Nine Bryan residents voiced their opinions on City Council’s $400 million budget — specifically the $70 million regional park included in the proposal — at Tuesday’s public hearing.
Five residents and organization representatives spoke strongly in favor of the proposed park. Four people, including mayoral candidate Patrick Giammalva and former councilman Rafael Pena III, spoke against it. Peña has filed to run against Single Member District 2 Councilman Prentiss Madison, who defeated him in 2016, in November.
The regional park — a central focus of the city’s Midtown development project that could take 15 years to complete — would be located at the former municipal golf course along Villa Maria Road. While the center of the park includes an area focused on nature and the lake, there also would be an amphitheater and sports facilities available.
The budget proposal, which also includes funds for seven new positions, would not increase the property tax rate from the current $0.6299 per $100 valuation. There is also a $2.34 million raise in total property taxes, with $903,943 from new property tax revenue.
Giammalva and Pena both said they were concerned that the park could distract from other projects in the city. Giammalva began shouting at the end of his turn to speak and was asked to leave the public hearing.
Bryan Chief Financial Officer Joe Hegwood said more than $14 million for the project would be funded through cash from capital reserves, oil and gas funds, hotel occupancy tax funds and Bryan Texas Utilities, while the rest is funded through debt. Additionally, the proposed budget will not cut the level of spending on existing and everyday projects, as funding will remain the same for now and is projected to increase over time. Hegwood said projections show that the park will lose money for one year but make money after five.
Community liaison Royce Hickman spoke on behalf of the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce to support the proposed budget. He said the regional park would help improve quality of life, which would then encourage future businesses to develop in the city.
“From the standpoint of a business and the future of our community, I think the direction you are going with the park is right on,” Hickman said. “I commend you for that direction, and I encourage you to keep doing it.”
While some people were concerned that developing the park could hurt the city’s ability to work on other projects, Noel Mayes from the Brazos Valley Lodging Association said tourism is key to improving the community.
“I do not think you can underestimate the importance of supporting the tourism industry to have a thriving local economy,” Mayes said. “By supporting tourism, you are supporting the future of Bryan, you are supporting sidewalks, your local police and the fire department.”
The park will put Bryan on the map, according to President and CEO of Experience Bryan College Station Kindra Fry, who said she is already receiving calls from visitor groups interested in using the space. Additionally, Fry said, the hotel industry is experiencing an oversupply, but a venue to attract more tourists could help alleviate that problem.
The budget received a 4-1 vote in favor of approval in Tuesday’s first reading. The final vote will be at the Sept. 10 meeting.
Councilman Mike Southerland voted against the budget Tuesday, stating that he wanted more conclusive data about how much money and how much of an impact the park would have on the area. Southerland also expressed concern about the timing of the project and said he wants more attention to be paid to the RELLIS Campus as a center for economic development.
If the council votes to approve the proposed budget at the Sept. 10 meeting, it will go into effect at the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1. Public hearings for the tax rate proposal will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 and Sept. 17 before it is voted on at the Sept. 24 meeting.
The budget proposal is available at docs.bryantx.gov/fiscal/FY2020ProposedBudget.pdf.