JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
GRANITE SHOALS — In November 2016, Granite Shoals voters approved issuing $3 million in bonds for road improvements with an eye toward a $3.6 million matching grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In December, a USDA official told Granite Shoals City Manager Ken Nickel the most the city could hope for was $50,000.
“I felt I’d gotten punched in the stomach,” Nickel said. “We were talking roads, that’s all we’ve been talking about.”
Now, the city council is going back to voters with a November 2017 ballot measure to ask them if they still want to go forward with the original $3 million bond package, knowing there won’t be any significant federal funding influx.
“We want to reconfirm, not knowing if we can get any grants,” Nickel said. “We’re better off reconfirming. The city council truly believes this. We already passed the $3 million bond. The council wants to make sure (voters understand) it’s $3 million versus $7 million.”
The city was planning to use the bond money, a potential $3.6 million USDA grant, and another $400,000 from city coffers to make upgrades and repairs to Phillips Ranch Road, Valley View, and Prairie Creek.
Nickel said city officials will use the next several months leading up to the November election looking for grant opportunities, but, he added, the city might have to go on its own when it comes to the street repairs if no other grant funds are found.
This would force the city to rethink the scope of repairs and upgrades for the three thoroughfares.
The slash to the amount of possible USDA grant funding caught Nickel and city officials completely off guard. Prior to the November 2016 election, a USDA official assured Nickel and Mayor Carl Brugger that the city was a solid candidate for a dollar-for-dollar match for the street repairs. So officials told voters that if they approved a $3 million bond, the city would apply for a 55 percent matching grant from the USDA.
And it wasn’t a one-time conversation.
Brugger and Nickel had many discussions with the same USDA official throughout 2016 leading up to the ballot measure, and they all focused on the street repairs and potential $3.6 million federal match.
“There were no problems,” Nickel said. “Millions could be available. We talked about roads only. Then, we went through the application process.
“At the time, we thought there was good potential with the USDA,” the city manager added. “The question is: What do we do now?”
In December, a different USDA official informed Nickel that the department was only allotting $600,000 for road repairs to the state of Texas, not the millions initially discussed. If approved, Granite Shoals would get no more than $50,000.
Nickel said the good news is the bonds haven’t been issued and the only road work that’s been done so far are tasks such as addressing potholes on Phillips Ranch Road.
“If voters say no in November, we’ll resolve the $3 million. We’ll never issue that debt,” he said. “We will not spend any money for roads except for the $200,000 this year (already budgeted). We won’t spend any (other) money or issue the bonds. We’ll let it expire.”
The city manager re-emphasized that the city of Granite Shoals was “encouraged … to go forward with” applying for the grant and ask for a 55 percent match by his original USDA representative.
“I will go on record in saying that, to this day, we talked about millions and millions of dollars,” he said. “Why did it change? I don’t know that. I will stand by what I heard. We’ll move forward on other things. We’re spending time fixing Phillips Ranch Road to get short-term fixes. This is a unique situation. The bond passed and wanting to reconfirm it with folks is unique. The information went out we thought was true. I think that’s an intelligent approach.”