The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

City to eliminate I-35 frontage road exit to Burleson

The city took the first steps last night toward instituting major changes in the Burleson Road bond project which will eliminate the I-35 frontage road exit to Burleson Road, replace it by extending Marketplace Road and include the northern tip of Burleson being transformed into a cul-de-sac south of Plum Creek.

Following a two-hour executive session at the end of last night’s City Council meeting, the council voted unanimously to approve the purchase of property that will permit the city to extend Marketplace Road from the Burleson roundabout, where Marketplace currently terminates, to the frontage road, which will serve as the new connection between Burleson and the interstate.

The current Burleson-frontage road intersection, which is essentially a fork in the frontage road, has been the site of a number of traffic accidents, some of which have resulted in fatalities.

The project will be part of the Burleson Road bond project and will actually be accelerated, according to City Manager Scott Sellers, so work on that Marketplace extension will be completed as the reconstruction of Burleson from downtown is underway..

Following the executive session, council member Alex Villalobos made the motion to approve a contract with "the Maddox parties" to purchase the property that will allow the city to extend Burleson from the roundabout.

"This is the purchase of land to construct the extension of Marketplace so that Marketplace will continue, as part of the Burleson project, from the roundabout to the frontage road," Sellers explained after the council’s meeting adjourned. "And, as part of the Burleson project we’re going to cul-de-sac Burleson prior to Plum Creek, so we avoid the low-water crossing and then eliminate the exit onto Burleson from the frontage road. So this is basically new, nicer, safer exit onto Marketplace from the frontage road."

Sellers did not state exactly when work on this phase of the project will begin.

"Once we hear back from CAMPO, we’re going to bid the project and include that little stretch as an add-alternate," the city manager explained. "So it’s not included in the base bid for Burleson, but as soon as we hear back from CAMPO, we’ll bid it.

"If we can, since it’s an add-alternate, we’ll try to get the contractor to do that in an earlier phase of the project," Sellers added. "Originally they were going to phase it downtown and then work their way north. Because it’s an add-alternate, if the phasing works out and the utility relocations have already worked out for it, we can get that done simultaneously with other phases. So we can get that extension built quickly."

In other transportation-related news coming from last night’s council meeting, Sellers outlined plans for a 12-mile east-west foot trail, and perhaps eventually a hike/bike trail, that could stretch from the vicinity of the city’s wastewater treatment plant to the banks of the Blanco River, much of if along the pathway of Plum Creek.

"We understand a city-wide trail system is important to the quality of life of our residents," Sellers told the council in outlining the concept for the project.

Sellers said what pushed the trail project now was the fact that he was contacted by representatives from Hays High School who were seeking ideas for that the city manager called "a very large senior class project to leave as a legacy for the community." He said they came to the agreement that beginning work on a citywide trail would be "a great project, not just this year, but for multiple years to come."

He said the trail-building will formally kick off March 3, in conjunction with a clean-up effort taking place along Plum Creek that same day. While one group of volunteers will be removing litter from the stream and its banks, the group from Hays High School will "take trail segments and clear them to a fashion where they are passable. For the foreseeable future, it will be a primitive nature trail, but it will be cleared four to eight feet, hopefully from the wastewater treatment plant at least through Waterleaf Park. And that’s several miles of trail in just that segment.

"Ultimately, we’re probably looking at 12 miles of trail when the whole segment gets built out," Sellers said. "Our ultimate goal is to have some sort of a paved surface many years from now. But, for now, there’s no reason why the public can’t be out there utilizing, enjoying the trail."

The other major action at last night’s meeting was, for all practical purposes, no action at all which came perilously close to killing a 17-acre subdivision along South Sledge Street, until one council member jumped in at the last minute to preserve the battle for another day. The developer was seeking R-1-3 zoning for the development which is the most-dense single family detached residential zoning available. Some council members felt that was too dense but a motion to approve a zoning that was slightly less dense failed on a tie vote (Mayor Pro Tem Shane Arabie reported work-related issues prevented him from attending last night’s meeting). However, a motion to approve the requested zoning also failed on a tie vote, which, if the matter had ended there, would have stopped the development dead in its tracks. After the proverbial pregnant pause, council member Tracy Scheel, who had made the original motion for the less-dense zoning and voted against the requested zoning, asked that the item be reconsidered at a future meeting, preferably one in which Arabie could participate.. I believe Arabie, had he been present at this meeting, would have landed on the side of the requested zoning, but he reportedly told the mayor in a telephone conversation that he could go "either way" on the subject. Stay tuned.

The council also approved, without any debate, Villalobos’s latest nominee, Scott Bowman, to the Ethics Commission. After reading Bowman’s impressive resume, I felt a position on the city’s Ethics Commission might even be beneath him and, instead, he should be up for a nomination to an Ethics Hall of Fame, if such an institution even exits. Trust me on this: Bowman’s credentials appear impeccable, to say the least.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A not-so-peaceful, uneasy feeling

Chalk it up, if you will, to my extreme leftist leanings, but I got squeamish when I read the "Presentation" section of Tuesday’s City Council meeting. It made me uncomfortable. Uneasy.

I guess I really shouldn’t be all that surprised that the council that officially declared in July 2016 that "black lives really don’t matter," has waited until Black History Month is more than two-thirds over before coming out with a "Black History Month Mayoral Proclamation." This is not a recognition, it’s an insult. One of the first things that came to my mind when I saw this on the agenda was "I bet it wouldn’t even be there if it wasn’t for council member Dex Ellison." And, what do you know? In this case, my paranoia proved well-founded. When I mentioned my concerns to Ellison, he wrote me: "I agree that this recognition should have been done back on the February 6 agenda (or even last meeting in January as you suggested), but regretfully neither myself nor another council member/mayor made a proposal for that to be on the agenda until I called for it to be on this upcoming agenda last week. Nevertheless, I feel the recognition is still important (to my knowledge we haven't had such a proclamation since 2012), therefore it will be recognized on next Tuesday's meeting."

The first time since 2012 — that confirms all my previous thoughts about how this council and, by extension, this city views racial issues. Yes, according to 2015 figures, only 5.77 percent of Kyle’s population is African-American, which means it’s relatively safe to ignore this constituency without raising much of a furor. But that doesn’t make it’s the right thing to do. And it certainly isn’t right to rub other facts into the collective face of this constituency.

But that’s exactly what the next two presentation items do. At a time when it has become somewhat of a national outrage that, while African-Americans comprise between 12 to 13 percent of the total American population, they make up 37 percent of the American prison population, Kyle has lumped his abhorrently late recognition of Black History Month with presentations on racial profiling and "enhancements to crime data reporting."

I am not accusing the council of doing this purposely, with the intent of deliberately insulting the city’s black population with the facts arrived at by the NAACP that blacks have nearly six times the prison incarceration of whites or a 2013 study that "confirmed that black men were much more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than white men." No, what I am accusing them of is worse than that: The council is clueless. When it comes to matters of race, especially in dealing with the black constituency, this council appears to be completely ignorant about what is happening in the real world.

Police Chief Jeff Barnett will be presenting the profiling report which will show that during this most recent reporting period, out of the 3,528 vehicles stopped by Kyle police officers, 7.88 percent were driven by "African" motorists. It’s interesting to note that 7.88 percent is 37 percent higher than Kyle’s black population percentage. Of course, there’s no way of determining how many of those motorists had Kyle addresses. In fact, I posed that exact question to Chief Barnett and he wrote to me around 2:30 p.m. yesterday that "We are running various reports to see what can be extrapolated." That was the last I heard anything about that.

But I want to make it clear that I am not lodging any racial complaints against the Kyle Police Department. In fact, its numbers look pretty good,. Actually, it could be argued that if any population was singled out for motor vehicle stops, it would be the Caucasian one. While 46.9 percent of the city’s population is listed as "White," Caucasians comprised 56 percent of those stopped by the police. And only 34 percent of those stopped were Hispanic while statistics place Kyle’s Hispanic population at 44.8 percent. It’s a mathematical disparity: Because of the relatively small number of African-Americans living in Kyle, any deviation from that base number is going to represent an out-sized percentage differentiation.

So it’s not the numbers on the racial profiling report that bother me. It’s the pairing. It’s combining the overly-late recognition of Black History Month with a report on police racial profiling. And to think it all could have been avoided if this council had recognized the reality that black lives do, in fact, matter and, thus, something like Black History Month should be recognized properly. You don’t begin selling tickets to the baseball game in the seventh inning.

As far as the rest of the agenda goes, the one item that could cause some discussion, consternation and hand-wringing is one to rezone 17.19 acres on Sledge Street to allow for the development of a housing subdivision on the property. There’s a public hearing on this issue and the usual band of no-growth NIMBYs will, no doubt, be out in force to protest the zoning request, just as they were at last week’s Planning & Zoning Commission hearing at which the zoning was recommended by a 5-2 vote. The two who voted against the recommendation argued for less-dense residential zoning than the one being requested, but the fact is this property, which was probably considered to be located "way out in the country" when it was purchased many years ago, is now, in fact, practically near the center of town, which is where the more-dense development should occur. It should also be noted that the city’s latest Comprehensive Plan, approved as recently as late last year, recommends this particular zoning for this property. But that won’t stop certain folks from trying to stick their fingers in the dike.

One other agenda item intrigued me and that’s No. 14 which bears the caption: "Limited Right of Entry License Agreement with Walton Texas, LP." What, in heaven’s name, does that mean? It almost sounds like some kind of restraining order. It could be nothing, of course, but then it could be something. So I asked city spokesperson Kim Hilsenbeck late Thursday night if she could provide some additional explanation, but she has opted to ignore my request, putting another chink into the city’s armor of transparency.

Update: Since the agenda was originally posted Thursday evening, the city has added background information to that Item No, 14. It turns out it is both nothing and something. It’s nothing to be overly alarmed about, but it’s something worth noting. It is an agreement that allows students of Hays High School and others to access portions of the Plum Creek Trail on March 3 for what is being billed as the "Great Texas River Cleanup."

"The City’s planned improvements for the trail include flagging and staking the boundaries of the trail, clearing brush, trash and other debris from the trail and the areas adjacent to the trail, maintaining the trail in a general, ‘native’ state, constructing and installing barriers reasonably necessary to protect public users of the trail from any and all identified hazards on or near the trail, and continuously supervising and inspecting the condition of the trail and promptly performing corrective measures as reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of public users," the proposed agreement states.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Perhaps it was all those short-term rentals that were blocking the council’s view

I sincerely hope that nobody reading this ever finds themself broke and starving on the streets of New Delhi. And if such a situation befalls you, I’m willing to bet that if you run into some old colleague you haven’t seen in weeks and he says "Hey, buddy, have dinner with me tonight — my treat," you’re not going to reply, "I’d love to, but I’m a vegan, so I’ll agree to have dinner with you tonight, but only on the condition we go to a strict vegan restaurant." You’re just not going to say that. At that point you could care less if a waiter brings you filet of rat sauteed in peanut butter truffle sauce. It’s food.

I’m not sure many members of the Kyle City Council get that. The mayor gets it, but I’m not sure anyone else up there on that dais does.

The council spent nearly a quarter of its four-hour meeting last night batting around the idea of whether it should direct the Planning & Zoning Commission "to gather public input and conduct a short term rental study." (If course, this time pales in comparison to the fact that the council spent 40 percent of its total meeting time behind closed doors and out of the public eye in a pair of executive sessions. So there’s that.)

Now it helps to put all this in context. A couple of weeks earlier, back on Jan. 23, to be exact, an event took place that was billed as a "joint meeting of the City Council and the Planning & Zoning Commission," but was actually the opportunity for the council and the city staff to put P&Z in what they felt was its proper place. It was like the parents telling their child "Now go to your room and stay there until you learn how to behave." From this P&Z member’s viewpoint, the meeting was 25 percent condescending and 75 percent patronizing. It got so bad that at one point a member of the city staff was talking down to the commissioners like we were sixth graders getting our very first civics lesson. He was trying to explain the council-manager form of government, under which Kyle’s municipal government operates, and he used the wrong analogy to illustrate it. It was, frankly, embarrassing and somewhat painful to sit through. It brought to mind a lesson I gave to everyone who took my public speaking course which was "Never talk on a subject that your audience knows more about than you do." (Something that wasn’t mentioned as part of that civics lesson, but, being the trivia nut that I am, I find interesting, so I will pass it along: Of the 25 most populous cities in the United States, only eight operate under a council-manager system and of those eight, five are located in Texas — San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth and El Paso. Never know when trivia like that will come in handy some day.)

There were many misguided souls on the city council dais last night that actually thought what was being asked of P&Z concerned short-term rentals. It really didn’t. It was the parent telling the child "OK, I’m going to give you the opportunity to prove to me you can behave so I can let you out of your room." It was the food being offered the starving man. It mattered not whether it was filet of rat sauteed in peanut butter truffle sauce. It was food. Trust me. I know. I’ve been there. You eat. You don’t ask questions about origins. What was in the food was completely irrelevant at that point. It was food.

Basically what the council and the staff told P&Z at that Jan. 23 meeting was "You are not supposed to show any initiative, display any form of creativity, unless we give you permission to do so and you are going to have to prove to us you are worthy of us giving you permission to come up with an original idea." Those were the rules handed down. "And don’t blame us," the council and staff said, "it’s all spelled out in the city ordinances. It’s not our fault." And you know what? They were correct. It was all spelled out in various ordinances. Kyle’s original ordinances were drafted by people who didn’t trust government and believed those who would follow in their wake and actually run the place would be fools and idiots, "so let’s keep all authority in as few hands as possible."

Then along comes Mayor Travis Mitchell who has the novel idea of "Wait a minute! Let’s see what these folks on P&Z can do." It was the mayor saying, in effect, let’s give these people some food. Exactly what the food is doesn’t matter, it’s completely irrelevant. It’s food.

That’s why the study really has nothing to do with short-term rentals. It is all about whether P&Z should have the opportunity to demonstrate it can let out of its room.

By now, most folks have some familiarity with short term rentals. It’s where you rent the spare bedroom in someone’s home for a night or two. In some cases it’s about renting the entire home for a "short-term," usually defined as anywhere from one day to two weeks. Back in the day they were not called "short-term rentals" but you could easily find them in listings of bed-and-breakfasts. Between the mid 1980s and the turn of the century, I used to make regular pilgrimages back to my old hometown of New York City when there were plays on Broadway I especially wanted to see. Hotel rates in Manhattan, at least to me, were outrageous, far removed from my affordability factor. But searching the various bed-and-breakfast listings always directed me to someone who was willing to rent out a spare bedroom in an apartment in Soho or Tribeca or even in my old Stuyvesant Town neighborhood for a price I could easily afford.

Currently, My Hero is on the other side of that equation. She purchased her dream beach house that sits right on the gulf shore in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., but she’s only there, at most, four to six weeks out of the year. She lets family stay there which is the only reason why my son, granddaughter and I have spent several gloriously divine weeks at that beach house. But the truth is, the only way she can afford this place is because she rents it out several days to a week at a time to people she doesn’t know through an outfit called Vacation Rentals By Owners (VBRO) which bills itself as "the most popular vacation rental site in the United States." The fees she makes through VBRO cover her payments on the property.

All of which brings me back to the bone the council wound up voting 4-2 to toss to P&Z. "I have a lot of confidence they (P&Z) will take this task on and will do the very best that they can and fulfill the task that we have set out for them," Mayor Mitchell said.

And that’s the deal. Fulfilling the task. Regardless of what the specifics of that task are. It’s just about getting the job done, whether that job is digging a hole or creating the design specifics that allow a rocket to land upright in the spot where moments ago it was shot off 27 miles into space. It’s doing the job. And that’s what the two who voted against sending this to P&Z — council members Shane Arabie and Tracy Scheel — didn’t seem to get. I’m not certain that even all the council members who voted for the measure really understood what Mitchell was trying to do.

Now to get to that specific job Mitchell wants done. What Mitchell tasked P&Z with doing is, to be honest, rather pedestrian: "Gather public input and conduct a short-term rental study. P&Z shall provide this feedback in the form of a memo which shall be presented to council by or before the first council meeting in May. P&Z is not required to include in the memo the opinions of the individual commissioners and/or any proposed amendments to our code of ordinances related to short-term rentals."

In other words, just get "the lay of the land." Conduct a series of "focus groups" and objectively report your findings back to council. That’s all. Listen to what different people have to say. Homeowners — those who live in the immediate vicinity of short-term rentals, those who offer their homes for short-term rentals, those who travel to other destinations and use short term rentals; professionals in the hospitality industry; business leaders; vacation planners and others directly involved in tourism. Learn what actions, if any, other municipal governments are taking in reaction to short-term rentals while accepting and noting the truism of Newton’s Third Law of Physics. Then assemble and put all this information into a well-written, easy to understand report and get it to the City Council on or before Tuesday, May 1.

It kind of reminds me of those days many, many years ago when the teacher assigned a book report. The teacher never told each student what book he or she should read. That was irrelevant. It was all about the report, not the book.

That’s a lesson a lot of folks on this council should take to heart.

In other action last night, the council announced The Knight Law Firm LP of Austin will return as the city’s legal representative with principal Page Saenz acting primarily as the city attorney for Kyle. All I know is that I immediately trust and have all the confidence in the world that a law firm whose URL is cityattorneytexas.com probably knows a thing or two about serving as a city attorney.

Every other action item besides the P&Z assignment on last night’s agenda was approved by a 6-0 vote. Council member Daphne Tenorio called in sick and was excused from attending the meeting.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Council’s agenda: From soup to nuts

I find it difficult not to think in culinary terms when pondering Tuesday’s City Council agenda with the appetizer being those imaginary phantom trails that are supposed to connect Kyle to neighboring cities but really don’t, the main courses offering annexations and short-term rental studies with a desert being what appears to be another look at a controversial zoning decision but we won’t know for sure because that dish will be served in private.

To add a little more intrigue, there have been some additions and deletions since the agenda was first posted at the end of business Thursday.

In April 2016, the City Council approved annexing close to 10,000 acres located along what was then the southern and western edges of the city limits. However, in somewhat of a convoluted deal, the owners of 15 properties included in the annexed area signed development agreements that exempted them from having to pay city taxes (and also kept them off voter rolls for city elections) as long as those properties were not altered in any fashion. Their moral argument was that they had purchased these properties so they could enjoy "the idyllic rustic, rural lifestyle far from the madding crowds of urbanization" and didn’t want any politicians forcing them to do otherwise. Of course, there was also the benefit of receiving all those city services without having to pay for them. Throughout all of this, however, was the lure of financial windfalls trumping the moral arguments.

Whether that lure is what convinced one of those 15 property owners, Tom and Mary Ayers, to sell their 17.19 acres located at 1001 South Sledge Street is unknown. What is known is that they did, in fact, sell that land to Thunder Horse Development LLC, which, according to its website, is "a real estate development company in the Austin, Texas Hill Country Area with a focus on developing residential lots to sell to home builders." In a letter to the city, C. Michael Bowen, Jr., the president of Thunder Horse, said the company purchased the property with the intention to develop single-family residential lots on those 17.19 acres. "The plan is to build a subdivision that offers lots such that a homebuilder can build homes in the $250-350K price range," Bowen wrote.

Since a collection of single-family residential lots is, of course, an alteration to "the idyllic rustic, rural lifestyle far from the madding crowds of urbanization," it triggers an automatic voluntary annexation which is the reason Item 14 is on Tuesday’s agenda and also the reason why it shouldn’t provoke any substantial discussion, even though a public hearing is attached to the item (which probably means a few diehards from the old guard will speak out against it). Actually, a public hearing on this annexation is not required, according to the Development Agreement and the Texas Local Government Code, but, as Planning and Community Development Director Howard J. Koontz wrote "the City of Kyle has found that it is in the best interest to exceed minimum requirements to allow the public an opportunity to voice any concerns or support relating to the annexation."

So while it is known that the sale of this land is what prompted Item 14, the reasons behind Item 18, "consider and possible action to direct (the) Planning and Zoning Commission to gather public input and conduct (a) short term rental study," are somewhat murkier. I reached out to Mayor Travis Mitchell, who placed the item on the agenda, and he said he would prefer to have the opportunity to discuss this with fellow council members before making his motivations public. However, Mitchell did direct me to a recent article in the Hays Free Press that surveyed what actions other cities in Hays County were taking to regulate short-term rentals. That story said Mayor Mitchell "after receiving a few resident complaints a few months ago regarding a neighbor’s short-term rental, the city started an information campaign alerting residents via their utility bills that they cannot operate short-term rentals within the city limits. Mitchell said the city crafts residential ordinances around residential living and that a conversation regarding regulating short-term rentals has not happened yet because city officials have not seen a demand for it yet. ‘It’s not explicitly prohibited but I personally think it’s a gray area,’ Mitchell said," according to the article. I’m guessing now Mitchell considers the idea has shifted through one or more of the 50 shades of gray.

Personally, I never thought of Kyle as that much of a tourist destination, but I was surprised to the level of being somewhat shocked yesterday when I went on Airbnb’s website and found far more listings for short-term rentals in Kyle than I anticipated. So it would appear that some form of study on this subject is warranted and P&Z seems as capable of conducting it and making some recommendations to council as anyone. (Full disclosure: for those who are unaware of this fact, I am a member of the Planning & Zoning Commission.)

What is labeled as a "presentation by the Emerald Crown Trail Work Group on a proposed trail connecting Buda, Kyle and San Marcos to the Violet Crown Trail in Austin to the Purgatory Trail in southern Hays County" was supposed to take place last month, but a winter storm forced its postponement. The key word in the above description is "proposed" because right now this is nothing more than pipe dream conceived by some well-meaning environmentalists and executed by geography students from Texas State much to the shock and surprise of property owners who had absolutely no clue that these folks planned to possibly put a trail through their land until they saw the maps. And, if you look at the maps, it’s easy to see immediately that the proposed trail routes do seem to connect Austin to San Marcos. But they are all located significantly north and west of Kyle. For the life of me, I can’t see any reason why the city would want to devote much energy, let alone financial assistance, to this endeavor when there is a dire need for a heavy investment in a hike/bike trail infrastructure right here in the city.

All this reminds me of a plan that was afoot when I first relocated here nearly four years ago and that was this foolish idea, I think it was called Lone Star Rail, to develop a commuter heavy rail mass transit system on the Southern Pacific rail line, compelling SP to shift its line to the eastern side of I-35. Fortunately, that plan died. However, a far less expensive and far more useful proposition would be to create a regional group that could purchase that rail line between San Antonio and a point north of Austin and convert it into a hike/bike trail that could serve as a spine for municipal hike/bike trails in local communities along the trail. Now, that would be something.

But I digress. Two — count ‘em, two — executive sessions are planned for Tuesday’s meeting. The first, scheduled to take place immediately after the opening citizen comments period, could actually produce the revelation of what law firm could be representing the city’s legal matters. The traditional executive session — the one near the end of the meeting — includes the tantalizing mention of "pending or contemplated litigation or to seek the advice of the city attorney" on the subject of "Windy Hill Zoning." Of course, anything to do with executive sessions are, by definition, hush-hush but I can’t help but speculate this involves that controversial decision the council made to deny a multi-family zoning request on Windy Hill. When it first came up for discussion last Dec. 5, it appeared the council was set to oppose it until City Attorney Frank Garza held a special executive session with council members after which they voted 6-1 to approve it. Then, during the council’s Jan. 3 meeting, Garza reversed his opinion on whether the council had the legal liberty to oppose the zoning and the council voted unanimously to deny the request. Garza admitted to me at the time, however, no case law existed to support his argument. So I can’t help but wonder whether some new information has come to light that might have caused another interpretation of the Texas Local Government Code on the matter, hence the item included in Tuesday’s second executive session.

What’s missing from either executive session is any mention of the "Jesse Espinoza Lawsuit" that was supposed to be part of the council’s Jan. 11 executive session. However, Garza told me that item wasn’t discussed at that time because the city had not received a copy of the lawsuit in which Espinoza claims his indefinite suspension from the Kyle Police Department was the result of racial discrimination. I can’t help but wonder whether the fact that no mention of this lawsuit is made on this agenda means the city still hasn’t received notice of the legal action or possibly whether it’s because the lawsuit has been withdrawn or dismissed. I’m not an attorney. I haven’t even played one on television. But it was an interim police chief who dismissed Espinoza, the only dismissal from the Kyle police force handed down by this person and I can’t see how a pattern of discrimination can be determined by just one action. But, like I said, I’m no attorney.

The late addition to this week’s agenda involves an item that would allow a fifth ex-officio (i.e., non-voting) member on the city’s Economic Development Board, a position that would be reserved for a representative from the Hays school district. The deletion was a portion of the city manager’s report dealing with an update on the provisions of a loan agreement the council approved to RSI, Inc., in September 2016, "We neglected to go over the information we received with Hays County (as they are part of the agreement) and would like to do this prior to any public updates," City Manager Scott Sellers graciously volunteered to me yesterday. I have been looking forward to this update because the agreement included the expectations that RSI would hire seven new employees in 2017 and it would be interesting to learn if those expectations had been met or possibly even exceeded.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mayor blasts governor’s property tax plan, says it will increase taxes

In an article posted today on his web site, Mayor Travis Mitchell criticized Gov. Greg Abbott’s recently announced property tax proposal, calling it "political maneuvering" that "will actually raise local taxes" and jeopardize Kyle’s "long-term economic prosperity."

Earlier this month Abbott announced one of his top priorities for the 2019 legislative session would be to force cities to limit their annual property tax revenues to 2.5 percent above what they collected the previous year unless two thirds of their voters approved a higher amount. His plan would also prohibit a municipality or a school district from issuing bonds unless two-thirds of the voters approved the debt issuance in an election that attracted at least a third of the jurisdiction’s registered voters.

For the record, never in its history has Kyle had a municipal election in which a third of its registered voters cast ballots.

"Abbott’s plan is wrong for Texas," Mitchell wrote. "I only hope that voters see through the political gamesmanship coming from our state capitol.

"Unfortunately, Abbott’s plan is more about political maneuvering than sound fiscal policy," the mayor said. "Hidden beneath multiple layers of state budgetary complexity is a disturbing truth. Abbott’s ‘solution’ will actually raise local taxes, not lower them. And it will do so in a way that dramatically reduces both transparency and quality of service."

Mitchell cited examples showing how Abbott’s plans could cripple the operations of both city government and the Hays Consolidated School District.

Later this year, according to the mayor, the city will begin work on the expansion of its wastewater treatment plant, the design and construction of which has been mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "If we are not able to complete the project to their specifications and within the proper schedule, TCEQ will either fine the city or, perhaps, take over our plant," Mitchell wrote. He said the expansion costs will be financed with cash on hand combined with developer contributions. But, he added, the city will still have to borrow money, through the issuance of Certificate of Obligation bonds, to bridge the gap between the actual construction and the time the city receives those developer contributions. The contributions would be used to offset the loans.

Currently, the only requirement for issuing CO bonds is for a majority of the city council to approve a measure to do so. However, according to Mitchell, if the governor has his way, the city would have to conduct an election in which one third of the registered voters cast ballots and 67 percent of them approved the bond proposal. By comparison, in modern-day politics, a "landslide" win is one in which one side in a two-sided election attracts 58 percent of the vote.

Should either benchmark — the two-thirds approval or the 33 percent voter turnout — not materialize, the proposal would fail. In that almost certain outcome, Mitchell wrote, "The city would default on its obligation to serve entitled future developments, would enter into a growth moratorium, and Kyle’s prospects at long-term economic prosperity would immediately be in jeopardy."

Mitchell also pointed out, had Abbott’s plan been in effect last year, the Hays CSD bond proposal for a third high school and two elementary schools would have failed because it received 65 percent voter approval, 2 percent below Abbott’s recommended minimum, and only 4 percent of the registered voters cast ballots, 29 percent less than what the governor’s plan would require.

You can read Mitchell’s entire article here.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Sales tax collections: What a difference a year makes

January’s sales tax collections continued to exceed budget forecasts for January, but that reflects less on Kyle’s economy — although it seems to be growing (see variance from last year in the chart below) — and more on the more conservative forecasts for this fiscal year.

January’s figures reflected the fourth (out of a possible four) consecutive month this fiscal year that sales taxes have surpassed the budget’s forecast. At this time last year, receipts had dipped below forecasts for two of the four months and overall the city was $36,307.20 below forecasts for the fiscal year. This year it is $171,614.06 on the plus side. That’s quite a turnaround.

However, that’s because the estimated sales tax growth between January FY 2016 and 2017 was 11.3 percent. The estimated growth for this fiscal year, on the other hand, was a far more modest and realistic 3.6 percent. There you have it.

(Updated at 3 p.m.) "I’m very proud of the 13 percent increase in sales tax revenue collected so far this year," Mayor Travis Mitchell said today. "It represents something very important to our city — economic diversity. Only through economic diversity can we begin to increase our quality of life without a corresponding increase in property taxes. We are laser-focused on keeping this trend going. The next big push is to land a large employment center. I’m confident we’ll get it done soon.

"As to the forecasts being low, I think we learned an important lesson through last year’s deficit," Mitchell said. "To me, you should never budget for best case scenario. And in this case, our more conservative approach has provided us the opportunity to record a surplus in the sales tax budget. That’s a good thing and those monies will be put to good use." (End updated material)

Here’s a quick glance at January’s numbers:


Sales tax collected

Budget
surplus

Percent
Surplus
FY percent Surplus

Jan. 2017
Collections
Variance from
last year
$618,416.40
$62,581.40
11.26%
7.41%
$536,291.12
15.31%


You can read the entire report here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Council cites Tenorio’s record, demeanor as reasons for replacing her on water board

The City Council said Tuesday night council member Daphne Tenorio’s record of consistently opposing actions taken by the board of the Alliance Regional Water Authority coupled with what they described as a lack of decorum on her part during council meetings were reasons to remove her from the ARWA board.

"Your dissent, your voting record shows that you should not be a part of this — the single most important board that keeps our city moving forward," Mayor Pro Tem Shane Arabie told Tenorio during the meeting.

"Council member Tenorio proved, through her actions in the past and tonight, that she was not qualified for that position," Mayor Travis Mitchell said following the meeting.

By a vote of 6-1 (with Tenorio, or course, being in the minority) the council first voted to reconsider the decision it made just two weeks ago to install her as one of Kyle’s representatives on the board that oversees the area’s water supply and, second, to replace her on the board with Mitchell.

"I wanted to bring this item back for two reasons," Mitchell told his colleagues. "First, upon additional reflection and consideration, I wanted to make some additional statements and register a different opinion and, second, council member Arabie currently serves on the ARWA board and he wasn’t present at the last meeting. I think his perspective will be very valuable for us to consider as we move forward with making a board appointment from this body."

Tenorio charged that Mitchell was bringing the item back because he has a personal vendetta against her and rather than subject herself to more personal attacks, she said she would rather simply resign.

""This is nothing more than a personal issue between the mayor and myself," she maintained, "and that should have been left at the door. When a person is elected by the council, that decision should stand."

Arabie told Tenorio her "personal attacks are inappropriate. The fact that you like to attack everybody on the dais is unprofessional and the record could show the personal attacks you pushed towards other people is out there and are very easily seen.

"Now, this is the most important board our city has," Arabie continued. "Its purpose is to provide water for our citizens and our growth and our future for the next 50 years. Water is one of the most important resources that we have. The record will show that the dissent that council woman Tenorio has registered time and time again against this board is the reason why she shouldn’t be a part of it. You’re right. Let the record stand. You’re absolutely correct – your dissent, your voting record shows that you should not be a part of this — the single most important board that keeps our city moving forward. The majority of the council does not believe in your view so, you’re correct, you should not be a part of this board. The fact that you essentially resigned before this discussion — not fighting for your seat — shows that you should absolutely not be part of it. Because, when it comes right down to it, the city needs someone who will fight for them. Your resignation attempt proves you will not do that."

"I’m saddened by the incredibly unprofessional display of temper from council member Tenorio tonight," Mitchell said after the council finally adjourned its meeting 45 minutes after midnight this morning. "It was embarrassing for the council, those present and for the city. We have to be better than that as a council and we need to be better."

Several times during the discussion, Tenorio attempted to interrupt the council member speaking, prompting Mitchell to caution her at one point: "Council member Tenorio, you have not been recognized. You may ask to be recognized by holding up your hand."

"I hold my hand up all the time," she said, as she ratcheted up the volume of the conversation several decibels. "I thought this was a different mayor, but apparently it’s the same mayor with a different name.

"One of the reasons I chose to run for this position was because of the lack of diversity in this organization," Tenorio said. "There is only one woman on the water board. There is only one Hispanic on the water board and there is only one African-American on the water board. Therefore, there is not a majority of diversity of representation of our community. If a new person needs to be nominated, I recommend that the person who is nominated be of a different color and provide some diversity to that board, either it be a different race or it be a different gender."

Which left Tenorio an opening to do just that — nominate someone of a different race and/or gender — but she didn’t. Instead, she tried to interrupt Mitchell again by calling for a vote on the motion even though, according to Roberts Rules of Order, a speaker cannot be interrupted by someone calling the question.

Following the meeting, the mayor said Tenorio’s statements about race and gender disturbed him.

"They really bothered me, deeply," he said. "I am extremely committed to making sure that the city has the best representation regardless of what you look like or what your sex is. That’s just a fact. But, in this case, the qualifications are what win the day. Council member Tenorio proved, through her actions in the past and tonight, that she was not qualified for that position and I believe we made the best decision for the city."

"One of the reasons I wanted to bring this back," Mitchell said during the council meeting, "is because I felt that while a lot of considerations were discussed at the last meeting, that the ultimate decision we have to make is who we feel like is best going to represent this body with a collaborative mind set, who is going to sit on the board and advocate for the water positions so that we can get the most water possible and also who will represent the city’s best long-term interests. In this case, I feel the original consideration we made was not in that best long-term interest."

Tenorio tried to interrupt again, prompting Mitchell to tell her "You may raise your hand if you wish to speak."

Ellison did raise his hand, but Tenorio interrupted and Ellison chose to defer. After Mitchell then recognized Tenorio, she mocked the mayor saying "I’m so glad you shared your qualifications of being here a whole five years and having such a care for our great city over some of us who have dedicated decades of service to this community and to our families and making sure that this city is going the way it needs to go. But I’m some grateful that we have you to lead us because obviously nobody else could do it. So thank you."

Ellison, who was the only council member who wanted Mitchell to be the city’s appointee during the meeting two weeks, said he agreed with the mayor’s statements on qualifications.

"Tonight has proven to me why I did not vote for council member Tenorio for the ARWA board," Ellison said. "We can disagree and that’s fine, but let’s do it respectfully and let’s not interrupt each other and let’s do our best to represent the citizenry of Kyle. We see it throughout all levels of government — things that are really ticking people off with the way government is run — and we don’t have to follow suit with that. Let’s be respectful. Let’s do what’s best for the city. And, in my opinion, what’s best for the city is having the mayor representing us."

After saying Arabie shouldn’t be on the board because he is putting his house on the market in a few months (a claim Arabie said "was news to me"), Tenorio countered by saying, as a newly elected council member, Ellison had not witnessed the personal attacks she has been subjected to during her tenure.

In other action last night, the council:

  • Voted 6-1 (Tenorio objecting) to add the provisions contained in the recently enacted Residential Neighborhood Style Guide to the city’s subdivision regulations;
  • Voted unanimously to award a $49,895 contract for the first phase of a three-phase dog park to be located in Steeplechase Park and to adopt rules governing appropriate behavior in the park;
  • After spending a little more than 40 minutes discussing exactly what the implications of them might be, voted 6-1 to pass on first reading amendments to the city’s ordinances regulating neighborhood fences that Planning Director Howard J. Koontz described as "evolutionary not revolutionary";
  • Learned from City Manager Scott Sellers that the probable dates for the council’s two budget retreats this year would be March 24 and July 28; and
  • Held an executive session lasting four hours and 10 minutes, most of which was spent interviewing and discussing possible representatives to serve as either city attorney or the legal counsel for the Ethics Commission, Because of the inclement weather, the council offered the candidates the opportunity to appear either during last night’s meeting or in an Executive Session on Feb. 6. All the candidates chose to come to last night’s meeting. That’s not to say the council won’t have a second round of interviews at its next session. (Although the Executive Session’s list of discussion items included "Jesse Espinoza Lawsuit," City Attorney Frank Garza said Espinoza just filed the discrimination lawsuit Friday and the City, possibly because of the Martin Luther King holiday Monday coupled with the inclement weather Tuesday, had yet to be served with the legal papers. Thus, he said, a discussion on the subject did not take place.)