The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What is Georgetown doing that Kyle isn’t

I was struck by a story on the front page of the Metro Section in today’s Austin American Statesman (subscription required) concerning the city of Georgetown’s proposed budget. And, of course, I couldn’t help but compare it to the recently proposed budget for Kyle.

Georgetown is adding 37.5 jobs to the city, 15 more than Kyle. Georgetown’s budget covers the issuing of the first $20 million of the $105 million road bonds approved by voters in 2014. Kyle is issuing all the bonds for its road program at one time, but that figure is still $7 million below Georgetown’s first phase.

Yet is Georgetown not raising its tax rate. It’s keeping it at $.43 per $100 valuation, 18 cents below the rate Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers is recommending.

Why the difference?

I really don’t know but I have a suspicion it’s because Georgetown’s commercial sector is far more robust than Kyle’s. While Kyle has to rely primarily on homeowners to foot the property tax bill, Georgetown has a far more equitable ratio of commercial to homeowner. And yet, from what I can see from Kyle’s proposed budget, city leaders are actually scaling back on their economic development efforts.

Here are some numbers that gave me the hint Georgetown is more balanced than Kyle, which seems determined to remain a "bedroom community."

The number one industry is Georgetown is construction, which accounts for 16 percent of business activity. In Kyle, it’s retail at 15 percent. The median per capita income for a resident of Georgetown is $31,897, but only $24,811 in Kyle. The average time it takes for a Georgetown resident to commute to his or her workplace is 24.1 minutes. In Kyle, it’s 33.6 minutes. And although I could not find a comparable number for Kyle (I have asked the city if it has those statistics), 44.4 percent of employed residents of Georgetown also work in Georgetown,. I have a sneaking suspicion that number is considerably lower here. And here’s the biggest giveaway: Georgetown’s daytime population is 8.2 percent higher than its nighttime population. I am also seeking similar numbers from Kyle City Hall.

Yes, Georgetown is almost twice the population of Kyle, but that gap is narrowing. And yes, Georgetown has its own airport, a well respected liberal arts university and has a land area about four times the size of Kyle.

But still …

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

14 percent property tax rate hike possible

Obviously nothing is set in stone at this time, but it’s possible that City Manager Scott Sellers is going to ask the City Council to try and sell constituents a 14 percent property tax rate hike for the next fiscal year. This on top of what is projected to be at least a 14 percent hike in property values.

According to the agenda posted today for Saturday’s council budget workshop, Sellers is, as of this moment, seeking a property tax rate of $.6146 per $100 valuation. That means a person whose property tax on a $150,000 home last year was $807.45 might pay as much this year as $1,050.97 on a home that’s now valued at around $171,000. That, of course, doesn’t include school, county and other taxes.

I say "as of this moment" because the agenda item states the proposed hike "is an estimated tax rate and is subject to change pending certified taxable property valuations due on July 31, 2015." However, one of the reasons it has taken this long to receive the certified tax rolls is because so many residents are appealing their valuations. Depending on the outcome of those appeals, it could render Sellers’s estimate on the low side. To be fair, however, many of those appeals are from Hays County property owners who suffered property damage from the May floods and the overwhelming majority of those are outside of Kyle.

Regardless, this much of a property tax increase could prove to be a tough sell and might even trigger a rollback election. The problem is most of the increase is necessary to pay for the bonds issued to cover the costs of the 2013 road projects. The really bad news here is that the first year’s payments are probably going to be the lowest and property taxes might even have to be raised much higher in subsequent years to pay off the city’s debt.

To give you an idea of the tax rates of other cities in Hays County: Uhland $.206, Buda $.2978, San Marcos $.5302, Hays $.1164, Mountain City $.123, Woodcreek $.1305, Niederwald $.288 and Dripping Springs $.17.

To give you an idea of the tax rates of other cities with a population comparable to Kyle: Farmers Branch $.602267, Lake Jackson $.3875, Big Spring $.85664, Cleburne $.804018, Waxahachie $.68, Rosenberg $.49 and Deer Park $.72. These numbers are all over the map, but it does illustrate Kyle’s proposed rate is not that much out of whack compared to cities with a similar population. It is higher than three of them and lower than four. And of that latter four, I would argue the rate proposed by Sellers is significantly lower than that of Big Spring, Cleburne and Deer Park.

The council will discuss Sellers’s proposed budget at its council workshop Saturday and then conduct two meetings, the first on Aug. 19 and the second on Aug. 26, designed to gather the public’s input on the proposed budget. Over the next six days, council members will make their changes and then bring it back for a first reading Sept. 1 with final passage scheduled for Sept. 8. The new budget takes effect Oct. 1.

Monday, July 27, 2015

No mention of property tax rate in proposed budget posted on-line

City Manager Scott Sellers posted an incomplete budget proposal for FY 2015-16 on the city’s web site Tuesday night. It made absolutely no mention of a proposed property tax rate, it added five police officers to the city’s force, it decreased the amount spent on street maintenance and, at a time when the city desperately needs to add more (non-retail) businesses, it significantly slashes city funds earmarked for economic development.

Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix told me "We won't have the property tax rate until we receive the certified tax rolls on July 31."

Although it was difficult to determine the total budget figures, Sellers's proposal hikes the General Fund, the money used to operate the city, by a whopping 31 percent, from $16.7 million for this current fiscal year, to $21.96 million for the upcoming one. The budget did forecast a 22.3 percent increase in property tax revenue during the upcoming fiscal year as well as a 29.56 percent increase in sales tax collections.

The budget, as posted this evening, also contained no manager’s message or budget highlights section in addition to no reference of a proposed tax rate, but wading through it did reveal that the biggest chunk of new money, $4.7 million, will be needed for the operations at the wastewater treatment plant, once the city purchases the facility.

The garbage collection fee will increase an average of 96 cents per month and starting with the next fiscal year and there will also be a one-time $50 fee for owning "miniature livestock." I’m assuming that has something to do with chickens, but I cant’ be sure.

Sellers’s proposed budget will increase the number of Kyle police officers from 30 to 35, which still comes out to only one police officer for every one thousand persons here. The number for a city the size of Kyle should be 1.8. Sellers also recommended a code enforcement officer, a position not funded in previous budgets, be included in the Police Department’s proposed budget.

Even though the city’s property tax burden falls more heavily on Kyle homeowners than on the homeowners of any other city in Hays County, Sellers budget calls for spending 29.5 percent less than last year’s budget for economic development. The budget cuts $3,300 out of Economic Development’s travel budget and, although much of that had been spent in the past in attending conventions designed to attract bad fast food restaurants to the city, there does not seem to be any desire to refocus that money in attracting business concerns or start-ups, even though we are located less than 25 miles from a major research university and a city known for spawning start-ups. Yet $2,000 was added to the Parks and Recreation travel budget.

Apparently the city is in dire need of new computers, because Sellers is recommending spending $84,000 over last year’s budget on computer hardware and $11,492 more in overall computer expenses.

Although the condition of the city’s streets seem to be at the top of "the concern list" of Kyle residents, the way I read it (and this is where a manager’s summary could have come in handy) this budget calls for a 21.18 percent reduction from last year for street maintenance overall and it looks like absolutely nothing has been allocated for street repairs for the next fiscal year. Now, that has nothing to do with the road bond projects, just overall maintenance on the city’s other streets.

That’s the highlights, or lowlights, if you will, that I could collect from a quick perusal of what the city put on line. Hopefully will get some additional information and clarifications soon, perhaps even before Saturday’s council budget workshop.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Webster escalates war with Tenorio

"Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride."

There seems to be a battle between opposing philosophies shaping up on the city council. On one side you have Mayor Todd Webster, who favors the notion that providing too much information to the public is a dangerous proposition. On the other is newly elected council member Daphne Tenorio who seems to believe in the idea of keeping the public informed about what the city is doing.

For example, at Tenorio’s request, City Manager Scott Sellers offered a well crafted and fascinating presentation on shared municipal facilities, meaning a single building that could house offices of the city, the county, the school district, etc. Mayor Webster felt the presentation was "premature."

Because of a family tragedy, Tenorio did not attend Tuesday night’s City Council meeting which Webster took advantage of by taking some swipes at the absentee, without, of course, mentioning her by name.

Section VIII of Tuesday night’s agenda was "Council Requested Agenda Items" and that section included an unusually large 10 items. Because the council took four hours to get to Section VIII — nearly half of that time in executive session — the council wound up tabling all but two of those items, one involving a roundabout and another about a request for a traffic study in the Waterleaf subdivision, which as it turned out, was already being conducted. Those two items had already been discussed out of agenda order.

Tenorio requested three of the items in that section: (1) "Overview of City’s share of costs for Phase 1 water supply associated with capital improvement projects planned to be incurred by the Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency (HCPUA) during fiscal years 2016 through 2020:" (2) "Status report on all five road bond projects including latest project cost estimates;" and (3) "Update on Goforth Road repairs."

Webster also had three items on the list, one of which was "Discussion concerning frequency of City Council requests for staff reports and direction given to city staff." And although he was the one who first mentioned the eight items in Section VIII that hadn’t already been discussed should be put off until the council had more time, he took the time to talk about his above mentioned one by saying he didn’t want items placed on the agenda such as the ones Tenorio offered because council members were regularly updated on them anyway.

Now I have not talked to Tenorio about this, but I’m guessing the reason she had these items placed on the agenda was not for her personal edification, but so that they would receive a public airing, so that the residents of Kyle who might be sitting at home watching this circus on Granicus or reading about it later or possibly those few actually attending the council session, could be better informed about the status of those items, i.e. road repairs, that are of most interest to them.

Another item in this section the mayor placed on the agenda was "Discussion on electronic device policy." I’d be willing to bet if you took a poll of Kyle residents, far more of them would want regular updates on the repairs being made or not being made to Goforth Road than one discussion on an electronic device policy.

Council voices approval of costly, controversial roundabout

In spite of its $600,000 price tag and the overwhelming opposition to it by residents, particularly those who live close by, the City Council Tuesday evening directed the staff to prepare a resolution that would put the city on record as supporting the construction of a roundabout at Kyle Parkway and Kohlers Crossing.

Of course, last night’s action doesn’t mean squat. It has absolutely no bearing on whether a roundabout will ever be constructed at the intersection. All it means, if the resolution drafted by the staff is ultimately passed by the council, is that the city will be on record as telling the Texas Department of Transportation it favors installing a roundabout at the location.

The council’s direction to staff came without an official vote, just a mention by Mayor Todd Webster that he felt the consensus of the council leaned to favoring a roundabout.

According to Assistant City Manager James Earp, TxDOT is willing to foot the bill ($250,000, according to Earp) to install a traffic signal at that intersection. He estimated a roundabout would cost about $850,000, but he also guessed TxDOT would contribute the $250,000 traffic light cost to the project, leaving the city to come up with the remaining $600,000. This came a couple of hours before the council hosted a workshop in which council members were told it would cost the city $18 million a year over the next 30 years to pay for the road projects called for in its Transportation Master Plan.

Of course those are capital projects and would be paid for by putting the city more in debt. Because of extremely poor planning, Kyle already has the highest property tax rate of any city in Hays County and I’m guessing that rate will jump about three cents when the city manager unveils his FY 2015-16 budget next week. The problem is, because of that poor planning, the burden of paying that debt falls way too heavily on individual homeowners and asking them to shoulder more of that responsibility is absolutely unconscionable. The city needs to attract far more businesses to relieve homeowners of some of this taxpaying burden before it goes on these types of spending sprees.

Not only that, while I am a big fan of roundabouts in general, I am not convinced that a roundabout at that intersection is the best idea.

Earp is also a big fan of roundabouts, but he is one of those city officials who say that since a particular solution solved a particular problem a number of different times, that same solution will work every time. That can be a dangerous assumption, especially when it comes to city planning. Earp presented a nifty slide show illustrating the benefits, particularly the safety benefits, of roundabouts, but not one of those slides, not a single one of his examples, was illustrative of the situation at Kyle Parkway and Kohlers Crossing.

For one thing, the speed limit on that section of Kyle Parkway is 60 miles an hour and I’ve never seen a roundabout on a stretch of highway where the speed limit is 60 miles an hour. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one somewhere on this planet, but I doubt if there is one at an intersection that closely resembles the configuration at Kyle Parkway at Kohlers. Usually roundabouts are found at intersections that closely mirror each other; i.e. a four-lane undivided road that intersects another four-lane undivided road, a 40-mile-an-hour road that intersects another 40-mile-an hour road. Here, however, you have a four-lane road with a significant median intersecting a four-lane road with a narrower median and a road with a 60-mile-an hour speed limit intersecting one with marked at 45 mph.

Earp offered a slide that indicated studies suggest that a car traveling a 60 miles an hour will slow to under 20 miles an hour at a roundabout. But that study was done on a two-lane road and I doubt if it was done in Texas where drivers will hope the road ices over in winter so they can slide their pickups all around the circle at crazy speeds. And why create an obstacle on a 60-mile-an-hour highway that slows vehicles to under 20 mph? That makes no sense. Why not construct an overpass at the location to really keep traffic flowing along Kyle Parkway? Would an overpass cost significantly more than a roundabout? There is no way of knowing because, in typical fashion, instead of trying to find the best solution to a particular problem, Kyle officials only considered two alternatives: traffic light or roundabout. But it seems to me an overpass would be the best traffic-management solution.

But we’ll never know that because, again in typical Kyle poor planning mode, the city waited until the last minute to take any action at all on this. According to Earp, TxDot needs to have an answer from the city on the plans for this intersection by the end of this month or sometime next month at the absolute latest.

There is also the fact, as mentioned Tuesday night by both Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson and council member Diane Hervol, that the majority of Kyle residents don’t want a roundabout at that particular location. And if the internet message boards hosted by Plum Creek residents are any indication, those individuals who live closest to the intersection are overwhelmingly against it. Now, none of those residents came to City Hall Tuesday night; the only ones who did appear were those who favored roundabouts, including two members of the Planning & Zoning Commission, Mike Wilson and Dan Ryan. But even these two gentlemen spoke in favor of the theory of roundabouts, but never addressed the actual situation at Kyle Parkway and Kohlers.

As far as the cost, Earp justified the $600,000 cost of the roundabout by saying the city would have to bear the cost of maintaining the traffic signal which would be higher than maintaining a roundabout. Council member Damon Fogley asked the perfectly logical question of how long would it take for the traffic light maintenance costs to reach the $600,000 expense of the roundabout and Earp responded with a tapdance that would have made Fred Astaire jealous.

There are plenty of potentially good locations for roundabouts in the Kyle area: at the intersections of Center and Rebel, Center and Old Stagecoach Road, RR 150 and 2770. And someone please explain to me why a roundabout should be located at Kyle Parkway and Kohlers, but not at Kyle Parkway and 2770, which is really the official city portal on the parkway. The answer. of course, is because the parkway shrinks from a four-lane, widely divided road to a two-lane undivided one north of 2770, but, as I mentioned earlier, you also have a road mismatch at the Parkway and Kohlers.

This just seems to be another example of doing something not because it’s the right thing to do, but because the fix is in.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Charter Commission leaves council districts as is

The Charter Review Commission ended its assessment of the city’s current constitution last night by unanimously recommending to the City Council a document that maintains the current 3-3-1 City Council alignment.

How council members would be elected was the last major unfinished business facing the commission. Two weeks ago a motion to elect all council members from six single member districts with only the mayor elected at large failed on a 3-3 vote. It was decided to reconsider the idea at last night’s session when all seven members might be present. Ironically, only six members voted on the motions last night as well; Ben Estrada joined the meeting an hour or so after the debate on council districts ended.

The idea of single member districts was not discussed last night although the fifth item on meeting’s agenda was "Motion to amend Section 3.01 to six single member districts with the mayor at-large to take effect after the next redistricting based on census." That motion, in itself, presented some problems because another charter review commission will be appointed between now and "the next redistricting based on census."

Regardless, the commission ignored the agenda and, instead, chairman Joe Bacon opened the debate by offering a motion to maintain the current 3-3-1 alignment, three council persons elected from single member districts and three others, along with the mayor, elected at large. That motion also failed on a 3-3 vote with commissioners Paula Alvarez and Fred Rothert siding with Bacon and vice chair Jo Fenety and commissioners Brad Growt and Kent Sheckler voting against.

Growt said he was especially concerned the current way of electing city council members could concentrate too much power in one section of town if it managed to mobilize its citizens to elect the mayor, all three at large council members plus the single member representative from that area. He said he became alarmed about that possibility when he saw that number of individuals who participated in a recent Plum Creek HOA election almost equaled the total number of voters in the most recent municipal elections.

As a compromise, Growt and Sheckler suggested a 4-2-1 alignment, however Fenety joined Bacon, Alvarez and Rothert in voting against that idea. Then the commissioner decided just to drop the entire issue which, of course, has the result of leaving it just like it is.

After approving other minor changes, most of them typographical mistakes contained in the charter, the commissioners voted to present their recommended document to the City Council for it to consider at its meeting next Tuesday. It is expected the council might, at that meeting, have some questions for Bacon, but, more than likely, will send it to the city’s attorneys to see if passes legal muster before council members conduct their own more in-depth review of the document.

The commissioners also passed a resolution to have its recommended charter be posted on the city’s web site. I am seeking to learn when that might happen.

The Council has many options. It could kill the entire document, it could make its own changes, it could ask the commission to reconvene to make additional changes, or it could accept the document as approved by the city attorneys. It is possible that if the council just doesn’t dump the entire document, it could still be put to the voters for their approval as early as this November. However, with budget discussions about to dominate the council’s attention, it seems more likely a vote on revising the charter will take place during next May’s elections, if at all.

City takes first steps for second Sonic

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a request last night to change the zoning of five acres located on RR150 between the Valero station and the PAWS animal shelter east of I35 from agricultural to retail services so that it could become the location for, among other things, the city’s second Sonic drive-in restaurant.

The other Sonic is also located along RR150, near the intersection of Wetzel in the Plum Creek area.

John Patton, director of development for Austin Sonic, Inc., told the P&Z commissioners, the newer drive-in will be slightly larger than the original. The development must still receive additional approvals from P&Z as well as the City Council so Patton did not offer a construction timetable. He did say, however, the Sonic would be located at the PAWS end of the property and that Walgreen’s was looking to locate a store between the drive-in and the Valero.

Patton also predicted that entire plot of land between Hill Street and the correctional center would be developed, primarily by restaurants, sooner than commissioners might have anticipated. He did mention the possibility of multi-family units going into that section of land as well, but the City Council has been hesitant about placing multi-family units that close to I35 unless they are truly mixed-use, i.e. retail on the ground floor with apartments or condos on the second and third stories.

City’s sales tax receipts exceeds expectations

The city recently celebrated its May sales tax numbers with a self-congratulatory entry on its web site, but, upon closer inspection, the figures are even better than the city claimed.

On the web site the city celebrated its receipts for May were 41.57 percent higher than what the city collected in May of 2014. And that is certainly reason to celebrate, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

In preparing its fiscal year budget, the city will project anticipated monthly income and its sales tax expectations for May were $353,404. That means it anticipated a rather robust 10.8 percent increase over the 2014 figures. The actual percentage was more than twice that, a 26.24 percent increase over what was anticipated. To me, that’s what’s so special about the May numbers, not just what was reported on the web site: In May, the city collected $92,732.33 more to spend on city services than it expected.

It’s also interesting to speculate how much higher those numbers might have been had it not been for the heavy rains and floods that hit the area in the last days of May and the fact that no sales tax was collected on certain big ticket electrical appliances purchased during Memorial Day weekend.

The web site mentioned that 22 businesses had opened within the city so far this calendar year, but the elephant in that room is obviously Wal-Mart and it opened in late March so its problematic to tie the good May numbers to that opening.

FY 2015-16 budget available July 27

City Manager Scott Sellers will unveil his proposed FY 2015-16 budget Monday, July 27, and discuss it at length with the City Council during a workshop the following Saturday with public hearings scheduled for later in August.

Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix announced today the budget will be able to be viewed on line July 27 and hard copies will be available the same day at City Hall and the library.

The council’s budget workshop is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday Aug. 1 at City Hall and the public hearings, presumably to be held at City Hall as well, will be on the last two Wednesdays of August. The council is scheduled to debate and make its changes to the budget at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1 and then pass it on second reading during a specially called meeting the following Tuesday.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Concern about animal control procedures, ordinances

I received this today from a Rebecca Martin that I thought was worth sharing. This on top of the recent story of the pit bull attacks here. Does anyone else have concerns about animal control in Kyle? If so, feel free to pass them along, at the very least on the comments section at the end of this report. Ms. Martin says of the city’s animal control: "I've called them many times in regards to my neighbors dogs. They were outside all day without water all summer (last year).

"Sometimes an officer would show up, usually a couple hours after I had called, and literally do nothing. She would walk to their door, knock, then leave. The dogs are kept in a side yard of the families duplex. It is a low, chain-link fence. She could have peaked in at the dogs at the very least. After many calls, a few regarding the constant barking, I stopped trying.

"Then a couple of months ago I had to call again. They have three large dogs. All are a bit aggressive. One dog actually bit my husband, no real injury, in the first week we lived in this house. Anyway- the biggest dog had escaped, which has happened many times before. He was dominating my yard and growling if I opened our door.

"After two hours my husband came home from work to help. He got here and told me that the animal control truck was just sitting at the police station when he drove past. I was livid. I explained that an aggressive (dog) was loose in my yard. We have a dog and a baby. How are we supposed to safely leave our home?

"My husband finally had to call the police before anything was really done. By that time the owner had returned and taken her dog inside. This dog wears no tags, is aggressive and running loose on a semi-regular basis.

"What is the job of animal control, if not to control loose, aggressive domestic animals? What if I hadn't seen the dog, walked outside, and gotten attacked? All (the) while pushing my son in his stroller and holding my small, female dog by a leash?

"I seem to be one of the only people in my neighborhood that leashes and picks up their dogs poop. Why? It's a city ordinance? Why should I have to step in a strange dogs poop, in my yard, when I observe and follow the city ordinances.

"The police told my husband to record the activity next door! Excessive barking, no water for long periods of time in the summer? Excuse me — but WTF? Why do we have ordinances that can’t lawfully be enforced? Why are we told to call the police and animal control if we suspect neglect or abuse? Why should I have to do THEIR job?

Things have been much better as of late. I think the neighbors got spooked because animal control showed up AFTER the police called."

Just curious. Any similar horror stories out there?

Friday, July 10, 2015

A personal story worth sharing

Perhaps it is my advancing age. Although I still believe I’m younger than most trees, especially those located in the California redwoods, I am fast approaching celebrating being on this planet for almost three quarters of a century. So I’m going to blame forgetting about this incident on old-fogey memory loss and my thanks go out to those citizens who reminded me about it.

As I have written here many times, I recently moved to Kyle from Dallas. The neighborhood I lived in there is called Lake Highlands, located in far northeast Dallas. Lake Highlands is 14.8 square miles with a population of 84,181 individuals. By comparison, the entire city of Kyle is just 6 square miles with a population of around 34,000. Lake Highlands has three zip codes and although it is located entirely within the city limits of Dallas, the public schools in Lake Highlands are not part of the Dallas Independent School District; they belong to the Richardson ISD. Richardson, for those who don’t know, is a suburban city that borders Dallas to the north.

In fact, it was because of the schools I moved to Lake Highlands more than 30 years ago. I was a single parent and the Richardson public schools were known to be far superior to those in Dallas. It meant I had to pay a lot more in property taxes — Dallas city taxes were higher than Richardson’s and Richardson’s school tax rate was higher than the Dallas rates. But as any parent who cares about the future of their children will attest, it’s worth it if it means providing your children with a superior education.

Lake Highlands is made up of a smidgen of retail, not nearly as much or of the quality the residents would prefer; a smattering of mostly vacant office buildings, most of which are located along the LBJ Freeway corridor; and a whole lot of residential. I would guess that 85 percent of the residential land mass was single family and 15 percent was multi-family. The median price of a home in Lake Highlands is $368,750 and many of those homes, including all of those located in the area known as "Old Lake Highlands," have been there since the 1930s. We’re talking about a nice, established neighborhood.

If you have ever spent any time in Dallas or know about it just through anecdotal evidence, you are aware that South Dallas, especially the area around Fair Park, has the reputation of being the least safe, most crime-ridden section of the city. That, however, is not true. I hate to report this, but Lake Highlands has the distinction of having far higher crime statistics than any other part of the city. (The Dallas Police Department posts area-by-area crime statistics, updated daily, for the entire public to see on its web site.)

When I worked for the City of Dallas and later as president of the Northeast Dallas Chamber of Commerce I worked alongside a distinguished gentleman by the name of David Brown, one of the finest police officers it has my privilege to know. At the time, he was the commander of the Northeast Dallas Police Substation; today he is Dallas’s chief of police. We worked together developing programs designed to reduce those crime stats. One of the things Brown shared with me was that over 98 percent of all the crimes committed in Lake Highlands were drug related. Gang crime was also prevalent, but even that was drug related. Most of the apartment complexes in Lake Highlands contained at least one meth lab and rival gangs freely and openly patrolled the apartment complexes selling those drugs to those anxious to buy them. Prostitution, which was nothing more than the attempt by many women to make the money they needed to buy drugs, was rampant.

But property crime in the single family areas was also higher in Lake Highlands than anywhere else in the city. That was because drug addicts were always breaking into homes in Lake Highlands, hoping to come away with valuables they could sell to get money to buy drugs.

One of the programs Chief Brown and I designed was something called COP, which stood for Citizens on Patrol. Chief Brown designated one of his officers to design and create a training program Lake Highlands residents could take to learn how to effectively patrol their neighborhoods. These citizens could not be armed and could not even approach suspected criminal activity, let alone try to apprehend anyone. But they were taught how to spot suspicious activity and report it.

We also did something else. Several years ago, more than 50 percent of the property owners in Lake Highlands signed a petition to create a PID. The assessments we paid into this PID were used to pay for private security firms to patrol our neighborhoods and provide an additional level of security. It worked. Property crime declined an astounding 82 percent. The PID was created, designed and written so that veterans and property owners aged 65 and older were exempt from paying the PID assessments.

Now, you have heard people — even elected officials — stand up and say something like this is impossible, it can’t be done, it has never even been attempted.

But we did it.

So here’s the lesson in all this. If you ever have the opportunity to live somewhere where neighbors truly care about each other, where citizens are willing do to whatever it takes to work together to solve a problem in the fairest way imagineable, you can and will discover anything is possible, if you just try.

Where we would be today if all the scientists in the world believed those who told them "That’s impossible. It can’t be done." Believe me, I’ve lived long enough to know that just about anything is possible if you want it badly enough and if you care about your fellow human beings enough.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Imagine downtown Kyle moving 4½ miles due north

Some day downtown Kyle could look something like this

Thanks to a request by council member Daphne Tenorio, City Manager Scott Sellers put on a presentation Wednesday on the subject of Shared Municipal Facilities. This is a concept somewhat like having members of the Army, the Navy, the Marines and the Air Force all living in the same barracks.

"When I was hired by council, I was asked to bring forward new and innovative ideas to the council," Sellers said. "This is an idea that may not be so new, but I think is fairly innovative and something the council may want to look at, which is why I brought it forward as an idea. It has also been tried by several cities in Texas.

"So this concept basically involves sharing municipal facilities with other public and/or private entities in a larger development either surrounded by larger development or in some way flanked by development including retail and residential use," he said.

He told the council five cities in Texas had looked into this idea — Bee Cave, Cedar Hill, Pflugerville, Southlake and Sugarland — and then shared information he discovered on the web sites of those cities or in actual conversations with officials from those cities. He said the city of Bee Cave shares its city hall with the city’s library and it is located in the middle of a shopping center.

Cedar Hill’s City Hall, Sellers said, "is the only facility in the country that was conceived from the beginning as a way to efficiently provide improved services by co-locating the city and Cedar Hill ISD as well as the police offices all under the same roof. This facility raises the bar for customer service by providing a single location where citizens can transact all their business with the city and the school district. This long-term relationship is expected to reap additional efficiencies benefitting taxpayers." He added that the partnership between the city and the school district "saved taxpayers over $4 million in construction costs and of course building one larger building instead of two smaller ones will produce additional operational and maintenance savings.

But the one that really knocked me out was the Sunshine Development, pictured above, that’s coming to fruition just a couple of miles up the road in Pflugerville.

"This is a 120-acre mixed-use development at the intersection of highways 45 and 130 adjacent to Hawaiian Falls and Adventure Park," Sellers told the council. "This development will include 1,500 residential unit apartments and condos, approximately 500,000 square feet of retail and 1.9 million square feet of office buildings. There are four planned hotel sites, 22 restaurant pad sites and a town center with 120,000 square feet of space."

The first phase of the three phases of this development, expected to be completed by the end of next year, will include two hotels, five restaurants, city hall, retail and some residential.

"The city council has stated the goal of transitioning Pflugerville from a bedroom community to a traditional urban suburb and that means having a great place to live and job opportunities nearby," Sellers said. "This project is expected to add $2 billion to the city’s assessed valuation."

Sellers also discussed Southlake, a community I am extremely familiar with since it is located in Dallas-Fort Worth area where I lived for almost 40 years and where several of my corporate clients were headquartered when I had my own media and crisis consulting firm. One of those was a startup called PCS Primeco that is now better known as Verizon and another was Sabre, a software company without which airlines could not operate. The most popular place to meet with them was in Southlake’s Town Center, whose town hall building houses city hall, county offices, and the library.

The fifth and final example Sellers brought forward was Sugarland, southwest of Houston. Although he seemed to be reading from a promotional piece prepared by the city of Sugarland, Sellers said that city’s project began in 2003 when planners partnered with the city to create "a unique downtown destination where Sugarland residents could live, work, shop and gather. And that’s exactly what has happened. Anchored by Sugarland City Hall, the town square has reshaped the landscape for the city with a multitude of delicious dining options, fantastic store fronts, stylish condos and a world-class hotel."

Sellers then said he would like to move forward with bringing such a complex to Kyle and that would involve meeting with "the ISD, the fire district and the county as well as any others" to explore the idea of partnering in a venture that would produce a single facility they could all share.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of his presentation came when Sellers said, following a developers’ conference held in February, at least one developer "has stepped forward with real interest in the project. And in subsequent conversations with the developer we realize that there was enough interest that we could possibly make this work."

But here’s the million dollar question. If this does indeed come to pass, if the city does decide to develop a shared facility like the one in Pflugerville pictured above, where would it be located? The consensus seems to be, Sellers said, at the intersection of Kyle Parkway and Kohlers Crossing. That would become the new heart of this "urban suburb."

Hey, I’m not idealistic enough to believe this is going to happen in my lifetime. But it sure sounds and looks like a fascinating scenario for the future of Kyle and, until someone convinces me otherwise, one worth exploring.

Especially since Sellers told me confidentially after his presentation that all the government buildings located in this town center would be LEEDS certified.

Tenorio trying but is facing an uphill climb

If there was ever any doubt that Kyle city government is comfortably in bed with developers that doubt was put to rest at Tuesday’s City Council meeting during a discussion concerning amending a development agreement.

Moments before the item was discussed, assistant city manager James Earp provided the council what he admitted was an incomplete development agreement that hadn’t undergone legal review and told the council, in effect, the developer really wants us to show we support him on this so let’s show that we do by supporting this agreement.

Council member Daphne Tenorio told Earp and her fellow council members to hold their horses here, this document was just dumped in our laps seconds before, even Earp admitted more changes to it were likely and we really should take some time to review it. Then Mayor Todd Webster came very, very close to doing exactly the right thing, but fumbled at the goal line.

The subject under discussion was amending the Crosswinds Development Agreement.

The city had negotiated an agreement with previous owners of the development. But since that time the development had been sold and the new owners were seeking changes to that original agreement. Those desired changes were the subject of Tuesday night’s discussion.

Earp unapologetically told the council the new owners "have reviewed the development agreement and requested some changes. I’m going to summarize those for you. I provided each of you at your seat a copy of the most recent draft although there’s already been a few changes to that. I will tell you the draft is about 95 to 99 percent complete. We’ve pretty much have reached terms on all the items and all the issues we’re talking you through tonight, but legal still has to do legal review of the contract.

"But we wanted to make sure council could stand behind the negotiation points before we put the final touches on the agreement and give the developer the assurance that his agreement will be approved with the conditions that they have asked for." Earp actually said that. I’m not making it up. And he continued:

"At the very least, you all could take action to approve these points and then we would need to come back at the next council meeting with the actual agreement that has been vetted by legal and has all the finalized language to the satisfaction of the developer."

But Tenorio objected.

"I have just been given this and I haven’t had a chance to read it and you want me to approve it?" Tenorio quizzed Earp. "That’s what you’re asking?"

Earp’s response was unbelievable, at least to me.

"That’s not what I am asking," he replied. "That’s what the developer is asking." That’s City of Kyle talk for whatever the developer wants, we should give it to him on a silver platter.

Mayor pro tem David Wilson, one of the leaders of the pro-developer contingent in Kyle, said why should the council even bother itself with changes to the agreement anyway. The city already approved an agreement with the previous owners. Council doesn’t need to understand or even be aware of these changes. It should just blindly plunge forward and approve these amendments as well.

These developers, Wilson said "are getting their mind around what they want to do and move forward. I for one can move ahead with the approval of the development agreement at this particular point. A lot of expense has gone into the development at this point so I’m not interested in delaying that."

But even Webster had to admit Tenorio had a reasonable concern. Not only should council members have adequate time to review a document before approving it, he suggested, it should be a document that is complete and has passed legal muster.

"I think the proper way to do this would be to move to direct staff to basically produce an agreement according to these terms and then bring it back," Webster said. "If we direct staff to do that, then we are not formally approving it until legal review does the same thing. …I don’t know how you can ask us to approve a development agreement that really isn’t finalized and hasn’t had legal review. So come back at the next meeting with a development agreement according to the terms with legal review. If council member Tenorio or anyone else has any concerns they have time to express them. This gives us the opportunity to walk down the middle here and give everyone what they need."

But then he blew it by asking "Is the developer OK with that?"

Of course, it could have been worse. Without Tenorio acting as the people’s watchdog on this, I’m betting this agreement would have been approved Tuesday night without anyone on the council taking the time to review it.

I don’t know if anyone out there remembers the television show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a marvelous tongue-in-cheek approach to the Cold War spy genre. One of the episodes of that program was called "My Baby Wants Cinemascope Technicolor, My Baby Gets Cinemascope Technicolor." Substitute the word "Developer" for "My Baby" in that title, and you have the Kyle city motto.

Apples to oranges

Howard Koontz, the city’s recently appointed director of planning, went before the City Council Tuesday evening in an effort to claim the city’s development fees are, contrary to complaints the city has allegedly been receiving, actually lower than those in other communities. And he proved his point. They do appear to be lower than the cities he compared Kyle to. The problem is his data is unsupportable.

In order to make a valid comparison you must compare Kyle to comparable cities, not just other communities in the neighborhood. And there are plenty of other cities right here in the state of Texas that can be viewed as comparable. Here’s just a partial list: Terrell, Donna, Gatesville, Uvalde, Brenham, Mercedes, Mount Pleasant, Sulphur Springs, Hereford, Cibolo, Taylor, Humble, Portland, Highland Village, Seagoville, West University Place, Hutto, Dumas, Forney, Jacksonville, LaMarque, Katy, Rio Grande City, Henderson, Hewitt, Levelland, Canyon, Borger, Live Oak, Addison, Port Neches. That’s 31 communities that are far more comparable to Kyle than any Koontz used. (How he finds that Kyle and Austin are comparable in any way other than geographical is almost laughable.)

Pick 15 cities from the above list — any 15 — and make your comparisons. I’m not suggesting the results would turn out differently. I am just saying they would be valid.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Unlike all men, all PIDs are not created equal

What I am about to impart is going to come across to many as cruel and condescending so if you interpret it that way, let me apologize out the outset. There is a discussion currently taking place on Facebook among former council member Tammy Swaton, current council member Damon Fogley, Lila Knight, who has probably forgotten more about government than the first two individuals will ever know, and others on the subject of PIDs.

Swaton and Fogley are both at a distinct disadvantage here. Like many of the top officials in this city they are a pair of unsophisticated country bumpkins who have been sold a bill of goods by a corporation that exists for one purpose only – to profit from the creation of PIDs, especially PIDs created under their terms. These slickers sold our local folks a Chevrolet by convincing them it was a Mercedes. But, then, that’s exactly how confidence men operate. Don’t ever let the fish know he’s been hooked.

Do other cities use PIDs? Certainly they do. But it’s going to be difficult to find two PIDs that are constructed exactly alike. So to argue, like Fogley and Swaton are, that since many other cities use PIDs, the notion that our city leaders, by introducing PIDs, have done a wonderful thing to benefit all mankind or even one possible future Kyle homeowner is completely illogical. That’s like saying every city with a baseball stadium has a baseball team of equal caliber.

There are, however, certain features legitimate PIDs have in common. First and most important, the PID was created by a majority of the property owners within the district in question by signing a petition in favor of creating that PID. That’s an important distinction because it means the PID was created and the terms of the PID were agreed to by those who will actually be paying the PID assessments. They know and have agreed to the amount of their annual assessment before the petition is ultimately filed with the municipality. The way the PIDs will work in Kyle, those poor schmucks forced to pay the assessment have absolutely no voice in any part of the PID creation or its administration. Personally, I find it terribly disheartening and actually downright disgusting that just three days ago we honored those who stood up against taxation without representation while at the same time accepting city leaders here in Kyle who are forcing future residents to live under such a tyranny.

The other major difference is that it is the PID itself issues the debt. Now the city entertained a bunch of lying, thieving outlaws (the same ones that sold our inexperienced bumpkins this deal in the first place) who tried to say it was impossible for PIDs to work that way because there could be no lien on the property. That’s analogous to claiming individuals can’t purchase a new car with a loan, that money an individual needed to purchase a car could only be borrowed by a government entity. What happens if you fail to make payments on a car loan? The same thing that happens if payments are not paid on PID loans (and let’s keep in mind, when all is said and done, these are nothing more than loans) — the property is seized, it is liquidated and the proceeds are used to pay the bond holders.

Those, however, are about the only things PIDs have in common, although, unfortunately for the future homeowners of this one-horse town, PIDs in Kyle won’t even share those features. For example, different entities have different time lines within a development as to when a PID is created. Like I have pointed out in earlier articles on this subject and will prove again here, Dallas, to cite just one municipality, will not permit the use of PIDs for new development. They can only be created to pay for improvements in existing neighborhoods. Many other municipalities – Pflugerville is a good example of one in this area – employ PIDs as a last resort to complete funding of certain projects, relying for the most part on Tax Increment Financing, which is a much fairer system for the property owners and, unlike PIDs, really does prevent other parts of town from sharing in the rewards reaped by improvement in the PID district.

I have been writing about and covering governments all around the globe longer than Damon Fogley and Tammy Swaton have been alive. I know, for example, that Mayor Todd Webster’s new methodology for bringing agenda items before the council is goofy. He will try to tell you he’s following Roberts Rules of Order, but, as most knowledgeable government officials know, Roberts’ rules are rules for debating an issue, not discussing it. And if you don’t know the difference between debate and discussion, you don’t belong as an active participant in the legislative process. It’s like deciding to play tennis wearing roller skates. There’s nothing to prevent you from doing that. If you want to look stupid in the eyes of the world, so be it. But don’t try to convince anyone else that the proper way to play tennis is wearing roller skates. What we have here in Kyle, however, is a handful of city and former city officials who have never seen tennis played any other way so they just blindly accept the notion that playing on roller skates is the proper way to play tennis.

And when I describe Kyle as one-horse town, I am not making any reference to its size, only its sophistication and world view. Take in a City Council meeting at a much smaller community just up the road from us, Mountain City. Mayor Tiffany Canutt knows exactly how a city council agenda meeting is supposed to function. And she probably learned it from her predecessor and her predecessor learned it from the mayor before that. This type of intelligence has to be nurtured, you don't just pluck it out of the air. The truth may be painful to accept, but is the truth just the same. The little town of Mountain City gets it right, its much larger neighbor comes across as a tennis player on roller skates. And that's what I mean by a one-horse town.

Let me make something else absolutely clear. I don’t believe for even the briefest of seconds that either Swaton or Fogley are deliberately trying to deceive or swindle anyone. They are simply mouthpieces regurgitating the lies they have been fed and probably desperately want to believe. Look, Fogley is guilty of accepting illegal campaign contributions. Did he commit this illegal act because he was purposely trying to deceive or cheat anybody? I, for one, don’t think so. Personally, I am absolutely convinced he did it because he is new at all this and didn’t know any better. That’s why I have not even mentioned his illegal acts until now.

For all I care, you can give the man a tennis ball, a racket and a pair of roller skates the let the unknowing fellow have the time of his life.

Fogley fails first smell test

When then City Council candidate Damon Fogley filed his first campaign financial report he listed $475 in contributions from employees of Lockwood, Andrews, and Newman, Inc., of San Antonio. Last night, in just his second session as a council member he voted with the majority to pay Lockwood, Andrews, and Newman, Inc., of San Antonio $75,198 in taxpayer funds for additional engineering and other services in connection with the Go forth Road Project. Nothing whatsoever illegal in his actions, but ethically speaking he really should have recused himself.

Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson: All hat, no cattle

If you want to know the problems facing Kyle as well as why so few of the city’s residents participate in the electoral process, here it is in an allegorical nutshell. Stand around Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson for any length of time and he will regale you with how much he supports veterans. If there’s a flag ceremony, he’s going to be there front and center. If it has to do with pinning medals on servicemen, he’s going to fight his way to the front of the line. But if it comes down to significantly supporting veterans in such a way that it would put Wilson on the wrong side of the development interests that control all city functions, Wilson will immediately hoist the white flag and capitulate to the development camp. Yeah, sure, he will support veterans up to a point, but he is not willing to fight on behalf of their interests, especially if those interests are opposed by developers.

The same is true of the elderly. When the city’s PID process first reared its ugly head, Wilson said during council deliberations "I don’t want this to be an issue that people are afraid they are not going to be able to live in a community because they have a flat income stream and maybe are afraid that this is going to be added on top of them. I just want to assure people that is not the case." But when push comes to shove, Wilson is going to make sure that is exactly the case. Why? Because the development community insists on it and when the development community insists, the elderly are going to need to seek another champion.

Take last night’s City Council meeting, for example. I know she’s only been on the council for two meetings, but newcomer Daphne Tenorio is quickly developing into a leader to pay attention to and also someone willing to give former Mayor Pro Temp Diane Hervol some much needed cover. The two of them are rapidly displaying signs that they are going to be pillars supporting the interests of everyday Kyle residents against the entrenched developer establishment. Tenorio self-financed her election campaign so she is not beholden to anyone except the general population. Hervol was elected before I arrived in Kyle, but regardless, she is displaying some backbone.

Last night, as expected, the city passed its city/developer friendly, but anti-new-homeowner PID policy. However, before that happened Hervol supported Tenorio’s motions that would, on the surface lend some support to disabled veterans and those aged 65 and older, by exempting those who fall into those two categories from PID assessments.

Wilson was beside himself and the result was that he uttered a statement so completely outlandish, it rivaled Donald Trump’s diatribe against Mexican immigrants, if not in its bigotry, at least in its utter stupidity.

"Let’s say they are all disabled veterans (that move into a subdivision) they are not going to take care of the obligation that you have set up," Wilson said.

It’s hard to know where to begin with a statement like that. First of all, he proves his absolute dismissal of the best interests of disabled vets when those interests could be viewed as detrimental to the entrenched development community. Second, the notion that all the homes in an entire subdivision would be purchased by disabled vets is only slightly less probable than the notion that all the homes in an entire subdivision would be purchased by zombies. And finally Wilson is insisting these disabled vets, who have already fulfilled an obligation to their country that we should reward, fulfill a yet another, this time financial, obligation they had no part in formulating.

The guy whose company’s income depends on the city’s passage of this policy volunteered there was nothing "in the statutes" that allowed for these kinds of exemptions, but when pressed by Hervol he was forced to admit there was nothing "in the statutes" that prohibited them, either. Frank Garcia, who’s acting in the role of the city attorney, said "I have not researched whether they would be illegal (but) I don’t think there’s anything that prohibits them or permits them. But if they are allowed, it may defeat the purpose of the PID policy." Which would, of course, benefit future Kyle homeowners but force the city to provide basic city services to these homeowners, which the city is trying desperately to avoid providing strictly from taxes.

Finally Mayor Todd Webster said "Look, we have to develop a functional PID policy" although neither he nor anyone else promoting this policy has ever explained why.

Council member Damon Fogley doubled down on the insult to veterans by saying such an amendment would discriminate against veterans like him who are not disabled. But, of course, since he’s in bed with the development community as well, instead of siding with those veterans and moving they also be included in the exemption, he simply threw all veterans under the bus. It really was a shameful display.

Council member Shane Arrabie feigned cluelessness by saying such an exemption would force the exemptions to be in place "before we know who actually comes into the district." The policy, of course, would be in place, but not the individual exemptions. I going to give Arrabie the benefit of the doubt, however; I think he’s smart enough to know this, he just needed to say something in public to reassure the controlling interests he was firmly on their side.

As expected, the vote was 5-2 against Tenorio and Hervol and then 5-2 to pass the policy.

Council discusses downtown parking

The City Council listened to a presentation last night that proposed reducing the number of downtown parking spaces by replacing perpendicular parking with angled parking on that section of North Burleson between Center and Miller streets as well as that block between Center and Lockhart streets. The reduction would be significant, from 23 to 18 spaces between Center and Miller and from 17 to just nine between Center and Lockhart.

Mayor Todd Webster expressed concern that there weren’t enough spaces to handle those who come to special events downtown, but City Manager Scott Sellers countered by saying the empty spaces that exist when there are no special events sends a poor message.

"Typically parking is not an issue until there is an event or something where, no matter how many parking spaces you put in, you’re going to exceed capacity," Sellers said. "Granted, we would love to have our parking spaces full as a sign of a robust downtown, a thriving downtown. That’s one argument. The idea that all the parking spaces are full is a sign of a vibrant economy. More open spaces during the day or evening is a sign to the contrary.

"Typically, when you’re doing wider sidewalks like this, you’re giving up something," he continued. "Walkable traffic equals sales downtown instead of driveable traffic. So if someone can park somewhere the key is having wider sidewalks so they’re actually walking into the business, which is helping the downtown."

The mayor wasn’t convinced, however, and asked the consultants to work with city engineer Leon Barba to come up with an alternative plan.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Board of Adjustments never gets it, but ultimately gets it right

Neal Meinzer stepped right off the pages of a George Orwell novel into last night’s Board of Adjustments meeting. Meinzer and his family have owned property at 505 Old Highway 81 South for around 30 years now and they have been using that property for industrial uses. Exactly what is not important, but what they were doing was absolutely kosher because the property was zoned Heavy Industrial. In 2003, the City passed an ordinance completely revamping its zoning designations, although that ordinance (and this is the important part of this story) never repealed the previous zoning ordinance. The 2003 ordinance did not include a Heavy Industrial zoning. That meant that a property could never be zoned Heavy Industrial again within the city limits, but, because the old ordinance wasn’t repealed, those properties already zoned Heavy Industrial could keep that designation.

The matter before the board last night was an attempt by the city, using a loophole in the law, to claim Meinzer’s property did not conform to current zoning ordinances and permanently shutter his business there. Meinzer was fighting to retain it and to give you the punch line right away, the board ultimately and unanimously sided with Meinzer, although the members did so for all the wrong reasons.

According to Meinzer, TxDOT began construction on I35 access roads in the summer of 2012 and, as part of the construction process, erected concrete barriers that made ready access to his property virtually impossible. Although, he claimed, he had many prospective "tenants" who wanted to use the facility as it was intended to be used, they shied away simply because it was so dang difficult to get in and out of it. As a result, the property sat vacant. That’s when the City swooped in, claiming that if a facility located on a property zoned in a manner that no longer exists is vacant for more than 180 days, it becomes "non-conforming," and the City has the right to get rid of it.

As Lila Knight told the board during the Citizen Comments section of the meeting before it even took up the item, the city is selectively enforcing the ordinance. She pointed out that a number of homes located in the Old Town, Spring Branch, Trails, Prairie on the Creek, Steeplechase and South Lake neighborhoods are zoned R-1, a single family residence zoning that also no longer exists since the passage of the 2003 ordinance. I’d be willing to bet that at one moment in time in the last dozen years at least one home went up for sale in one of those neighborhoods and remained on the market for six months or so and during that time sat vacant. I’m also willing to bet the City never even checked into that fact let alone tried to declare it non-conforming. Why? Because, as Ms. Knight, told the board, the new ordinance states "The general public, the city council and the planning and zoning commission are directed to take note that nonconformities in the use and development of land and buildings are to be avoided, or eliminated where now existing, whenever and wherever possible, except: (1) When necessary to preserve property rights established prior to the date the ordinance from which this chapter is derived become effective as to the property in question; and (2) When necessary to promote the general welfare and to protect the character of the surrounding property."

Homes in R-1 areas will not be declared nonconforming because of the second exception and Meinzer’s property should also be spared because of the first one.

All this appeared to go right over the heads of the members of the Board of Adjustments. Board member Matt Janysek correctly pointed out that every single zoning map the city has published since 2003 shows Meinzer’s property is zoned Heavy Industrial and it’s the maps, not the ordinances, that should be the determining factor, even though, in his words, the maps haven’t been corrected to reflect the new zoning. The fallacy in Janysek’s argument is that maps are NOT wrong, so they don’t need to be corrected. They accurately reflect what each property is zoned. It bears repeating that because the zoning designations that existed in Kyle at the turn of the last century were not eliminated by the 2003 ordinance, properties that were zoned Heavy Industrial and R-1 then are still shown on the map to be zoned that way today.

Board member Terri Thompson was concerned that Meinzer was never notified in 2003 that his zoning was about to change. But, again, it wasn’t going to change, so there was no need for a notification.

But, like I said, the board ultimately got it right and sided with Meinzer, although they seemed to be voting more out of conscience than out of reason. But as long as they did the right thing, who’s to quibble why they did it.

As for Meinzer, he may have entered the meeting by way of Orwell, but an obviously delighted Meinzer left by way of Shakespeare.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

And the blind shall lead us

Many of those attending Wednesday’s informational meeting concerning PIDs were from the Bunton Creek subdivision, an area that, shall we say, has not had the best experience with a PID. They kept questioning the presenter at the meeting, a representative from a company called Development Planning Financial Group (DPFG), about the validity of PIDs. The rep kept repeating that, in general, PIDs are the greatest thing since the conception of Levittown, but that he didn’t know enough about the situation in Bunton Creek to speak knowledgeably on that particular PID.

Tuesday’s City Council agenda includes an item to make DPFG the manager and the administrator of the Bunton Creek PID. Go figure.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Additional reasons why the Kyle’s PID policy is morally and ethically corrupt

In addition to what I discussed below, there are a couple of additional things to note about Kyle’s use of PIDs.

They are discriminatory. They create two distinct and separate classes of citizens: those who have pay for basic city services through the payment of property taxes and those who pay for those exact same services through property taxes and additional assessments dumped on them on top of those taxes.

It’s an example of the city abandoning the concept of providing basic city services. It’s exactly the same thing as two newlyweds choosing to have a large family and deciding it will provide food and shelter to their first two children, but all the rest of them will have to pay extra for them.

Under this same idea, the city could decide to abolish its police force and instead turn over all criminal investigative functions to the county and hire private security guards for routine patrol functions and then charge residents an assessment to pay for the security guards. Would you stand for that? If not, then how can you accept these PIDs?

Kyle’s PID policy: legally OK but morally and ethically corrupt

I’ve mellowed over the years. I really have. When I first began covering and writing about politics and various governmental entities a little more than 50 years ago, I reacted with absolute outrage at the very hint of government corruption or unethical behavior by political figures. I was livid in the mid to late 1960s after President Lyndon Johnson, who campaigned in 1964 on the platform of "We are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away to fight in no Asian war," began ramping up American involvement in Vietnam. I was practically apoplectic during the mid-1970s when I was part of UPI’s Watergate coverage team.

But later, when I taught college journalism courses at SMU and other universities, I was able to use Vietnam and Watergate as defining moments in political/journalistic history. The lesson Vietnam and Watergate taught us was that political leaders lie. And subsequent history has not only reinforced this fact, but also shown us they are for sale to the highest bidder and individual citizens not only don’t have a prayer of being the highest bidder, they are not even going to be allowed into the auction.

I’m not saying political leaders, whether at the national or the local level, are bad people. For the most part, I have enjoyed my interactions with politicians on a personal level, often times gaining the most enjoyment with those whose political philosophies are completely different from my own. They are, for the most part, good people. But they say and do bad things.

I’m not saying anything revelatory here. Why do all cities, including Kyle, have some form of an Ethics Commission? Because it is assumed those running the place are going to act unethically at same point. Of course, the members of these commissions are always appointed by the mayor and/or city council members which renders them pratically powerless against top leaders. Why does the legislature every session propose ethics reforms? Because it sounds good to a public that knows its leaders are corrupt. And why are these reforms never passed? I think you can figure that one out for yourself.

These days when I see morally and ethical corruption in the political arena, my reaction has become more benign than it once was. Sometimes I will react with a somewhat detached amusement, like when some senator or representative denies the overwhelming facts of climate change. They are not saying climate change doesn’t exist because they have scientific proof supporting their argument. They are saying it because they are being paid huge sums of money by oil companies to say that. Their speeches on climate change are written either by oil company executives or oil company lobbyists. That’s why arguing facts with these clowns is futile because facts don’t even dent the outer layers of their arguments.

Sometimes I react with sadness such as the time a couple of years ago when a Dallas city council person I not only respected, but wrote speeches for and who offered me the position of media liaison for his proposed mayoral campaign, was indicted on federal bribery charges. He was not railroaded. He did a bad thing — several bad things, in fact — and is now doing time in a federal correctional facility because of it.

Sometimes I react with plain old disgust, like I did when the City of Kyle came up with its PID policy. Part of it is because it reinforced my original perceptions about the city which I formed right after I moved here eight months ago — the city is controlled by developers and individual homeowners and neighborhoods don’t have a voice. In this auction for control of the city, the developers were the highest bidders.

I lived and worked in Dallas for 40 years before I moved here and when I first moved to Dallas the developers were in control there as well. But the city underwent a radical change and now homeowners and neighborhood groups battle with the city’s entrenched and powerful business interests for control. The business community usually wins when it comes to environmental issues, but don’t mess with homeowners when it comes to issues involving their homes or their neighborhoods. But, in an interestint development, the average citizen may be winning a bitter fight against the entrenched business community and stopping the construction of a toll road through a magnificent park along the Trinity River.

At the same time, city government in Dallas, unlike Kyle, realizes and owns up to its responsibility of providing basic services to its residents. Not only that, the city has adopted a completely transparent method of adopting its annual budget — using a method called "Budgeting for Outcomes"— which acts a scorecard for how well the city is providing those services. Dallas city government embraces the notion that the money its citizens pay in taxes should be used to provide such basic services as public safety and basic infrastructure.

Kyle, on the other hand, has abandoned all notions of that same kind of responsibility. You want water lines to and from your home, the city government tells new residents, you gotta pay extra for it in addition to paying the same taxes as everyone else.

The way new residents have to pay extra for these basic services they should receive simply by paying property and sales taxes is through something called a PID. PID stands for Public Improvement District. However, as defined by the city of Kyle it is neither public, an improvement or a district.

I must admit this about the folks running this city. They don’t hide their unethical behavior. They highlight it in neon and then sew it on their chest like it was some sort of perverted merit badge. Let me give you an example. On Wednesday evening the city "hosted" an open house which, according to the city’s web site, was intended "to provide information regarding how Public Improvement Districts (PIDs) work." But who did the city use to provide this information? An outfit called Development Planning Financial Group (DPFG) whose income derives solely from the creation of PIDs and which stands to make a boatload of dough once the city implements its PID policy. That’s like someone hosting a seminar on "The Current Political Situation in Kyle" and it turns out to be a fund-raiser and a campaign appearance by one particular city council candidate. Not in the least illegal, but highly immoral and unethical behavior.

How unethical and corrupt was this "informational" meeting? At one point, the DPFG representative (whose name I failed to capture) presenting this highly biased information said "If you walk away from here tonight with only one slide that you remember, this is the one I want you to focus on. How will a PID – a new PID proposed for a new development – affect the existing residents and existing neighborhoods? The answer is there is no impact whatsoever. No negative impact. No positive impact. Anyone who lives within the city of Kyle who does not live within the PID will have ... no impact whatsoever."

That is a lie. And that’s what makes the city’s PID policy morally and ethically corrupt. Its foundation is a lie. Those who live outside the PID will enjoy a positive impact, a likely increase in city services unfairly and unwittingly subsidized by those living inside the PID. Here’s how. As these PID communities proliferate and grow the property values within them will increase. That means those living within the PIDs pay increasingly more in property taxes. Now do you think for one minute the city will act ethically and morally and restrict the use of that increased income on services for people living within the PID?. Of course not. (Although in cities that do act ethically and morally, it’s this increase in the amount of property taxes incurred by those living in the new subdivisions that used to pay for their infrastructure needs, not a PID.) That money will be used to provide additional services to the city as a whole. Those living outside the PID get the benefits from those inside who have to pay twice for the same services.

What was interesting about this presentation was not so much the untruths spoken by the DPFG representatives, but by the fact he withheld a lot of information to keep from presenting the whole truth. For example, at one point he said a PID "is a way to keep the existing residents having to pay for the things that are not a direct benefit to them." That’s true, but what he failed to say was that city’s already had tools at their disposal to do exactly the same thing. They are called Impact Fees, defined as "a fee that is imposed by a local government within the United States on a new or proposed development project to pay for all or a portion of the costs of providing public services to the new development." These fees were developed to help cities, like Kyle, dealing with unbridled growth to help manage that growth. Sometimes, they worked too well. They stopped growth completely and that’s why cities that are not morally and ethically corrupt developed better ways to manage growth. Kyle has impact fees, but impact fees are paid by the developers up front, who then add them on to the cost of the new homes they develop. But what if there as a way that neither the city nor the developer had to pay what they rightfully should? Because, like I said earlier, government is for sale to the highest bidder, developers pushed through legislation allowing for these PIDs. (To remind you once again how proudly Kyle leaders publicly display their ethically corrupt merit pages, recall that one developer, during the first public city council meeting on the city’s proposed policy, thanked the city for allowing him and other developers to prepare that policy.)

But there’s more. The money homeowners have to pay in addition to their property taxes doesn’t just go to pay for the infrastructure they received. In this municipal version of the old shell game, the unsuspecting homeowner also has to pay an ongoing fee to DPFG or whichever company the city uses to "administer" the PID, which is nothing more than a concept to begin with. Or as the DPFG representative put it "Another thing to remember is that all the administrative requirements of the PID can and should be outsourced to professional management firms. And that is a requirement under the proposed policy – the daily activities of all PIDs in the city of Kyle will be managed by outside professionals. The PID will pay for that." In other words, he is saying, these homeowners will be paying my salary. Starting to get the picture of how unsavory this whole business is?

Later he said "The city is not at risk. The city has no legal or moral obligation to pay any of the debt involved in these bonds. Our firm has been involved in these types of financing for over 20 years and we have never seen a city have to write a check." Translated to non-bureaucratic, regular human being language this means the developer is protected, the city is protected, the PID administrators are protected. The only one not protected — the person being hung out to dry here — is the homeowner who can have his house foreclosed upon. And that homeowner is the only one of this unholy quartet that had absolutely no voice, none whatsoever, in the formation of the PID. The only voices heard in the original proposition were the terrible threesome of developer, city, and the PID administrators.

"When the (PID) bonds are sold the money is placed in trust with a trustee," the rep said. "When the developer incurs an expense, they submit a draw to the city. The city reviews those expenses to make sure they are qualified (i.e., the developer has, for instance, successfully hidden the cost of his PID petition within the water line expenses) and the city approves the payment of those expenses out of the trustee account." But then he added "The developer can’t just say ‘give me my money’. It doesn’t work that way."

Wrong. As he himself just admitted in the words that opened the previous paragraph that’s exactly the way it works. I’m going to put at zero the over/under on how many times the city will reject a developer’s request for PID money.

I also got a silent laugh out of the fact that when asked how many other states used PIDs to finance new subdivisions, he named seven — Arizona, Nevada, California, North Carolina, New Mexico, Utah, and South Carolina (California, however, did away with PIDs several years ago) — which means, of course, that 43 states don’t think they are a good idea. Of course, he’s not going to say that.

When asked a similar question, what other cities around this area, use PIDs, he named Lago Vista, Leander and Manor. What do all those cities have in common with Kyle? They are smaller communties in the shadow of a fast growing metropolitan area and desperately want to cash in on that growth at the lowest possible cost, especially if the only person at a financial risk is the person who doesn’t live there yet.. They want rooftops. That’s all. "If we build it, they will come." And the unethical part of all this is they don’t care if these new residents have a decent quality of life once they are living in these cities because, they figure, once they buy the house, they are residential prisoners of the city.

Not only that, the city forced the prisoners to pay for the construction of the prison.