harborfront property, bookended by the Aransas County Navigation District’s new marina at the end of Market Street.
All the studies, and money spent in the past planning for about what might develop in the downtown Rockport area, will pale in comparison when the DAP becomes reality, with the community’s support.
Think long and hard. We can’t afford to fumble, as we are about to score.
The ball is in our collective hands.
Until next week, have a good week … and think long-term.
Mike Probst can be reached at email@example.com.