Small towns like Argyle prosper in large part because citizen volunteers step up. Many of the town’s institutions are made up of people who serve in unpaid positions, devoting their time and effort to the town and the schools that educate our kids solely because it’s the right thing to do.
This month I would like to highlight the contributions of Kathy Salisbury and the Keep Argyle Beautiful volunteers, who once again picked up hundreds of pounds of trash during their annual cleanup of area roads. We are thankful for the work that this amazing group does for Argyle!
As usual, there is a lot of activity at Town Hall. In April, the members of the new Municipal Development District (MDD) were sworn in, assuming responsibility for advising the town on development policy and working to grow the Argyle commercial tax base. The MDD team, led by President and Councilmember Dr. Cynthia Hermann and Vice President Brian Darnell, anticipate working on near-term potential development projects on I-35W.
The Town Council consulted with its bond advisor to determine the town’s debt capacity at the April 19 regular meeting. The complete presentation given to the Council is available on the town website. Our borrowing capacity is healthy and will support anticipated road construction and other infrastructure needs over the next five years up to approximately $4 million without the need for a tax increase. Our bond advisor also assessed the capacity of the MDD, which has the power to issue sales tax bonds to support spending that will directly promote development. Our present sales tax collections will support potential borrowing of approximately $2.5 million, again with no need for a tax increase.
The controversy over master plan changes and rezoning surrounding Furst Ranch has served a useful purpose. Citizens and parents who live in Argyle and the Argyle Independent School District (AISD) are now focused on the cresting pace of development that is overtaking our region, and the real impact of an extremely high rate of population growth. Our school district, which has delivered exceptional results for our kids for decades in partnership with committed parent volunteers, is at risk.
Concerns about the financial sustainability of the school district are justified. The disclosure that AISD is carrying debt per enrolled student that is one of the highest in the state is a wake-up call for citizens and parents. A debt load exceeding $70,000 per student (following the placement of the last of the bonds authorized in 2017) has rightfully alarmed citizens because it raises serious questions about the sustainability of AISD.
As staggering as the Furst Ranch figures are, already approved housing under construction will add up to 500 students per year to district enrollment for several years.
At the April 19, 2021 meeting of the Board of Trustees, AISD superintendent Telena Wright disputed a future bond requirement of $430 million that has been public for weeks. This exact amount, however, was confirmed to a member of the Argyle Town Council by Mr. Furst’s team. The fact that Furst/Hines know more about AISD finances than the public is another subject. Likewise, the size of the next bond election is beside the point. What is important is the risk that the school district may be overwhelmed with debt and unable to continue to operate independently. AISD leadership is not providing clear and complete information that would allow the public to assess the financial stability of the district.
The district should produce a financial model that includes projections extending through the period of high growth that we anticipate through 2030. The model and projections should be made public as soon as possible and should include a bond debt capacity analysis.
Why is a detailed financial model that projects needs over the next several years essential? In addition to being consistent with good governance and transparency, a public and accurate forecast of future needs and available resources will impose spending discipline. AISD does not operate on a zero-based budget basis. A budget that looks at austerity measures to bring spending under control looks to be necessary given the high debt load carried by AISD.
Argyle ISD schools are the foundation of the high quality of life and the property values that we enjoy in our corner of Denton County. The district’s exceptional track record over the past decade has benefitted from a community of involved parents who chose to live here and who generously volunteer their time to support their children. It would be a grave mistake for the AISD board and staff to continue to withhold information from parents and taxpayers about the financial challenges ahead.
Preserving the health of the school district is among the many topics that should be addressed publicly by the jurisdictions affected by Furst Ranch. Density, serious mobility problems, utility service availability, and the use of public funding for infrastructure construction also need public deliberation that includes the Denton County citizens who will be most affected by the project.
I am encouraged that the Furst/Hines partners are revisiting their plans. Now is an appropriate time to seat a regional group, ideally chaired by Denton County Judge Andy Eads, to consider the Furst Ranch project with every affected jurisdiction at the table.
Argyle Seniors Update
Submitted by Stella McDaniel
We had our first luncheon last month since the coronavirus started last year. The Argyle Seniors Organization co-hosted with the Argyle Lions Club, Argyle Police Department and BPS Technology of Argyle. Everyone enjoyed the box chicken and turkey sandwiches from Jason’s Deli and also the informative speakers on phone fraud. Our thanks to Deborah Cottle and Karen Kiel for putting it all together.
Our next luncheon will be on Friday, May 14 at noon. Please let us know if you can attend by texting or calling Stella McDaniel at 940-391-6686 or home 940-464-7438 or Karen Kiel at 940-206-4563 (cell) or 940-464-0506 (home). Thanks and we look forward to seeing you on May14!