City surprised by county's request for interlocal agreement
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Nov. 23, 2004 -- Although Hopkins County commissioners on Monday approved the issuance of general obligation bonds to finance a $750,000 equine facility at Hopkins County Regional Civic Center, an apparent lack of communication may throw a glitch into the plan.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Beth Wisenbaker said Monday afternoon the measure was approved by commissioners court.

"Everything went peachy-keen," she said. "We passed everything. We passed the contract. We passed the issuance of the COs [certificates of obligation]. Of course, it's contingent on everybody signing the contract."

And getting everybody to sign the contract could get a bit sticky.

While members of the Civic Center Board Inc. were ready to do just about anything to get the project under way, Monday's agreement caught city hall by surprise.

"I became aware of some agreement they want us to sign off on this [Monday] morning for the first time," City Manager Marc Maxwell said. "It's an agreement that I don't think is necessary."

A number of years ago the city, by ordinance, dedicated a portion of the money generated by the hotel occupancy tax to Civic Center operation. The commissioners court, however, at the urging of their attorney, has asked the city to sign an additional contract regarding the hotel occupancy money.

Commissioner Wisenbaker said asking the city to enter into a new agreement would not mean asking the city to re-write the ordinance.

"It's kind of like when the city had us sign an agreement when they were going to loan us $500,000 to finance the [Highway 11 extension right of way] land," she said. "They stuck it in there that we were going to continue to give them twenty-something thousand dollars a year on the library. It's just kind of an extra thing our lawyers wanted us to put in there."

She said the agreement would not obligate the city for anything more than it was already obligated for with regard to the hotel occupancy tax.

"It is just signing a piece of paper," she said. "It's not that big a deal."

The city manager said the county wanting to proceed with the plan was expected, but the interlocal agreement was not.

"The fact that the commissioners want to move forward with this is not a surprise at all," Maxwell said. "The fact that they want us to enter into an agreement was a complete surprise. I had no idea that it was coming."

Maxwell questioned two sections of the proffered agreement which state: "The cooperative parties have agreed to share responsibility for the convention center-equestrian facility," and "The cooperating parties, seeking fiscally responsible and equitable ways to share in these responsibilities."

"This is not a city facility," Maxwell said. "The city provides funding from the hotel occupancy tax per ordinance. What they do with it after that is fine as long as it's legal and they provide us with an annual report of it."

Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said that, while the city has an ordinance delegating the money to Civic Center operation, the county needs to have its own official record of the agreement as recommended by attorney Jim Allison of Austin, who has been advising the county on the project and who drew up the interlocal agreement.

"We don't have anything on record, and if we are going to go out for general obligation bonds to show as collateral for some type of funding for this [pavilion project], by having this in our records for county government, it is something we really need," Millsap said. "That was the advice we had gotten from our attorney."

Sulphur Springs Mayor Chris Brown said he felt the expansion at the Civic Center was the thing to do.

"I hope it is completed. I think it is going to be a great asset to the community," Mayor Brown said. "I think it is a great thing the Civic Center is trying to do."

The city manager, however, would not speculate as to how the Sulphur Springs City Council would receive the agreement as presented by the county.

"I need to talk to the other parties, but at this point I don't see any reason to consummate this agreement at all," Maxwell said. "I don't see that it provides any benefit."

County officials and Civic Center Board members say construction on the pavilion can be completed by March, early enough for the Civic Center to contract for several major events that are contingent on the additional space being available.

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