By John Toth
Oldsmobile used to have commercials that ended with, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.” This is now applicable to Brazoria County.
That is how it sounded to me as Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta gave a progress report recently at an Angleton Chamber of Commerce luncheon on the county courthouse expansion and additions.
This county is not like your father found it when he moved here decades ago to work for one of the plants.
Many of us remember going to Houston before Hwy. 288 was completed. It was a hassle. It’s a different hassle now, as that roadway has become packed with cars, much like Houston, during rush hour. Now we have a toll road to try to relieve the congestion.
We used to drive miles past pastures. Now, we drive past the many subdivisions. There are still some pastures, but much of it will soon be turned into subdivisions.
People keep moving in, whether or not we like it. We moved here also - in 1982. It was supposed to be for a few years, and then we decided to stay. We’re just one family of the many thousands that decided to stay.
Many of us remember FM 518 when it was just a two-lane road leading to Pearland. That has changed just a bit. And we remember when there was no Town Center, or ShadowCreek, just a few subdivisions, including Silver Lake.
We live in a different world today, and our county is no exception. The growth has accelerated, and we have accelerated with it, especially driving up and down Hwy. 288.
When I reported on this county as a young journalist, the county jail was on the fifth floor of the old courthouse built in 1940. I used to go to the fourth floor, where the Sheriff’s Department was, to check the daily blogs.
The Commissioner’s Court was on the third floor of the same building. The County Judge’s suite was right next to it. I think there was a front office for the secretary and a back office for the judge.
I hung around the coffee shop on the first floor a lot. That was part of my job, and I got a lot of good information by just drinking coffee in the mornings.
One lead was that Justice of the Peace Walter Mathews planned to dismiss traffic tickets for pints of donated blood. He was determined to set a new record for the courthouse blood drive, which he did. The lead came from the judge himself, while we were drinking coffee - in the coffee shop.
Then the Judicial Commission came down on him, and he got into a little trouble, which District Attorney Jim Maple handled.
The coffee shop will move to the second floor with the new plan and even have a nice balcony people can sit at and watch the foot traffic below.
The courthouse complex, like much of the county, is being expanded and changed all around, Sebesta said. The total cost will be $170 million.
That seems like an enormous amount of money to someone who is still going down to the Appraisal District each year to argue a few dollars off his house appraisal.
It will be a nice facility when completed, and from the way Sebetsa sounded, the county will get a lot for its money.
How will it be paid for? He said that $35 million will come out of surplus funds (it’s nice to have that option). The county will also be able to use a portion of the $72.5 million it had received from the federal government under the American Rescue Plan. Another $5 million is being funded by the state.
The county also is expecting to be reimbursed about $25 million over the next five years from the Brazoria County Expressway toll road on Hwy. 288. That leaves about $99 million to be covered by borrowing, Sebesta said.
So, this will add to the county property tax rate, right? No, Sebesta said. Some bonds have been paid off, and that freed up extra cash. Some have been refinanced to lower the payments. The tax rate will not be affected by the $170 million construction tab, he said.
I think Sebesta is probably right. New construction coming on the tax rolls should generate a lot of revenue with all these subdivisions being built. But it will also grow the county to new levels that we have never seen here before.
No, this is not your father’s Oldsmobile anymore. It’s getting all the extras to make it last for another 30 years, unlike the Oldsmobile, which was discontinued in 2004.