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Arlington City Council considers options to hold bond vote on non-council election years

The city council building in Arlington.
Yfat Yossifor
Arlington City Council considers options for a new bond cycle and new bond election dates.

Arlington City Council discussed Tuesday afternoon a new bond voting schedule following a change to the city’s charter in 2022.

During the work session, council members were presented with two recommended options: a three-year cycle starting in 2025 on non-council election years or a continuance of the current five-year cycle starting in 2026.

Councilmembers have flexibility in choosing the bond election structure with bond terms ranging from three to seven years and elections on these bonds being held either in May or November.

Yet, council members favored the three-year bond cycle to be voted in May.

A potential issue of the seven-year cycle can be the changes in estimated costs due to market demand and inflation, Deputy City Manager Lemuel Randolph said.

“One of the biggest challenges as we move forward with elections is really anticipating cost increases,” Randolph said. “If you go out too far, those numbers just become guesses.”

If the city were to maintain the current five-year cycle, the upcoming bond proposal would cost anywhere between $260 million to $290 million. The following bond could be up to $320 million.

The most discussed matter was when to hold elections, either in May or November.

Mayor Jim Ross supported a May bond election during the afternoon work session as he worries a November election may become politicized.

“What you have in May is you have, a group of voters who traditionally have a tendency to be more informed on what is happening locally and have a greater desire to get engaged locally,” Ross said. “We have all seen how the sweeping waves change everything from court judges to counties to everything else that is ‘partisan-esc.’ I am a little bit fearful of putting in a bond issue in November because of something like that.”

Councilmember Barbara Odom-Wesley was more hesitant to agree to the May election. Odom-Wesley’s concern is that the low voter turnout may play a negative factor in a May election.

“I have a little heartburn,” said Odom-Wesley. “In May, we have the data to show we have a very low voter turnout. If we put an election in May, then we know we are going to less than 10% of the electorate turn out.”

Randolph said the previous bond election was held in May 2023 due to the pandemic-related setbacks.

That election saw 17,760 votes cast as it also featured a mayoral race and four council races. In the November 2018 bond election, Proposition E received the highest vote total with 98,609 votes.

Odom-Wesley still voiced her preference for the three-year cycle.

Another factor the council favored was the ability to pass a bond with a smaller price tag. Some members feared that, if a seven-year bond were presented with a larger sum, the public would be less willing to vote on the proposed bond package.

“I am inclined to go along with the three-year cycle,” said Odom-Wesley. “Then it is not such a big deal for people to swallow. Also, we do not have to go after 700 million, going to 200 million, makes it more palatable, in my mind, to the citizens.”

Ross mirrored Odom-Wesley’s sentiment later in the meeting stating that, “I like having smaller bites at that apple where you do not get the ‘sticker shock’ that you get when you put a six- or seven-year bond package in front of voters where they are like, ‘Holy cow, what is going on with all of that?’”

The council will receive a more detailed plan June 11 focused on the three-year cycle and May election.

If the council approves a three-year cycle, the next bond election will be held in May 2025.

Emmanuel Rivas Valenzuela is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism with minors in political science and Chicano studies at the University of Texas at El Paso. Emmanuel has worked at his school’s paper The Prospector and the sister publication Minero Magazine. Most recently, Emmanuel interned with the non-profit news site El Paso Matters and McClatchy. Emmanuel expects to graduate this December.