The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Friday, May 27, 2016

Taking the “mass” out of mass transportation

I read recently — in fact, it might have been just yesterday in the Hays Free Press — that the city of Buda is conspiring with Austin’s Cap Metro to develop a mass transportation plan for our neighbors to the north. As I recall (I actually just skimmed the story), some city official — it might have even been Buda Mayor Todd Ruge — was quoted in the story as saying, at the very least, the city needed mass transportation services between Buda and Southpark Meadows in South Austin.

Good for Buda. I really hope there’s a demand for mass transportation services between Buda and Southpark Meadows because there isn’t any such demand for those kind of services between Kyle and that particular Austin shopping venue. How do I know what? Because Kyle not only already offers that service, but it’s one that will pick you up right at your front door. And do you have a guess as to how many local residents have availed themselves of that mass transportation service between Kyle and Southpark Meadows? The answer is zero. Zilch. Nada. Not a soul. No one.

For the life of me, I can’t see any reason why Kyle officials should enter into any kind of strategy sessions involving developing more mass transportation options when there seems to be little demand for the one that already exists.

Kyle/Buda Taxi provides taxpayer-subsidized mass transportation services two days a week for Kyle residents who want those services and a handful of people actually do. But you can count the number of people that do on the fingers of one hand and still have most of your fingers left over and those passengers only want to go to other places in Kyle. When I first reported on the ridership of Kyle/Buda Taxi about six weeks ago, ridership averaged 1.75 persons a day. It would figure, as more and more people became aware of the service, that ridership level would increase. Sure. Fine. Whatever. Since its inception through yesterday, the service has averaged 1.73 riders a day. Talk about taking the "mass" out of mass transportation. And, to date, no one has sought the service to travel to either Austin or San Marcos.

Come to think about it, those numbers don’t suggest a pressing need for Lone Star Rail either. If no one is going to use a transportation service that will come to your home, can you imagine anyone using one that required them to drive to a station? Of course, they could always use Kyle/Buda Taxi to take them to the local Lone Star Rail station (the thought of anyone actually doing that cracks me up).

It will be fascinating to see how this service fares (pun intended) during the upcoming City Council budget sessions. If money is tight, I could easily see this item first up on the chopping block. After all, the City is just billing this service as "a pilot" program. 

Thanks to Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix for making the following taxpayer-subsidized Kyle/Buda Taxi ridership numbers available:

Tuesday, March 1: 1 rider
Thursday, March 17: 1 rider
Tuesday, March 22: 2 riders
Thursday, March 24: 1 rider
Tuesday, March 29: 0 riders
Thursday, March 31: 2 riders
Tuesday, April 5: 3 riders:
Thursday, April 7: 3 riders
Tuesday, April 12, 1 rider
Thursday, April 14:, 3 riders
Tuesday, April 19:, 0 riders
Thursday, April 21: 2 riders
Tuesday, April 26: 2 riders
Thursday, April 28: 1 rider
Tuesday, May 3: 3 riders
Thursday, May 5: 2 riders
Tuesday, May 10: 2 riders
Thursday, May 12: 1 rider
Tuesday, May 17, 2 riders
Thursday, May 19: 4 riders
Tuesday, May 24: 1 rider
Thursday, May 26: 1 rider

For mass transportation programs to be successful in a community, that community needs to have population numbers significantly larger than what Kyle currently has and a population density far greater than Kyle’s. It would also help if the city didn’t have an interstate highway cutting right through its heart. The above figures reflect a ridership of 3.5 passengers a week. By comparison, Austin’s Cap Metro claims 103,000 boardings a week. Of course, you can argue, Austin is much larger than Kyle and you would be right about that. Austin’s population is actually 26 times larger than Kyle’s. But Cap Metro’s ridership is 29,429 times greater than Kyle/Buda Taxi’s taxpayer-subsidized service. That’s the real story of why mass transportation issues need no further discussions in Kyle. At least not for the next decade or so.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Words for our local politicians to live by

I just this moment finished reading an informative book by E.J. Dionne Jr., and on the next-to-last page of that book I read two sentences that left me dumbstruck. I immediately thought to myself how badly I would like to see these words enlarged, framed and hung in a conspicuous place on the wall of the Kyle Council Chambers at City Hall.

I’m not pointing fingers at any one or any group of council members. This is not meant to be a criticism of anyone in particular or a gotcha exercise. It’s just that I read these two sentences and they resonated. In fact, they could apply to political leaders everywhere. Here they are:

"As an electoral matter, angry pessimism rarely triumphs. As a disposition for governing, it will neither unite nor inspire."

Friday, May 20, 2016

That’s where the (fine) money goes

When I first came to Central Texas in 1960 to attend the University of Texas, I fell in with a group that liked to make regular pilgrimages to San Antonio. Later I began dating a coed who was from San Antonio and that led to an increased number of car trips to the Alamo City. The scariest city on the road between Austin and San Antonio at that name was none other than Buda. Rumor had it at the time that Buda was known throughout Texas and the rest of the nation, as the world’s most notorious speed trap. I never tried to find out for myself because I purposely drove at least five, sometimes 10, miles an hour under the speed limit when going through Buda. The legend at the time was that if you came within a mile of exceeding the speed limit, the Buda Speed Nazis would nab you and that speeding fines were the sole source of revenue for Buda’s government. This was before radar guns came into common use and the sole source of evidence as to whether or not a motorist was speeding were the words of the Buda cops. Even today, 56 years later, the first words that come to my mind when someone mentions Buda is "speed trap."

I say that only because earlier this week, when I reported on what I viewed as the success of the Kyle Police Department’s one-day crackdown Monday on I-35 speeding, City Council member Damon Fogley suggested I also inform at least those who read this blog, where that money goes. And I thought to myself, first, "That’s a really good idea" because I would like to know the answer to that myself, and, immediately thereafter: Buda = Speed Trap.

If I had to guess, I would have said the money goes either to help finance city government in general or into funding the community courts specifically. But I decided not to guess and turn to the person I perceive as the expert on all things involving City government and money, Kyle’s Director of Finance Perwez A. Moheet. And, lo and behold, I discovered something I did not know before: Although the lion’s share of the money collected from traffic citations does flow into the City’s coffers, the State of Texas gets a share as well. It’s kind of like that scene in Goodfellas, after Henry Hill and Jimmy Conway pull off the $5.875 million Lufthansa heist at Kennedy Airport in 1978 they make sure the boss of their crime family, Pauli Cicero, gets his share, "his tribute," even though he had absolutely no role in the caper.

How much the City receives versus how much the State gets from each ticket varies according to the type of violation involved, Moheet informed me. For instance, the fine attached to a speeding ticket in which the ticketed motorist is cited for driving 15 miles an hour above the posted limit is going to be $239.10. Of that $83.50 (34.9 percent) is the State’s "tribute" and the other $155.60 comes to the City of Kyle. The fines for an expired registration and driving without and license are $141, with $53.50 (37.9 percent) going to the State and $87.60 to the City. The fines for failure to appear in court and failure to provide proof of financial responsibility are both $341, with the State only siphoning off $53.40 (15.7 percent) and the City collecting the remaining $287.60. Those offenses, Moheet said, are the five most common "traffic related violations we process through the Kyle Municipal Court."

Moheet, who said all these fines flow into the City’s General Fund which is the pot of money used to pay for the overall municipal government, also told me that over the last five years, the city’s take for traffic citations has averaged $777,102.80 per year, which amounts to roughly only 4.1 percent of this year’s General Fund budget, not anywhere close to being the sole source or revenue for the City’s government.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Kyle homeowners’ property valuations increases slow dramatically

Yesterday I reported on the overall property tax valuations for the City of Kyle and said those valuations increased by 7.89 percent. It appears now most of that bump is due to increases in commercial property because when I went back and asked the City’s Finance Director Perwez Moheet to give me figures on average home valuations, it turns out they only increased by 3.13 percent over the year before. That’s compared to a 17 percent increase last year.

"Based on the certified estimate for 2016 as provided by HaysCAD, the average valuation for a single-family home is $160,667 in Kyle, Texas," Moheet told me today in an e-mail. "In comparison, the 2015 average valuation for a single-family home was $155,631 in Kyle."

The 2014 number was $133,879. That’s quite a dramatic decrease in the rise of homeowner property values, from $21,752 last year to just $5,036 this year.

However, here is the positive side to those numbers: Because of residential expansion, considerably more residential property owners are paying into the pot, so the overall property tax receipts are going to be markedly higher than market valuations. Just this morning the U.S. Census Bureau released figures estimating Kyle’s population increased 8.7 percent over 2014. Now I will stipulate that we don’t know what fraction of that 8.7 percent (about 3,000 persons) are property owners but it still projects an increase in overall property tax receipts that will comfortably exceed 3.13 percent..

One other thing for homeowners to keep in mind: Although your property tax bill will go up even if the tax rate doesn’t (and I really don’t anticipate the City even considering another tax rate hike this year), only 21.73 percent, at most, of the average residential tax bill is for city taxes. The school district takes the lion’s share — about 57 percent of all the property taxes a Kyle homeowner pays goes to the Hays Consolidated School District, whether or not you have children living at home attending HCSD schools. Then there’s county taxes, ESD taxes, community college taxes, etc., but the big kahuna here is the school district. The tax bill increase for that $160,667 Kyle home this year is estimated to be $29.45 for the City of Kyle, but $77.44 for the Hays Consolidated School District.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Kyle’s property valuation rate slows

Taxable value in Kyle went up again this year, which is about as newsworthy as heralding there are a couple of homes for sale in Plum Creek. The news, however, is that those valuations did not increase nearly as much as they did last year.

"The certified estimate for 2016 as prepared by HaysCAD shows net taxable value within City of Kyle at $2,139,713,012 or an estimated increase of $156,433,241 (7.89%) as compared to the certified taxable value of $1,983,279,771 for 2015," city Finance Director Perwez Moheet said today.

Putting that in terms that is understandable to most homeowners, that means if you owned a home worth $127,000 this time last year you probably paid close to $742.70 in city property taxes. This year, if the city keeps the tax rate the same as last year, you will pay $801.29 in city property taxes. Needless to say, school and county taxes will also increase along the same lines,

However, that increase can’t compare to last year’s when the rate jumped a hefty17 percent, which when combined with the tax increase passed by the City Council, probably resulted in many shocked homeowners when they received their tax bills for the year.

Of course, these appraisal numbers are preliminary. Property owners are receiving their valuations in the mail and can always appeal them. "The final certified tax roll will be released by HaysCAD on July 25," Moheet said, which gives the finance director and City Manager Scott Sellers one week to make the final adjustments in their income projections for the 2016-17 fiscal year so that they can present next year’s recommended budget on time Aug. 1.

Sellers projects Kyle’s population to grow by 120,000 by 2056

Today's Marketplace Extension ribbon cutting

City manager Scott Sellers, in sort of mini state-of-the city address today during the ceremonial opening of Marketplace Extension, projected that the city’s population will increase by 120,000 — essentially three times its current size — within the next 40 years.

Sellers’s address at the ribbon cutting at the first of the road projects bonded in 2013 to be completed was not scripted — at least Sellers wasn’t reading from a script or even using notes — but what he said should be of vital interest to most, if not all, city residents because he outlined the direction in which he foresees the city is heading.

By today’s standards, a growth of 120,000 people would make Kyle the 17th most populous city in Texas, just behind Brownsville but significantly larger than such cities as Waco, Denton, Abilene, Beaumont, Odessa and Wichita Falls.

"It’s really a great sight to see so many people here for a road," Sellers began. "But this is so much more than just a road. This is symbolic of so many things that Kyle is doing right now that we are doing right. This is an artery. This truly is the downtown-to-uptown artery. The symbolism here is more than just a road — it is a road to somewhere. It is a road to prosperity.

"Kyle is growing so quickly, not just geographically as we have seen recently with our annexations. It’s growing the number of units, It’s growing in its prosperity, in its sales and property taxes. This really is a city that is on the rise. And we are all very privileged to be a part of it.

"Just to give you a perspective of what that growth looks like today, we have been working very hard with our local residential and commercial development partners. For those of you who have been reading the news lately, you’ll see that about three weeks ago, the City of Kyle was 20 square miles in geography, which is a good-sized city. Two weeks ago the city grew to 30 square miles in the largest annexation that we’ve ever conducted.

"That annexation didn’t happen just to grab additional land. It happened because there is development coming and that development, in large part, is already moving forward. Our City Council is approving development agreements and working on other property development negotiations to bring more residential-commercial development to the city.

"Right now we have in Kyle over 40,000 entitled residential/multi-family lots that we are anticipating to be constructed probably over the next 30 to 40 years. So it doesn’t come overnight. But just the fact that these lots are entitled, that’s really something. You think about what we look at just from a population perspective. We usually look at three to three-and-a-half people per unit, a little less for multi-family. But if you look at 40,000 potential units at three people per unit over the next 40 years, it gives you a pretty good idea of the growth that Kyle will see and is seeing.

"We are trending toward 1,000 building permits just this year. (Editor’s note: To put that in some kind of perspective, Abilene issued just a little more than half that number last year.) As we project into the future, we’re not abating off that number. We think 1,000 is a good, accurate number."

Those numbers, Sellers emphasized, just reflected residential building permits. On the commercial side of the equation, the city manager said "I know we are working very hard. We have a lot of things in the pipeline and a lot of things you’re seeing on the ground."

Sellers tied all that back to the Marketplace opening by stressing the amount of development that’s planned along that roadway. He said one developer is in the final stages of a project "that will bring 400 multi-family units that aren’t just the typical units. This is a live-work-play mixed use development right here along Marketplace, providing quick accessibility, walkability to the commercial area. A great place to call home with trails and other amenities that will be offered. This project is slated to occur pretty quickly within, I’d say, the next 12 months. There’s another multi-family project that we’ve already given approval to which is just north of here (directly across Marketplace from Kohls) along the same road. Those two projects would not have been made possible without this road development. Those are probably 600 units that we are seeing today because of this road.

"So what is a road?" Sellers rhetorically asked in conclusion. "It is symbolic of what’s happening in Kyle — the growth and the prosperity the city is seeing. And as we continue our road projects — we have five additional roads — and in the next two or three years we will see major marked improvements to those roads that will allow us to continue to bring the growth and prosperity that Kyle will see, not only today but for the next several decades if not 50 to 100 years plus."

Kyle PD’s speeding crackdown yields phenomenal results

I find these numbers absolutely shocking: The Kyle Police Department enforced a well publicized crackdown on I-35 speeding Monday that resulted in the patrol officers issuing 47 traffic citations, according to figures released today by Police Chief Jeff Barnett. Here’s what I find truly amazing about that number. The week before, on Monday, May 9, just one citation was issued.

Barnett said the success of the program guarantees it will be repeated. "We will do this throughout the summer," he said. The program is part of an effort to reduce the number of traffic accidents in Kyle on I-35.

Like I predicted before the actual crackdown day, 87 percent of those motorists ticketed were from out of town. Hey, I’m not one of the world’s greatest prognosticators, so in that rare instance when I get something right, I’m going to let the world know about it. The actual numbers, Barnett said, were "41 out of 47 did not have a City of Kyle address."

Which just goes to prove my theory that more people need to not only slow down when driving through Kyle, but actually exit off the interstate and stop in town for some delicious coffee, barbecue and pie.

Hervol draws top spot on runoff ballot

Incumbent Diane Hervol, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved University of Texas pullover shirt, stood in the lobby of City Hall this morning, hesitantly, tentatively dipped her hand in a clear glass dish held by acting City Secretary Jennifer Vetrano, wrapped her hand around one of two tiny pieces of paper in that dish, pulled that tiny slip from the dish, unfolded it, read it, smiled and said "Diane Hervol," effectively giving her the top spot on the June 11 City Council runoff ballot.

According to a study conducted by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, being listed first on the ballot is a definite advantage, although that advantage may be diminished here because so few Kyle residents vote.

"In some elections a first-listing produces just a handful of votes, though they can make the difference in an extremely close election," the study said. "In other elections a first-listing can generate extra votes up to about 5 percent of the overall tally, according to some studies."

Interestingly, the study speculated that this first-listing bias is more apparent on election day than in early or absentee voting. "One wonders whether the first-listing bias is as great for absentee and mail ballot voters, compared to those who turn up at the polls on Election Day," the study said. "Voters can take their time at home — they can even do some internet research on the candidates before completing their ballots. At the polls, many voters feel anxious and tense. Everyone is in a hurry and being watched. No one wants to hold up the line."

The reason why I point this out is because in the May election, Hervol won 65 percent of the absentee vote and 51 percent of those who voted early. However, her opponent, business owner Travis Mitchell, who was listed first on that ballot, took 58 percent of the vote on election day.

After the drawing I asked Hervol if she planned on changing her campaign strategy due to the time limitations before the election.

"I intend to change it up a little bit," she replied. "I’m still in the preliminary stages as to what I anticipate doing, but I am going to change it up a little bit. I still plan to work hard and work smarter."

Mitchell, who just returned home from a camping trip on the Colorado River with his extended family, told me later this morning he plans to "vigorously" plunge into the runoff campaign.

"Local election campaign strategies require a certain amount of secrecy because they're relatively easy to foil," Mitchell said. "Nevertheless, I plan to campaign vigorously during this cycle."

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Mayor seeks joint meeting to complete Comp Plan mid-term update

In a meeting during which City Engineer Leon Barba presented another update on the road bond projects and which featured a moving Memorial Day resolution and a equally stirring recognition of life saving acts performed by members of the Kyle Police Department, Mayor Todd Webster announced this evening he will seek to hold a one-day City Council-Planning & Zoning Commission joint meeting to complete the mid-term update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing to report about tonight’s Council session was its relative brevity, clocking in at just under two hours — and that included an Executive Session (which mercifully lasted only 21 minutes).

The City decided at the beginning of the mid-term Comp Plan update process it didn’t want to spend the money on consultants to make changes in the Plan the City felt could be made by self-professed planning experts. However, when the assignment came to the Planning & Zoning Commission, it decided right away consultants were required, whether or not the City want to bear the costs for those consultants, and instead of performing the update the Council requested, it drafted a letter to the Council recommending what actions the commissioners felt the consultants should take.

That letter became part of the City Manager’s Report on tonight’s agenda.

"The (P&Z) Commission ultimately determined that certain updates were needed, primarily to the maps section," City Manager Scott Sellers told the Council. "And the letter sent to Council addresses those individual revisions.

"The letter recommended we look at an outside consultant to do the work." Sellers continued. "We may be able to do most of that work in-house, maybe with a little bit of facilitation from outside sources."

Sellers said the letter referenced other plans being worked on, such as the wastewater plan, the Parks Master Plan, etc., and said those plans, when finished, would ultimately be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan and the maps would be adjusted accordingly. He also said "There are some zoning issues we’ll need to look at with a growing city, especially in light of the recent annexations." He then asked for further direction from the council.

That’s when Mayor Webster announced his joint workshop plan "not just to go over the letter but also to be prepared to tackle some of the issues." He did not propose a date for the meeting but said he would set one with Sellers at a time when P&Z members would be available.

"My only issue with consultants is just cost," Webster said.

Mayor Pro Tem David Wilson endorsed Webster’s proposal, saying the ideas contained in the Comprehensive Plan all came from Kyle citizens and all the consultants did was format them. He suggested inexpensive computer software is available today that would allow the City to even handle that formatting internally.

"I would feel comfortable doing it that way and not spending hundreds of thousands on consultants again," Wilson said.

Sellers reminded the Council that this all revolved around a mid-term update, not the mandatory 10-year reformation of the Comprehensive Plan. "The five year update is more basic (than the 10-year review), updating the zoning, updating the maps" Sellers said. "This format (the proposed joint meeting), I think, is appropriate."

Council member Diane Hervol wanted to know about the extent of community involvement in the proposed workshop, which she could be forgiven for asking about because she did not attend the numerous Planning & Zoning Commission workshops on this subject that solicited and included input from Kyle residents. Sellers added additional citizen input could be superfluous because a lot of the items to be discussed during the update "are a little more technical in nature rather than long-term planning in nature."

Barba began his presentation talking about yesterday’s opening of Marketplace Extension, from City Lights to Burleson Road. Barba said there’s still work to be done on the project including "street lights we need to get working," which I was awfully glad to hear because I drove the new road on my way home from this evening’s meeting and it’s dark on that boulevard at night. Real, real dark. It also appeared to me that at the point where the extension merges into the original road, the road striping offers an optical illusion that gave me the impression the road was about to curve to the left when, in fact, it wasn’t.

He also said "improvements" were planned at the roundabout where the extension meets Burleson. He wasn’t specific about what those improvements were, but later, during the public comments section, Dan Ekakiadis, who served on the Kyle City Council from 2005 to 2007, when Wilson took over that seat, complained the roundabout was not safe. He was particularly critical about its height.

Barba said the 13-month construction on the Goforth Road project began March 21. He said the closure on the road will be in place "for another two weeks. The weather and the utilities have delayed us but we are trying to get out of there as fast as we can."

He listed late October as the beginning of construction on the Goforth Road extension. "We think it will take about four months to build that." He said he wants to start construction on Bunton Creek in September and the estimated start date for Burleson is November. "We expect that (Burleson) project to last 18 months," he told the Council. Barba said the estimated start on construction of Lehman is next March "and we’re hoping to try to move that up. We expect that project to last about 15 months, but it could be less than that based on our final plans" that removed the need for a bridge as part of the project.

In other action this evening:
  • Library Director Paul Phelan and Lehman High School Principal Michelle Chae announced a joint all-ages Summer Reading Program that will take place from noon to 4 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays during June and July.
  • The council passed a resolution approving the canvass of the May 7 City Council and charter referendum elections and set June 11 as the date for the Council runoff between Hervol and business owner Travis Mitchell, whose first matchup ended in a tie vote. The council amended the original ordinance for the runoff to add an extra day of early voting on Saturday, June 4, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Unanimously passed on first reading a pair of zoning requests, one which will pave the way for an inspection station to be located on Beebee Road at the far eastern edge of the city and another to allow for a "community commercial" development on the southwest corner of Porter and Cockerham streets. The unanimous votes removed the need for a second reading of the two proposed changes. Incidentally, the community commercial development is only a few blocks from the site of a proposed townhome development that raised such consternation from those living in a nearby subdivision that the Council killed it. Not a soul spoke at the public hearing attached to this plan, however.
  • The Council voted 5-2 to amend the City’s "let’s screw potential homeowners" PID policy. According to Sellers, the changes to the ordinances would mean "The City Council would not be incentivizing residential development strictly through PIDs," which makes sense because PIDs are supposed to be financial mechanisms, not incentivizing tools. "A PID is for a larger commercialized development that may have a residential component but is not to be used to incentivize residential," Sellers said. "That was clear originally a year ago but through additional conversations we just needed to add that clarifying language." The second change, Sellers said, allows the City "to use up to 10 percent of any PID bond for PID related expenses that were outside the PID boundary"such as "wastewater improvements to the collection and the treatment system, water system improvements to get additional water capacity, drainage improvements, road improvements and other potential offsite PID impacts." Sellers said those amounts would be determined before the bonds are sold. Hervol and council member Daphne Tenorio voted against the amendments, not because they had anything against the amendments, per se, Tenorio told me, but because they were generally opposed to the "let’s screw potential homeowners" PID policy.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hervol-Mitchell vote still tied after recount, Council to order runoff for June 11

According to a Facebook posting from Kyle business owner Travis Mitchell, one of the two Place 1 City Council candidates whose race ended in a tie, and subsequently confirmed by a City official, a recount of that May 7 conducted today reaffirmed that tie vote which means the Council will be forced to proceed with an item on its agenda tomorrow, namely calling for a runoff election to be held Saturday June 11.

"I have just received word that the recount has concluded with no change to the vote totals," Mitchell wrote on his Facebook page. "A tie is still in effect."

The result has also been verified by acting City Secretary Jennifer Vetrano. "The recount resulted in no change," Ms. Vetrano said in an email.

The May 7 vote ended with both Mitchell and Place 1 incumbent Diane Hervol receiving 510 votes, which means only 5.86 percent of the registered voters in Kyle even bothered to cast votes, either absentee, in early voting or on election day. Normally, Texas elections held during the summer months attract even fewer voters than those held in May. This past election will be the last council election primary held in May, however, since voters also approved a City Charter amendment on May 7 to move the elections to November.

"Thanks are in order to the volunteers who gave their time today and recounted the votes," Mitchell’s Facebook posting said. "And thanks to the Hays County Elections Office for being spot on in their May 7 report."

Hervol later confirmed the recount ended in a tie on a Facebook posting.

"I would like to thank the counters, the poll workers, observers, judges and county election staff for their patience through this process," she wrote.

Item 11 on tomorrow evening’s City Council agenda is "A Resolution of the City of Kyle, Texas, calling a Runoff Election on Saturday, June 11, 2016, for the purpose of electing Council Member at large, Position One; providing for early voting and for notice of the election; authorizing Mayor to execute agreement(s) to reserve polling locations on election day and on the conduct of the election; and providing for other matters relating to the election and setting an effective date."

Voters will be able to cast their ballots that Saturday at City Hall, Wallace Middle School or Chapa Middle School. Early voting will take place at City Hall on May 31, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; June 1-3 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; June 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; June 6 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and June 7 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Applications will be accepted for mail-in ballots until 5 p.m., Thursday, June 2. Requests for applications should be mailed to Joyce Cowan, Hays County Elections Administrator, Hays County Elections Division, 712 South Stagecoach Trail #1045, San Marcos, TX 78666.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Hervol-Mitchell runoff tentatively set for June 11

If it’s necessary, the City Council Place 1 runoff election between incumbent Diane Hervol and business owner Travis Mitchell will take place Saturday, June 11. The runoff could be necessary because the first election last Saturday ended in a tie with each candidate receiving 510 votes.

I say "if it’s necessary," because I have learned a recount of the original votes cast will be conducted Monday. Although I have never personally seen a vote remain exactly the same after a recount, Hays County Elections Administrator Joyce Cowan has supposedly told others involved in the election that she has never seen a vote changed by a recount. And I am definitely going to defer to her knowledge of elections in Hays County.

So, if she’s right and the vote remains tied after Monday’s recount, the City Council has on its agenda Tuesday an item calling for a runoff election for the second Saturday in June, a date that virtually guarantees (because of vacation plans, school closings, etc.) a far smaller turnout than the paltry 6.04 percent of registered voters who bothered to take the trouble to vote in the first election.

Other than that, there’s nothing much on the council’s agenda, which you can read for yourself by clicking here, to get all in a huff about or even half in a huff about, although it will be interesting to get the latest update from City Engineer Leon Barba on the five road bond projects. I’m expecting him to announce the imminent opening of the Marketplace extension between City Lights and Burleson Road, but the supplementary materials made available to the public prior to the meeting offer no hint as to what Barba will say.

There’s also a resolution to amend the City’s PID policy I’m still trying to wrap my head around, but I think it means more weight is going to be given to providing financial incentives to commercial developments and less to residential ones, which is a good thing. But why that is wrapped around a PID policy escapes me since a PID is a financing tool, not an incentivizing one. Hopefully, we’ll get some clarification on these changes at Tuesday’s meeting.

Lane closings on FM 2770 to begin tomorrow

According to an alert received today from the kind folks in Mountain City, one lane of FM 2770 will be closed overnight for five days for repaving between FM 150 and FM 1626 beginning at 8 p.m. tomorrow. The one lane closure will be from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night, ending at 5 a.m. Friday, thus it should not interfere too much with commuter travel to and from Mountain City, business traffic to the Hays County Tax Office or school traffic to Hays High School or Barton Middle School. I wish I could tell you which lane will be closed each evening, but I don’t have that information and, in the overall scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter — one lane is one lane, regardless of which one it is.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sales tax revenues fall back below forecasts

After a wonderful sales tax report last month, May’s receipts, although more than $200,000 above April’s, plunged the City’s budget back into the red because those receipts were about 3 percent less than what was forecast, according to the numbers the City released today. The city went from $3,000 on the plus side this time last month to a $19,018.87 deficit, which, to be honest, is not a terribly difficult number to overcome.

Overall, sales tax receipts are a whopping 58.52 percent higher than they were this time last year which, again, indicates to me that the City’s financial prognosticators were a tad overly optimistic with their projections for this fiscal year.

The sales tax receipts for May were $661,516, compared to $444,310,03 last month. The problem is the City forecast this month’s receipts would be $684,008 and set this fiscal year’s budget accordingly. Here’s where I think the problem may stem from.. Last year, May’s receipts were 41.3 percent above those from the month before. This year’s budget predicted exactly that same growth, 41.3 percent, from the month before, but instead the receipts were only 31.3 percent higher.

Another interesting thing to note. During the first eight months of the last fiscal year, sales tax receipts exceeded forecasts every single month. This fiscal year, receipts have exceeded forecasts only four times during the same eight-month period even though the total amounts are higher.

And this may be an indicator not so much that the forecasts were way out of whack as it is that the economy is truly heading into a recession that, if you study economic cycles, is about due.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Where is Jack McCoy when we need him

One particular sentence from a request for a proposal issued by the City in its attempt to find prosecuting attorneys for the Municipal Court knocked me back — way, way back. "The City of Kyle Municipal Court administers approximately 6,000 cases annually." Did anyone else outside city government have any clue the number was that high?

Later in the RFP I discovered "approximately 42 percent will result in arrest warrants to be issued." I’m guessing that means 2,520 of the 6,000 cases actually come before the Municipal Court for prosecution. But I also learned Municipal Court is only in session one day a week, on Wednesdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. "except on holidays observed by the City of Kyle." So let’s say there is an average of four of those Wednesday holidays every year. That means some 52 cases come before the court each Wednesday or slightly more than seven per hour. And as the city grows, that number is only going to go up.

But there’s also this little nugget. The bid request said the attorney(s) who win the bid will only have to "be available before the Municipal Court on every 1st and 3rd Wednesday," which, (1) to me, doubles that weekly workload, and (2) leaves me to wonder what happens in Municipal Court on the second and fourth Wednesdays.

Admittedly, these figures might be slightly overstated, that perhaps far less than the 42 percent represents the actual cases that come before the court, But, still.

The obvious thing for me to do here is to hang out at the Municipal Court some Wednesday but, at present, Wednesdays are reserved as the day I spend with my granddaughter and nothing — absolutely nothing — takes precedence over that.

The Municipal Court only hears cases involving Class C misdemeanors (Texas is one of only seven states in the country that has a Class C misdemeanor criminal classification). Examples of such nefarious crimes are most traffic tickets, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, "hot" checks of less than $20, simple assault, criminal trespassing, gambling, bail jumping, leaving a child in a vehicle (which, if I were emperor of the world, would be a capital offense), petty theft such as shoplifting under $50, possession of an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle, a minor driving under the influence of alcohol, a minor in possession of tobacco, possession of drug paraphernalia. Code violations also come to municipal court. The maximum penalty imposed for Class C misdemeanors is a fine of not more than $500, and there is no jail time imposed.

The city is looking for individual attorneys or law firms to submit bids that must be received no later than 2 p.m. Monday, May 23. It is expected the City Council will name someone or a group of someones to handle this chore at its second meeting next month, Tuesday, June 21.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kyle PD devoting Monday to stopping speeders

I’m betting the majority of drivers who drive faster than 70, 75 miles an hour on Interstate 35 are from out of town. For some unknown reason that has to be completely unfathomable to those of us who have chosen to make Kyle our home, I’m guessing there’s a small faction of drivers who desire to get through our fair city as quickly as possible. Oh, how I’m looking forward to hearing how many of these misguided miscreants get nabbed for speeding Monday by the Kyle Police Department.

You see, thanks to a grant from the Texas Department of Public Safety, our local gendarmes are going to beef up their presence along the interstate, as well as the highway’s access roads, this coming Monday expressly to nab those folks attempting to break the San Antonio-Austin land speed record. The action, according to a news release emanating from the City today, is to attempt to reduce the number of accidents on the highway.

"We are giving everyone a heads up because we want you to slow down," the news release slyly claimed a Kyle Police Lt. Andre Marmolejo actually said. I wonder about the authenticity of the statement only because obviously he can’t give "everyone a heads up" because, like I said earlier, I fully expect those caught in the speeder’s web will be from out of town.

And if they’re not from out of town, they deserve every punishment the law allows because Lt. Marmolejo did give you "a heads up" and I did what I could to pass it along.

You can’t say we didn’t warn you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Goods news and perhaps some not so good news about proposed Goodwill store

I must admit I was struck by a feeling of wistfulness bordering on sadness as I left City Hall following tonight’s Planning & Zoning Commission, turned left to walk to where my car was parked and immediately cast my eyes on the Kyle Library Thrift Store. That emotion swept over me because of the sudden and stark realization that, because of what just took place during that Planning & Zoning meeting, the days of the Kyle Library Thrift Store may be numbered.

That’s because the commissioners unanimously approved a conditional use permit for a 30,000- (30,001 actually) square-foot Goodwill Store immediately to the east of the Wal-Mart on Kyle Parkway. Frankly, I don’t see how the much smaller Kyle Library Thrift Store can compete against the overwhelming presence of a Goodwill giant whose operators told the commissioners this evening that they plan on employing as many as 300 persons to work at the facility. I’m not saying they can’t compete, but it’s going to be tough. So tough, in fact, I hope the owners/operators of the Kyle Library Thrift Store are thinking about another business model that would allow their establishment to remain as a locally owned and operated landmark in what hopefully will shortly become a revitalized and re-energized downtown Kyle.

But, then, I’m a relic of a bygone era, a product of the times when there weren’t giant chains dominating the retail market, when one did all their grocery shopping at the corner market with the fresh fruits and vegetables on display outside the store and that was no larger inside than … well … the Kyle Library Thrift Store. Oh, there were some chains — Robert Hall’s for men’s clothing and Buster Brown’s for kids’ shoes — but those stores didn’t overwhelm the mom-and-pops. On the contrary, they co-existed alongside with them.

And I know, no matter how much I miss listening to those radio episodes of The Lone Ranger, that I’m never going to be able to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, but that’s not going to stop me from feeling at least of tinge of nostalgia because of what is likely to be the fate of the Kyle Library Thrift Store.

On the positive side, I spoke to the individuals who made the pitch for the Goodwill Store before the commission immediately after the commission’s vote and learned Goodwill plans to lease the building, not own it. That’s good news because, if Goodwill Industries owned the building, being a 501(C)(3) corporation, it could have been exempt from property taxes and everyone knows that Kyle needs all the commercial property tax it can muster flowing into the city’s coffers.

Everything on the commission’s agenda tonight was approved unanimously, possibly because the one semi-controversial item, a zoning change request for a parcel of land largely in a 100-year flood plain, was withdrawn from consideration. The only item that didn’t receive affirmative votes from all seven commission members was the loopy letter the commission will be sending to the City Council which the commission decided to send instead of the Comprehensive Plan mid-term update the Council requested from the commission. I have absolutely no clue how the Council is going to receive this letter when it specifically requested an actual update. Not only that, I posed that question to Council member Shane Arabie who, as is his custom, attended tonight’s meeting, and he told me he had no clue either. Watch this space.

The only reason it did not receive the blessing of all seven commissioners was because newly appointed commissioner Brad Growt abstained from the voting because everything that took place regarding this issue occurred before he joined the commission.

In other action this evening, the commissioners
  • Recommended the City Council approve a request to rezone 1.118 acres at 289 Anton Drive, just off Beebee on Kyle’s eastern edge, from Agriculture to Retail Services to allow the owners to locate an automobile inspection facility there. The owners stressed the facility would conduct state inspections exclusively and the only thing remotely connected with automobile repair would be they might replace burned out light bulbs in the vehicles they inspected..
  • Recommended the Council approve a request to rezone a 3.576 acre lot on the corner of Porter and Cockerham streets, just behind the Exxon station/convenience store on Rebel Drive, from single family residential to community commercial. According to Kyle’s zoning ordinances, "The purpose of the community commercial district [CC] is to provide for slightly more intense commercial uses than allowed in the neighborhood commercial zoning district. The district is established to provide areas for quality retail establishments and service facilities. This district should generally consist of retail nodes located along or at the intersection of major collectors or thoroughfares to accommodate higher traffic volumes." These are the kinds of establishments that may be located there: multi-family on the second floor and above shall be permitted by right regardless of base zoning; bed and breakfast up to five rooms; retail; restaurant; restaurant with drive-through; religious assembly; art gallery; child care center (outdoor playground allowed); fire/police station; professional office; funeral home; barber/beauty shop; convenience/grocery store; fuel station; nursing/retirement homes; veterinarian without outdoor boarding; health and fitness center; and/or a financial institution with drive-through banking. A spokesperson for the developer said the developer had specific plans for the lot. He wouldn’t divulge what they were, but said they adhere to what’s allowed in that zoning district.
  • Granted a conditional use permit to construct two warehouse-type office buildings behind two similarly styled and constructed buildings on the east side of I-35, directly across the interstate from where Opal Lane intersects on the highway on the west side.
  • Granted a variance from the Landscape Ordinance for an apartment complex being constructed on Marketplace Boulevard almost directly across the boulevard from the Kohl’s store because the land did not contain enough acreage to accommodate the number of trees required by the ordinance.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

City Charter, in its own way, addresses tie vote

This is an update to correct the confusion caused by my earlier reference to a section of the Texas Election Code that deals with elections decided by a plurality vote (i.e., an election where the person with the most votes wins regardless of that candidate’s percentage) when I should have referred to that section of the code referring to elections decided by a majority vote (i.e., a vote that requires the winner to have 50 percent of the vote plus one more, which is how elections are decided in Kyle).

Let me state at the outset, I don’t expect this Place 1 City Council election between incumbent Diane Hervol and business owner Travis Mitchell to end in a tie. A recount of yesterday’s votes will be conducted and I have never, ever, in my lifetime seen a recount in which the results weren’t altered. Most of those times those alternations were not large enough to affect the outcome of the election, but, obviously, in the case of a tie vote, any alteration most likely would change the results.

But what happens in the unlikely event the two candidates have the same number of votes even after the recount? I’ve heard several people express concern over the fact that the City’s charter doesn’t address that situation.

I’m here to tell you that it does. Section 5.11 of the charter reads: "If no candidate for an elective office receives a majority of the votes cast for that position in the regular or special election, a run-off shall be held between the two (2) candidates who received the greatest number of votes." That section is definitely applicable here. Obviously neither received a majority and the two candidates who tied "received the greatest number of votes" even though they were the only two candidates in the race. The charter does not specify how many candidates are required in a council election to trigger these provisions so, ergo, they must apply in all "regular or special elections."

The charter even addresses the prospect of another tie vote after the runoff. Later in that same section, the charter says "…if the run-off results in a tie vote, the tie shall be broken in a manner that is not inconsistent with the Texas Election Code."

And section 2.021 of the Texas Election Code says basically the same thing: "If no candidate for a particular office receives the vote necessary to be elected in an election requiring a majority vote, a runoff election for that office is required." And section 2.023 adds "…the candidates in a runoff election are the candidates who receive the highest and second highest number of votes in the main election or who tie for the highest number of votes."

Section 2.024 states: "Not later than the fifth day after the date the final canvass of the main election is completed, the authority responsible for ordering the main election shall order the runoff election" and the next section adds "…a runoff election shall be held not earlier than the 20th or later than the 45th day after the date the final canvass of the main election is completed."

I still think, however, all this probably won’t be necessary, because a recount of the vote, which should take place automatically in case of a tie, will solve the issue. And, if a recount isn’t automatically ordered, Mitchell told me today he would ask for one.

"It’s the right thing to do," the candidate said. "Even if the recount reveals I lost the race, I would rather lose knowing the vote was counted correctly than to have to go through all the trials and all the expense of another election."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mitchell, Hervol tie; Arabie wins easily

In yet another election with a dismally poor voter turnout, local business owner Travis Mitchell and incumbent Diane Hervol each captured 510 votes for Kyle City Council Place 1, according to today’s unofficial tally. Incumbent Shane Arabie easily won re-election, winning 533 votes (57.56%) to 393 for bartender Randall Lloyd. Neither Mitchell nor Lloyd had ever held a political position — elected or appointed — prior to the election. All the proposed charter amendments, except the one involving the dismissal of the Finance Director, passed handily.

Only a paltry 6.04 percent of the city’s 17,409 registered voters cast a ballot and the Hervol-Mitchell tie officially buries the notion of "Why should I bother to vote? My vote doesn’t count anyway."

The tie vote apparently triggers an automatic recount. Provisional and overseas ballots still need to be tabulated and, apparently, when all that’s said and done, in the rather unlikely event the election results are still knotted, another election will have to be held.

"I’m disappointed," Hervol said. "I worked really hard, but I am determined to work even harder the next time."

Mitchell said he "went from being very dejected" when the early voting results were announced "to being bewildered. No one thought I could come back when only 300 votes were cast today, but I’ll be forever thankful to all those voters who showed up for me today."

Mitchell only won 34.62 percent of the absentee votes against Hervol’s 65.38 percent, according to the returns posted by Hays County. Hervol also won 51.14 percent of the early voting to Mitchell’s 48.86 percent. But Mitchell rebounded to win today’s totals 57.67 percent to 42.33 percent for Hervol, an indication of who had the superior election day get-out-the-vote effort.

Arabie, elected to his first full three-year term (he was first elected in 2014 to fill an unexpired term) said he was "elated" over the results. "They are a reflection of the work we put forth. Now I’m happy it’s over."

Arabie also called the overwhelming support of the charter change recommendations an endorsement of "just how well the Charter Review Commission did its job. I could not be happier about these results." He said he believed the rejection of the one proposed charter change had more to do with the way it was worded than because of its substance and believed the low turnout in today’s election would not be repeated now that the municipal voting will be moving to November.

Lloyd said he was resigned to the outcome even before the votes weere tabulated.

"I find of figured that’s how it would turn out," Lloyd said. "I wish Shane the best of luck and look forward to talking with him soon." Lloyd did not rule out another City Council campaign in the future. "It just might happen," he said.

The charter election turned out like this:

Prop. 1:Shall Sections 4.03 (g) (o) (p), 5.11 of the City Charter be amended to require submission to the qualified voters of the City to eliminate provisions which have become inoperative because they have been superseded by state law; replace obsolete references; update terminology to current legal usage, and to eliminate obsolete transitional provisions? For: 806 (81.5%); Against 183 (18.5%)

Prop 2: Shall Section 3.05 of the City Charter be amended to require submission to the qualified voters of the City to add causes to remove any elected officer to also include habitual substance abuse and conviction of a misdemeanor involving a crime of moral turpitude which are crimes involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, deliberate violence, or that reflect adversely on an elected official’s honesty, trustworthiness? For: 871 (86.49%); Against 136 (13.51%)

Prop 3: Shall Sections 4.01 and 4.03 of the City Charter be amended to authorize the City Council to recommend and approve appointments to all City Boards and Commissions? For: 643 (65.08%); Against: 345 (34.92%).

Prop 4: Shall Section 4.03 (a) of the City Charter be amended to eliminate the requirement of Council confirmation on the dismissal of the Director of Finance? For: 468 (48.9); Against: 489 (51.1%).

Prop.5: Shall Section 4.05 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that neither the Mayor nor Council shall instruct the City Manager or any city employee to hire or terminate any city employee and require the Mayor and Council to go through the City Manager for administrative and management functions of the City? For: 765 (78.3%); Against: 212 (21.7%)

Prop. 6: Shall Section 5.02 of the City Charter be amended to move the City’s general election date for the Mayor and Councilmembers from May to November and approve a transitional provision extending terms of those elected in May 2016 and those expiring in May 2017 and May 2018 to November 2017, November 2018 and November 2019? For: 702 (72.6%); Against 265 (27.4%).

Prop. 7: Shall Section 7.10 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that the City Attorney shall report to the City Manager but remain appointed by the Mayor and City Council? For: 718 (74.48%); Against 246 (25.52%).

Prop. 8: Shall Section 8.09 of the City Charter be amended to require two authorized signatures, one must be either the City Manager or Finance Director, for checks, vouchers, warrants or withdrawal of funds from city depositories? For: 859 (88.28%); Against 114 (11.72%).

Prop. 9: Shall Section 8.11 (e) of the City Charter be added so that any issuance of debt not have a repayment period greater than the life of the asset(s) being funded? For: 836 (86.54%); Against: 130 (13.46%).

Prop 10: Shall Section 8.11 (f) of the City Charter be added so that any issuance of debt or instrument of obligation exceeding 5% of the annual assessed valuation of the city shall only be issued with a binding referendum being placed on the ballot and such expenditure approved by the voters? For: 802 (83.8%); Against: 155 (16.2%).

Prop 11: Shall Section 13.10 of the City Charter be added so that all meetings, hearings and workshops of the Council, any Board, Commission or Committee of the City shall comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act and shall provide a time for public comment? For: 912 (91.75%); Against: 82 (8.257%).

I must admit, those 82 votes against Prop. 11 is a real head-scratcher. I prefer to think there are 82 semi-misguided souls out there who simply robotically voted against all 11 proposed charter changes. I only hope there are not actually 82 deranged wackos out there who really believe all city government business should be conducted in secret, behind closed doors, with the public permanently excluded from any and all deliberations and decision-making.

One can always hope.


Incumbents lead in early voting

Incumbents Diane Hervol and Shane Arabie led in early voting in the election for Kyle City Council and all but one of the proposed charter changes — the one involving how the city’s finance director can be replaced — appear heading for approval by comfortable margins.

Hervol, seeking her third term on the council, led local businessman Travis Mitchell with 53 percent of the early  vote (383-337). Arabie held a slightly more comfortable lead over bartender Randall Lloyd, capturing 58 percent of the early votes cast (390-281).

The only proposed charter change in any trouble of being rejected was one that would have eliminated the requirement that the council must confirm any action taken by a city manager to dismiss the city’s finance director. It’s close, however, with 50.8 percent of the absentee voters casting ballots against that change. Somewhat surprisingly, the proposed change to make this election that last municipal one to be held in May is passing easily with almost 73 percent of the absentee voters favoring that change. If that passes, as it looks like it will, future municipal elections will be in November.

A breakdown of the early voting on all the charter amendments looks like this:

Prop. 1:Shall Sections 4.03 (g) (o) (p), 5.11 of the City Charter be amended to require submission to the qualified voters of the City to eliminate provisions which have become inoperative because they have been superseded by state law; replace obsolete references; update terminology to current legal usage, and to eliminate obsolete transitional provisions? For: 579 (83%); Against 122 (17%)

Prop 2: Shall Section 3.05 of the City Charter be amended to require submission to the qualified voters of the City to add causes to remove any elected officer to also include habitual substance abuse and conviction of a misdemeanor involving a crime of moral turpitude which are crimes involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, deliberate violence, or that reflect adversely on an elected official’s honesty, trustworthiness? For: 623 (87%); Against 92 (17%)

Prop 3: Shall Sections 4.01 and 4.03 of the City Charter be amended to authorize the City Council to recommend and approve appointments to all City Boards and Commissions? For: 456 (65%); Against: 244 (35%).

Prop 4: Shall Section 4.03 (a) of the City Charter be amended to eliminate the requirement of Council confirmation on the dismissal of the Director of Finance? For: 334 (49%); Against: 345 (51%).

Prop.5: Shall Section 4.05 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that neither the Mayor nor Council shall instruct the City Manager or any city employee to hire or terminate any city employee and require the Mayor and Council to go through the City Manager for administrative and management functions of the City? For: 546 (79%); Against: 147 (21%)

Prop. 6: Shall Section 5.02 of the City Charter be amended to move the City’s general election date for the Mayor and Councilmembers from May to November and approve a transitional provision extending terms of those elected in May 2016 and those expiring in May 2017 and May 2018 to November 2017, November 2018 and November 2019? For: 506 (74%); Against 181 (26%).

Prop. 7: Shall Section 7.10 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that the City Attorney shall report to the City Manager but remain appointed by the Mayor and City Council? For: 520 (76%); Against 165 (24%).

Prop. 8: Shall Section 8.09 of the City Charter be amended to require two authorized signatures, one must be either the City Manager or Finance Director, for checks, vouchers, warrants or withdrawal of funds from city depositories? For: 614 (89%); Against 78 (11%).

Prop. 9: Shall Section 8.11 (e) of the City Charter be added so that any issuance of debt not have a repayment period greater than the life of the asset(s) being funded? For: 606 (88%); Against: 87 (12%).

Prop 10: Shall Section 8.11 (f) of the City Charter be added so that any issuance of debt or instrument of obligation exceeding 5% of the annual assessed valuation of the city shall only be issued with a binding referendum being placed on the ballot and such expenditure approved by the voters? For: 576 (84%); Against: 106 (16%).

Prop 11: Shall Section 13.10 of the City Charter be added so that all meetings, hearings and workshops of the Council, any Board, Commission or Committee of the City shall comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act and shall provide a time for public comment? For: 656 (93%); Against: 51 (7%).

Giant Goodwill store planned next to Wal-Mart

The Planning & Zoning Commission will be asked Tuesday evening to grant a conditional use permit that will pave the way for the construction of a 30,000-square foot Goodwill Industries store at 901 Seton Parkway, basically just east of the Wal-Mart store on Kyle Parkway.

This is the same project that recently asked for and received from P&Z a request for an extension of the city’s cul-de-sac length limitations

Goodwill retail stores, as most know, fund the operations of Goodwill Industries, a nonprofit 501(C)(3) organization that provides job training, employment placement services, and other community-based programs for people who have disabilities. In 2014, the last yea figures were available, Goodwill organizations generated $5.37 billion in revenue, 83 percent of which was spent directly on programs. In that time, the group created 89 million jobs.

Goodwill was started in Boston in 1902 by Methodist Rev. Edgar J. Helms, who, together with his congregation at Morgan Methodist Church, collected used household goods and clothing that was discarded in the wealthiest sections of the city, then hired unemployed workers to repair or mend them. Those products were then redistributed to those in need.

I’m guessing the permit request will be granted without much controversy.

Another item on the commission’s agenda might face a more contentious discussion, however.That’s one seeking the rezoning of a five-acre plot at 245 Lehman, just north of RR 150, from agricultural to warehouse. I’m not sure what the applicant wants to do at this location, which currently houses one residence and two other buildings. The accompanying materials only say the applicant wants "to provide locations for outlets offering goods and services to a targeted segment of the general public as well as industrial users," which could mean just about anything.

Here’s the Rub: 60 percent of the lot is located in the 100-year floodplain of the Elliot Branch. Another problem is the Comprehensive Plan which has labeled this area as a Regional Node, where warehouse zoning is not recommended, even conditionally. According to the Comprehensive Plan, Regional Nodes "should provide a mixture of uses that complements regional commercial activity, as well as encourage high intensity residential development." In other words, this would be a perfect area for mixed use developments, according to the Comprehensive Plan. Currently, Kyle does not offer any kind of mixed-use specific zoning, but I’m expecting that to change soon.

But that floodplain location presents a definite deterrent.

The complete agenda for Tuesday’s meeting can be found here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Kyle expands by 50 percent, Mayor wants city to take over wrecker services

According to official City figures, Kyle’s geographical footprint is 20.36 square miles. Last night, by a 5-1 vote (council member Diane Hervol dissenting and council member Becky Selbera was absent) the City Council approved on second reading an ordinance annexing 6,517 acres into the city. Using the conversation rate of 640 acres to a square mile, that’s 10.267 square miles annexed which has the effect of increasing the size of the city by a whopping 50 percent. Not only that, this is prime property, encompassing both sides of the Blanco River, that is not only ripe for development but on which major developmental projects — commercial as well as residential — are already underway, even if some are only at the conceptual stage at the moment.

The annexation was okayed following the approval, by a 4-2 vote, of two complex development agreements and, by a 5-1 vote, a third "interim" agreement. Both Hervol and council member Daphne Tenorio cast "nay" votes on the first two agreements. Tenorio voted in favor of the third one, but, she told me after the meeting, that was only because it was an "interim" agreement and she’ll have the opportunity to vote again when the final agreement is reached. Others on the council said a second vote won’t be necessary, but they seem to be mistaken, at least according to the city’s staff.

"The interim development agreement between the city and Blanco Ranch Properties LP is a binding legal development agreement which stipulates that additional terms are still being negotiated," city spokesperson Kim Hilsenbeck told me today. "In essence, it is the first of a two-part agreement, with the final agreement simply augmenting the first. Both parties will continue to negotiate in good faith and come to a final agreement, which would then come back to Kyle City Council for a vote."

Hervol and Tenorio objected to the development agreements because, they maintained, they only received the voluminous documents right before the vote and hadn’t had time to study them, which, in Hervol’s case, was a touch hypocritical because earlier in the meeting she asked the council to approve a stop sign ordinance for the Amberwood subdivision which she changed radically (by changing the location of most of the stop signs) seconds before the vote, thus denying her colleagues the opportunity to study the necessity and the ramifications of those changes.

Prior to this discussion and after hearing the owner of one particular wrecking company grousing about being deliberately excluded from a meeting she actually attended, Mayor Todd Webster surprised everyone in the chambers by suggesting the City assume control of its wrecker needs and create its own auto pound, the proceeds of which could also be used to fund an in-house small-vehicle maintenance department. After the initial shock of the suggestion wore off, the majority of the council appeared to like the idea and, as part of passing, on second reading, amendments to the current wrecker ordinance, instructed the city’s staff to look into the feasibility of such a takeover. I’m guessing there’s a good chance such an idea could be a part of the City’s FY 2016-17 budget. It makes sense because currently, to cite just one example, the City has to send its police cars out to a privately owned garage every time one of them needs a tuneup or an oil change. It would be a significant taxpayer savings if those and similar chores could be performed in-house.

Following a one-hour, 18-minute executive session during which, presumably, the city attorney briefed the council members ad nauseam about the terms of the annexation development agreements, Assistant City Manager James Earp, who led the negotiations on most of the agreements, explained them publicly.

"We have looked at preserving certain rights and privileges afforded to the property owner prior to annexation," City Manager Scott Sellers said, launching into a description of the first development agreement between the City and Blanco River Investments LTD, Miriam McCoy and Robert Scott Nance. "For example, there are certain special exemptions that this property would receive, such as hunting, firearms, burning and other grandfathered uses. The term of the annexation would be based upon development. There are certain phases of development."

Sellers then asked Earp to continue.

The first agreement, Earp said, "is a 20-year term on the agreement, with two renewal periods. The first renewal period is an additional 15 years and the second renewal period is10 years. That totals 45 years which is the amount allowed by state law. The entitlements for development standards are included in the development agreement. They are entitling a base R-1-2 zoning and specifying 70 acres specific for multi-family and 162 acres for commercial and they’ve included their variances from the development code. Those variances have been reviewed by planning staff and negotiated with them and ultimately accepted by planning staff. Included in the agreement is a five-year freeze on fees and that five-year freeze occurs at the execution date. At the end of five years the fees re-set to the prevailing rate and those rates lock in for another five years. So, for every five years, their fees lock into whatever the prevailing rates are. They’ve included park land. They will include park land dedication and they will agree to pay the park land fees that are established to date, which is $600 for park land dedication and $600 for park land improvements per lot. They have requested a partial recovery of impact fees which would be credited to them for any utilities that require over-sizing by the City’s request. In other words, they have to assume 100 percent of the costs to put in the utilities for their development, but if the City should require the oversize of that utility, they would be eligible to recover the incremental difference. They request a 380 sales tax rebate for the commercial property. Their exposure for commercial property is mostly limited to the (Highway) 150 realignment and they’ve requested that be a 10-year term on the commercial property at 90 percent rebate for years one through four, a 70 percent rebate for years five through eight, and a 50 percent rebate for years nine and 10. That is on the city’s 1 percent sales tax it would collect in the area for the commercial property and again is limited to the 162 acres of commercial that they’ve identified. They currently have several homestead residences that are on the property so they’ve asked for a 10-year window whereby they would receive 100 percent rebate of the city’s property tax on their current homesteads as if they had not been annexed. For commercial property they’re asking for 75 percent property tax rebate for 10 years as the commercial comes on-line. The development agreement also requests a 100 percent city rollback tax for a 10-year window. They have the ability to form a PID in the future. They are entitling 8,200 LUEs. Their total acreage roughly is 3,203 acres. They have included provisions for a property owners association/homeowners association. And that gives an overall density of the project of 2.56 units per acre."

Earp said because the total commercial was only 162 acres, the potential sales tax loss to the city would be "fairly negligible." Earp also added "I am aware that the ESD has mentioned here in public session that they are looking to petition for the additional sales tax that’s available. If the properties don’t annex, then the city would never collect any sales tax on that property from now on without a separate agreement with the ESD. So this is a 10-year rebate to them for commercial development which is line with our other economic development incentives."

The terms of the second agreement, between the City and Robert Scott Nance, Jason Bradshaw and Joel Bradshaw, Earp said, were almost identical to the previously outlined one "because both the McCoy and the Nance family from the very beginning came with a unified front and a unified vision for what they wanted their properties to look like. And they did a lot of the planning together. They did use different attorneys and (thus) have different agreements."

One of the differences, Earp said, is the owners involved in the second agreement did not specify the acreage "that would be set aside for the different commercial and multi-family portions." They did, however, designate a specific area to be developed into a park, a 15-acre tract along the Blanco River, plus an additional 30-acre park as well as hike-and-bike trails that would connect the two parks. The 380 agreement was slightly different as well — 75 percent rebate for years one through five and a 25 percent rebate years six through 10.

"Their property has the potential for a bridge to be built across the Blanco River that would serve the west side of the Blanco River," Earp said. "That’s a huge capital expenditure for any individual developer to try to tackle. So they’ve asked for the potential for government participation in that expenditure, the vision being the bridge would then serve as a regional asset to those folks living on the other side of the river that don’t have a way out whenever the river floods."

They have also asked the City to provide a utility plan "and that the owner reserves the right to build the infrastructure for that utility plan should the City fail to perform," Earp said. If that happens, then the City would be required to reimburse the owner for those expenses.

Sellers led the discussion on the third proposed agreement, one between the City and Blanco River Ranch Properties, that Sellers described as "a little different" from the previously outlined pacts. The developer involved in this agreement "is much closer to development," Sellers said, "has a plan that’s already been put in place and is seeking for very quick turnaround from the Council. As such there were certain financial mechanisms the developer was looking for to assist in the ultimate construction and development of the property. Several options were discussed and it was finally determined that the City would enter into an out-of-city PID arrangement with the developer with the ability to finance certain rough proportional infrastructure improvements back to the City as part of each PID bond issue, These issues would take up to 10 percent of the total PID allotment of the total project — not necessarily 10 percent per issue, but at the end of the day, it could not exceed 10 percent of the PID bonds. Their property is not going to be annexed like the other properties, but rather the City will annex all the commercial portions of the property first. This will allow the residential areas to remain out of the city and be part of the residential PID."

Although Sellers acknowledged this was an interim agreement, he added "The developer has held out if we cannot come to an agreement as we negotiate this final development agreement, then the developer will have the ability to petition for disannexation and the City Council would proceed, in good faith, with disannexation."

On another subject discussed previously during the Council session, Mayor Webster, after listening to wrecker service owners grumble they were not aware of meetings they actually attended and did not have a large enough role in the drafting of the wrecker ordinance amendments, plus hearing one council member fret that the changes to the existing ordinance might cause at least one wrecker company to lose income (a subject I plan to deal with quite forcibly in a separate article), appeared to be fed up with the overall tenor of the debate.

"This entire conversation is backwards." he said. "The longer it has taken place, the less supportive I have become. I want to end this. I don’t understand why we just don’t go into this business for ourselves if all these people are just going to claw each other’s eyes out over whether this person has screwed that company. It feels really dirty to me. All of it. I’m just going to say it. This is the worst example since I’ve been mayor of underhanded, behind-the-scenes lobbying going on.

"This is wrong, what’s going on here," the mayor stated. "On all sides. What this started out two weeks ago was just a cleanup to correct a few problems with (the original ordinance) and now it has been turned into ‘Let’s see how my company can get leverage over another company. Let’s see who we can screw out of the business, who we can keep out of Kyle and who we can keep in.’

"The problem here is we’re not focused on the people that need the service," the mayor said. "We’re not focused on that. Instead, we’re focusing on the people who will be providing the service. And that’s wrong. So, from where I sit, at this point I feel we need to do our own impound lot, get our own tow truck and put ‘em all out of business."

Frankly, his idea has a lot of merit, although it would not put the other wrecker companies out of business because they would still be able to contract with private businesses, apartment complexes, etc., to handle specific needs. They simply would be excluded from dealing with vehicles involved in accidents on public roadways or vehicles impounded at the reuest of the City for other reasons.

One thing that was not mentioned, but I’m positive Police Chief Jeff Barnett would agree with me, that a city-operated impound lot could also help police criminal investigators who need to quickly examine automobiles seized for their possible involvement in criminal activities.

There was a lot of affirmative head-nodding taking place among the Council members to convince me that, at least right at this moment, they are looking favorably at this idea of a City-operated wrecker service and impound lot, the proceeds of which could be used to fund an in-house fleet maintenance department; i.e., the proverbial two birds with one budget item.