BIG COUNTRY, Texas (BIGCOUNTRYHOMEPAGE) – On this week’s episode of Big Country Politics, News Director Manny Diaz spoke with Abilene Mayor Weldon Hurt about bond results from the November 2023 election.
During the recent election, the residents of Abilene voted on three propositions that involved the Abilene community. Proposition A was approved to add new features to the zoo, while Proposition B was passed to fund upgrades for recreational centers. Proposition C, which proposed a bond for building a trail around Kirby Lake, failed. Despite this, Hurt expressed his satisfaction with the decisions made by Abilene’s residents.
“I don’t have a great crystal ball. I’m not surprised with the outcome. I wasn’t tremendously optimistic about how these were going to pan out. But I’m very happy with the results. I can tell you that I am very satisfied. And you know, we can take this information from our voters, and we can move ahead,” Hurt shared.
During Tuesday night’s General Election, the City of Abilene’s Bond Proposition ‘A’ passed, with 59% of voters for the proposition and 41% against it. The $15 million will go towards improvements such as a rhino habitat expansion, event stage and lawn, mixed-species habitat, Café, interactive experiences, and a lion and cheetah habitat.
“The zoo is our diamond in Abilene, you know, it’s the biggest tourist attraction we have. Also, I want to mention that there’s $10 million of private money raised to go with this bond that passed. So the zoo and their crew have done a really good job to the zoo committee on getting some private dollars with this, too. I think it’s going to bring a whole new atmosphere with the restaurant that’s going to be built out there. It’s going to give the ability maybe for adults [who] just want to run up there and catch some lunch and watch the cheetahs run, you know, just things like that. So it’s going to really create a tremendous amount of opportunity to continue for our zoo to drive tourism here,” Hurt explained.
Proposition B also passed. The $28 million proposition will create new recreation centers at Sears Park and GV Daniels Park. Hurt shared that this will benefit the heart of Abilene.
“We’re talking right now. This council is talking a lot about infill development and redeveloping the older part of our city. You know, whether it be just single-family residences, you know, our downtown businesses thriving. But I think this is just an aspect, you know, to keep what I consider part of the heart of our city. You know, the heart of the city is not the center of the city; the heart is what keeps the city alive. And these rec centers are vital to keep our inner city and the inner part of our city alive. You know, these two rec centers, these are completely tear down and redo,” Hurt said.
Hurt mentioned that these new recreation centers will be built one at a time, with construction beginning within a year.
“Our job is so these are not just additions; these are going to be completely new rec centers. We will only do one at a time because we don’t want both rec centers down at the same time. So probably will start with GB Daniels for no other reason than it probably needs it the worst. And so I just think it’s vital to give these communities and these areas of town the opportunity to continue to grow. As we push for our infill development with single-family residences, the incentives from the council, it just keeps the heart of our city growing,” Hurt shared. “They were past their life expectancy, their worn out facilities, they’ve been wonderful facilities for the city. But you know, I’m like I say I’m so glad this passed, but we had to do something.”
According to Hurt, Abilene has been experiencing growth, which has resulted in the need for more infield development.
“As of this budget, we actually approved funds to have incentives for home builders to encourage them to build in these areas of town. And it’s not just the Sears and Carver areas. It’s really kind of within the outer loop of Abilene. You will go as far down as South 27th. And what we will do is we’ll offer cash incentives to builders. We can waive permit fees, we can help with sidewalks, you know, there’s certain criteria that these houses have to meet the minimum standards, you know, our building standards, they have to meet all this criteria. And you know, build an affordable home. Our target rate right now is about $203,000. But what we’re going to do is incentivize that with about a 15% giveback to the builder. It can be on the front end later on note, or a cash-out when they’re finished with the home. So we know that these builders can’t, for profit, build that type of home in our inner infill area. So we’re actually your council has voted in for these incentives to help builders so they can actually make a little money there. It’s not a huge profit, but to give them incentives, and these homes are not rentals. These are single family and the people that buy these homes have to sign an affidavit that they’re going to file a homestead exemption. So we’re encouraging home ownership in our older infill area of Abilene.”
Some argue that Abilene’s growth in the interior outweighs other areas, but Hurt provided insight on why this is a main focus.
“Abilene is growing further out, you know, doing it naturally by itself. But, you know, Grady Barr before me, and we’ve always used this, this aspect of the doughnut effect. And as you grow out, you leave a hole in the middle, and the hole in the middle starts dying; that’s the heart of your city, and your city starts dying. And there are people that want to live in these areas of town. They just… there’s not affordable houses being built in these areas of town. And we’re just trying to have incentives to encourage that,” Hurt explained.
The City of Abilene’s Bond Proposition C, which would have provided $9 million for a trail around Kirby Lake, failed by a vote of 54% against the proposition and 46% in favor. Hurt stated that the voters have spoken and while he appreciates those who worked on this proposition, it will not be the focus for now.
“The voters speak, and whether it’s one vote or 100 votes or 300 votes… I feel that the voters of Abilene feel that maybe we have enough walking trails right now. You know, we need to complete the ones that we got also, I would like to add a lot of people don’t know, but as we do the complete reconstruction of Maple Street from Beltway Drive all the way to East South 11th, There’s going to be a sidewalk run along Maple that will actually tie into our walking trail that’s existing now. So there’s going to be some good walkability there,” Hurt said. “The nature trail around Kirby, it was a fantastic idea. I’m very appreciative of everyone that worked on those ideas and, you know, came up with that proposition. It was something that was really, really nice, it would have been very usable, but the voters have spoken. And so that’s not anything that we’re going to concentrate on. We’re going to concentrate on taking care of Kirby; we’re going to concentrate on taking care of what we have. But you know, we’re the trail itself is really not open for discussion right now.”
When it comes to proposing hikes and bike trails again, Hurt stated that it is a possibility, but for now, he wants to respect the voters’ choice.
“I think we could always revisit it. I never say never. But I think if maybe the private sector wanted to maybe get on board a little bit more and have an incentive to help push this through, I think that we would need some type of incentive to look at this again, to try to even put it back on a ballot, I think, you know, the voters have spoken. And so until something changes, I think that we just need to honor their vote,” Hurt shared.
Hurt stated that while bonds often result in increased taxes, they are similar to a home or car loan and will be paid off throughout many years.
“Yes, bonds are increased taxes, but when you’re trying to do, you know, capital expenditure to make a large improvement, and I use this scenario: If you have a home and you want to add a home or add a garage, or a carport, a major expense, you go get a loan, you know, you don’t just write the check, right? I’m not saying you couldn’t do it, but on a lot of these major expenditures, you’re going to have to pay that out over time. And so what that is, it’s just an improvement loan. But yes, if you get an improvement loan for your home, you’re going to have to pay that loan debt. And so what this does is, is the tax rate is increased to cover this bond this loan over the if it’s 10 or 15 or 20 years, most of ours are 20 years. And so you’d have the tax increase to cover that till the notes paid off,” Hurt explained. “I think we’re always transparent about saying that is this… in our meetings that will say this will increase your tax rate approximately this much.”
Another bond that affects Abilene is the Abilene-Taylor County Events Venue District Proposition A, which passed with 64% in favor and %35 opposed. This will benefit many places around town, such as Frontier Texas and the Taylor County Expo Center.
“We were watching that, you know… The ones that this truly benefits are Frontier Texas and Taylor County Expo. You know, both of those entities are very good for our city. Taylor County Expo, you know, right across from the zoo, you’ve got your two biggest places in Abilene that bring people from out of town, you know, the zoo, Taylor County Expo, they’re right there together. So fun in the Expo is very important. And then Frontier Texas, you know, that’s a state-of-the-art museum. It’s, you know, really one of the only ones of its kind in the nation. And the thing about Frontier Texas is it’s the headquarters; it’s the go-to place in Abilene when everybody else is closed. You know, they’re open more days, more hours, you know, kind of a tourist destination, or information center, if you will. So, Frontier Texas is not just a museum. It’s really our main information center for people traveling through.”