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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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Sugar Land voters defeat park project, support 2 other propositions

Karen Zurawsk, Houston Chronicle
Updated 7:03 am, Wednesday, November 6, 2013
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Sugar Land voters rejected on Tuesday an $18.54 million proposition for a 65-acre community park at Chatham and Easton avenues, but approved two other recreation requests.

The bond package totaled $50 million.

Proposition 1 received 3,450 no votes, while 3,313 voters supported that request.

Voters approved 3,599 to 3,151 the $21.3 million proposition for the second phase of the Brazos River Park and an adjacent festival site. They also approved 3,545 to 3,227 the $10.16 million proposition for approximately 10 miles of hike-and-bike trails and bridges.

The package was opposed by Diana M. Miller, who founded the nonprofit Sustainable Sugar Land. "I do not oppose the parks projects, only their source of funding, part of which (the festival site) was already voted on in 2008 including a 'yes' vote on my part," Miller emailed.

City officials said approval of the bond package, developed by a 100-member committee that met for three months, would have a maximum impact on the tax rate of 5 cents per $100 of valuation. The city tax rate is 30.895 cents per $100 of valuation. A 5-cent increase, without property exemptions, would total $133.50 per year on a $275,000 home.

Miller questioned the adequacy of the cost estimates.

In a news release, she said, "It appears the city's Bond Advisory Committee, comprised of hand-picked citizens, evaluated superficial information with unsubstantiated cost estimates provided by the city and the committee did not assess any actual operating cost data."

But Doug Adolph, city spokesman, said in an email, "This committee was 100 percent voluntary, and the city accepted all applications received from Sugar Land residents. Ultimately, there were four committees comprised of more than 100 residents in total."

He said the committee looked in detail at the project and operating costs.

"The city presented preliminary engineering reports or design reports completed by consulting firms for all four projects in order to provide valid cost estimates for each project. Additionally, city staff provided the committees with estimates of the operating costs for each project."

Miller said that projects should be privately rather than taxpayer-funded.

Adolph said, "Many smaller recreation areas have been built by developers who finance the amenities through the municipal utility district tax assessed on the residents of the area.

"Large community parks have historically been built by the city. The only community park not developed by the city was First Colony Athletic Park, which was funded by a municipal utility district," he said.

It later was expanded by city taxpayers, he said.

Miller said she has filed a complaint before the Texas Ethics Commission that the city advocated for the bond election by sending a mailer to residents.

Tim Sorrells, commission general counsel, said he couldn't acknowledge that a complaint has been filed under state law. If the commission takes action, an order will be filed on its website at http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/