Bill Woodall

Bill Woodall

In 1935, the city commission – in those days a three-man (all male until Janice Hancock was elected more than six decades later) panel – agreed the city needed a motor grader. As is custom, they solicited bids and received three: $3003.50, $3006.50 and $3006.50. Ultimately, they bought the grader for $3006.50 and we’re left to wonder why that one bidder failed to get the memo.

Nothing to see here, folks. No collusion here, move along.

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In these pages and elsewhere I’ve described downtown as the heart of Kilgore. I would argue that’s true, but to watch the heart work, you have to stand in City Park, experience its 80-year-old library, its historic super-Olympic swimming pool, its 20-year-old amphitheater championed by Kilgore Improvement and Beautification Association, its pavilions built by the Lions Club, its rock-lined drainage system and Depression-era rock-walled restrooms, the surprisingly busy horseshoe pits, and now the splash pad built in large part with money donated by Mayor Ronnie Spradlin.

In July 1934, apparently at the suggestion of Mayor Roy Laird, the city bought townsite blocks 176 and177 from M.B. and Annie Huey, paying $500 cash and $3,000 payable in three equal annual installments plus interest at 6 percent per year. Commissioners approved that purchase – the minutes refer to it as Happy Hollow – and appointed a park committee composed of John Elder (chairman), John M. Peterson and Mrs. John T. Crim.

In September, the commissioners agreed the city should buy three adjacent acres, bordering Hwy 26 (now U.S. 259) from Mr. and Mrs. J.S. Elder, paying $3,000 in five annual installments of $600 plus six percent interest per year.

Those purchases, made just three years after the city of Kilgore was incorporated, gave us City Park. What a wonderful series of decisions those have turned out to be.

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A primer on how to cut property taxes:

In the 1980s, the city borrowed a bunch of money to improve the water and sewer system. The bonds were General Obligation bonds, to be repaid with tax money rather than water and sewer fees. The liability was recorded in the general fund and taxes sufficient to cover that debt were levied.

By the mid-’90s, KEDC had attracted some new industries, home values were up and the city’s tax base had recovered sufficiently enough to cut the ad valorem tax rate to 65.5 cents per $100 of value from 66.5 cents. The next year, the city commission trimmed some expenses and cut the rate another penny.

A year later city officials were casting about for more ways to manage expenses and to lower tax rates.

Then-city manager Ron Stephens pointed out the water-and-sewer debt rightly belonged to the water-and-sewer budget rather than the general fund. (The bonds probably should have been revenue bonds from the get-go, guaranteed by water-sewer fees rather than property taxes.) That debt alone was responsible for 12.5 cents of property tax rate.

The commissioners moved the debt, cut the tax rate by the aforementioned 12.5 cents and then raised water and sewer rates enough to cover those payments. At that point the city’s tax rate fell to 52 cents and change... essentially where it sits two-and-a-half decades later... and allowed a legitimate claim that taxes had been cut substantially.

Former Kilgore News Herald co-publisher Bill Woodall works part-time as the city’s eldest intern, digitizing city hall’s old paper records – city commission minutes, ordinances and resolutions – and spends his evenings recording the bits he finds interesting.

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