The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Economic development project bringing 66 new jobs headed our way?

City manager Scott Sellers told the city council tonight he would like to apply for a $1 million grant that would help lure an economic development project to Kyle that could mean at least 66 new jobs.

The money, Sellers told the council, would be used to extend wastewater service to the site of the development that Sellers described as "an industry looking to relocate to Kyle."

The announcement was part of a Texas Capital Fund Program public hearing at which no one chose to speak.

According to the Capital Fund’s website, a number of the grants it offers are matching grants, although the program under which Sellers will be seeking funds seems to come under the heading of "Infrastructure Development" which, according to the website, "provides grants for infrastructure development to create or retain permanent jobs in primarily rural communities and counties." The word "matching" is notable for its omission in that description.

After the council adjourned its astonishingly short 16-minute session, Sellers said: "It’s a matching by employees, basically. If there’s a certain number of jobs generated, it’s not matching. There has to be a certain number of employees committed and that will be 66. So if this company brings 66 new employees to this area, it’s non-matching."

He said, at the most, there could be a 20 percent matching component (which translates into $200,000 from the city’s pockets based on the $1 million figure), but Sellers said he was working with the company looking to relocate to come up with "creative ways" to keep the city’s monetary contribution at the absolute minimum.

He said the official announcement of the project should come "very soon. You’ll see it."

The only other items on the council’s agenda tonight were:
  • A citizen comments period during which anyone could come and talk about their problems with the proposed budget and/or tax rate but no one did.
  • A first reading on that FY 2016-17 proposed budget that passed 6-1 with council member Daphne Tenorio casting the lone negative vote, which was not completely unexpected. She told me she voted against it because (1) it eliminated transportation subsidies, (2) new positions were created she felt were not needed and (3) she objected to the implementation of a stormwater fee. When I reminded her the stormwater fee would be set later and was not part of the budget, she told me "The city just needs to do a better job of taking care of the infrastructure it has." Later she added: "One of my biggest concerns about the budget is the lack of cushion. Last year we spent as much as we could. This year we did a better job of having some cushion. I just worry we won't have enough in case of a major issue." The city unanimously approved one amendment to the budget that will have absolutely no effect on this year’s revenues or expenditures — to rename placeholder item for the 2020 Capital Improvement Program. That item, Item 31 on page 237 of the budget proposal, was mistakenly labeled "City Square Fountain" for reasons not important enough to take the time to explain. The amendment changed the name of the item to "Splash/Skate Park." Be that as it may, that’s an item that’s four years down the road and who knows what the political makeup of the city council will be in four years or who will be the city’s CEO when 2020 comes around.
  • A first reading of an ordinance, approved unanimously, to lower the tax rate by a penny. The council did acknowledge, however, that even with the reduction in the tax rate property owners’ tax bills will still be considerably higher this year than last because of increased property values coupled with the fact that the one of the eight governmental entities taxing Kyle property owners, Hays CISD, which accounts for 54.3 percent of the total tax bill, is not lowering its tax rate. In addition, the Austin Community College District will be raising its rate slightly ($.0015 per $100 taxable value). It accounts for roughly 3.5 percent of a property owner’s total tax bill.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Personal privilege: A salute to Sellers, Mitchell, Leos

For what it’s worth, I’m taking a moment of personal privilege to salute City Manager Scott Sellers, council member Travis Mitchell and Hays Free Press News Editor Moses Leos for scaling the city’s water tower this morning to give it a good scrubbing and repainting.

This from Mitchell’s Facebook page:

"We washed and painted parts of the iconic Kyle water tower this morning. Full restoration would cost upwards of $200,000. Until money grows on trees, this is our best solution. Shout out to our fantastic City Manager, Scott Sellers, for suggesting this and for leading the city by example. #kyletx"

Leos took the above picture this morning of Mitchell and Sellers on the tower.

Property tax rate to be reduced one cent

It’s official. The property tax rate ordinance that has been prepared for first reading at Wednesday’s city council meeting calls for a tax rate of $.5748 per $100 valuation for Fiscal Year 2016-17, a one-cent reduction from the current rate.

Nominally, that means the owner of a home with an appraised value of $180,000 would pay $18 less in city property taxes this year than last, but because of rising appraised values, most homeowners will still see another increase in their property tax bills.

Those increased valuations are reflected in the fact that the $.5748 proposed rate is 5.59 percent higher than the effective rate, which is the tax-rate level that would garner the same amount of property tax funds as were collected during this budget cycle. In fact, according to the wording in the ordinance, even with the one-cent reduction, a homeowner with property valued at $100,000 will pay $30.41 more in municipal property taxes under the current tax rate.

Of the $.5748, $.2395 will go to fund actual city operations (which is $.0089 more than last year) and the remaining $.3353 will be used to pay off the city’s $95.4 million debt. That shift was made possible because of some nifty bond refinancing during this current fiscal year.

The council is also expected to approve on first reading a FY 2015-16 budget calling for expenditures of $80,386,616 during the course of the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The second reading on both ordinances (the official adoption of the budget and the tax rate)is scheduled to take place during the council's Sept. 6 meeting.

No public hearings are scheduled in connection with either proposed ordinance — public hearings were scheduled on these subjects for Aug, 17 and last Wednesday and, interestingly, no citizen came to speak at them. The regular citizens comments period does precede the actual agenda, however.

There is a public hearing scheduled "to discuss the current plans to file an application for grant funds" under the Texas Capital Fund Program. This fund "Supports rural business development, retention and expansion by providing funds for public infrastructure, real estate development, or the elimination of deteriorated conditions," according to the fund’s website.

An item I believe would be of particular interest for Kyle is the fact that the fund provides matching grants of between $50,000 and $150,000 under an umbrella called "Downtown Revitalization and Main Street Programs." It also awards grants of between $50,000 and $1.5 million "for infrastructure development to create or retain permanent jobs in primarily rural communities and counties."

A complete copy of Wednesday’s agenda is available here.

Stormwater director hints at possible HOA dues reductions, confirms fees won’t start until 2017

Stormwater Utility Director Kathy Roecker said today representatives from two different homeowners associations have approached her and volunteered the idea of reducing their HOA dues should the city assume control over all stormwater facilities and implement a fee to finance the activity.

The motivation for such fee reduction is obvious: HOAs would no longer have the financial obligation to maintain stormwater/drainage facilities within their grounds should the city take over the city’s drainage/floodwater mitigation responsibilities, a takeover that seems not only highly probable, but imminent.

"I reached out to about half a dozen HOAs in June to introduce myself, my position and the possibility of establishing a drainage utility," Roecker told me today via e-mail.. "During that time, an HOA representative mentioned the idea of lowering their dues if the utility (and subsequent fee) is passed by Kyle City Council. Wednesday night at the council meeting, another HOA talked to me about reducing dues if the utility passes. Of course, the lowering of HOA dues is at the sole discretion of the HOAs and is not connected to the city."

Roecker said residents who are paying HOA dues should contact their respective HOA boards to discuss reducing dues as a result of the city’s stormwater facilities takeover and subsequent fee implementation. The residential fee currently being discussed is $5 a month.

She also cautioned that "Neither of the two HOAs who talked to me about lowering their dues have committed to do so. The city is not requesting commitments; the lowering of HOA dues is at the sole discretion of the HOAs."

She also agreed with my earlier timetable that the earliest the city council could consider a stormwater fee schedule would be Oct. 4, but she also reminded me that the Oct. 4 council meeting has been cancelled because of conflicts with Texas Municipal League meetings and a National Night Out scheduled for that week.

She then confirmed "If council approves the utility, the city is looking at levying the fee in early 2017."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

City to create stormwater utility in 13 days but fees may not be imposed until next year

The city council finished tinkering with the city manager’s proposed budget tonight, adding a provision to start a process toward creating a veterans’ memorial in Kyle but leaving intact the provision to create a much-needed stormwater utility. A stormwater fee schedule, however, still has to clear a couple of hurdles and at least one council member said tonight it may not begin to be included in homeowners’ water bills until the beginning of 2017.

All that’s left, in terms of approving the budget and the accompanying tax rate, is for the city’s ordinance writers to take City Manager Scott Sellers’s proposed budget, adjust it according to the amendments made tonight and a week ago tonight by individual council members, and put it in the form of an ordinance or two. That (those) ordinance(s) will have a first reading a week from tonight and a second and final reading Tuesday, Sept. 6.

The creation of the stormwater utility was part of Sellers’s original proposal and although the council talked about the fees that will be required to pay for it, those fees will not be a part of the ordinance(s) to be enacted during the next 13 days.

"The fee will not be set per the fee schedule in this budget," Sellers told the council tonight. "When a stormwater utility is set by state statute it has to go through certain notification and public hearing requirements. So the council gives direction to staff to begin that process and that could be tonight. We will also have other opportunities to have those hearings and the final adoption on that fee will come by an ordinance."

Stormwater guru Kathy Roecker, whose title will change officially from "guru" to "director" when the budget kicks in Oct. 1 (although I may choose to continue to refer to her as "guru" simply because Webster proclaims that word should apply to "an acknowledged advocate."), provided the council with a more specific timetable.

""At least 30 days prior, the city must publish in the paper the first notice of a public hearing to consider the adoption of a proposed rate charge," she said. "After the first public notice, the city must publish two additional newspaper notices prior to the hearing, but not necessarily 30 days as with the first notice. The public notices must contain the time/place of the hearing and contain the complete text of the proposed charge."

That means the earliest the notice could be published in the Hays Free Press would be in its Sept. 1 edition, which translates into the first public hearing being held in October, presumably at the council’s Oct. 4 meeting. Whether that Oct. 4 meeting would contain a public hearing on the actual proposed ordinance for the fee is debatable, but, giving the benefit of the doubt that it does, that means the second reading would come Oct. 18 . I would imagine the ordinance may provide at least a 60-day grace/education period, meaning the fees would start being imposed in January, 2017. I mentioned that schedule to one council person who preferred to remain unidentified and than council member told me early 2017 was probably a fairly accurate guestimate.

It’s also fairly certain that the ordinance that will come before the council next Wednesday will contain a tax rate that’s a penny lower than the current rate of $.5848 per $100 valuation, which might come as a shock to those who complained tonight during citizens comments that they were being "priced out of their homes." If that is indeed the case it’s because the value of their property has increased (which a savvy investor would argue is a good thing), but not because of higher tax rates. And there is little doubt that property values in this area are appreciating rapidly.

In fact, because of higher than anticipated property valuations, the city discovered last week it had $518,500 more available to them than originally anticipated. Through a series of amendments from individual council members last week, that amount was whittled down to $63,500. Council member David Wilson originally proposed to take $25,000 of that toward the seed funding of a process that would lead to the creation of a Veterans Memorial somewhere in Kyle. Mayor Todd Webster initially objected to the idea, not because he was opposed to the memorial, but because the money would sit encumbered without being used at all until the next fiscal year at the earliest.

But Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley offered to amend a proposal he made last week which was to take $25,000 from that original $518,500 to fund a rescue boat for the Kyle Fire Department. Fogley said he discovered during the course of this past week that the actual cost of the boat was $15,000 and the other $10,000 was to be used to pay for training. As a policy, the council has approved capital expenditures for the Kyle Fire Department, but not operating expenses since KFD technically is not a part of city government. So initially, Fogley offered to reduce his rescue boat amendment by $10,000 and give those funds to Wilson to add more money for the memorial. Instead, hearing what Webster said about encumbered funds that are not used during the course of the fiscal year, Wilson just decided to ask for Fogley’s $10,000 to be set aside.

"I was listening to you," Wilson told the mayor, "but this $10,000 is an important placeholder and we will generate private funds to supplement that."

Wilson’s proposal was approved 5-2. Council member Daphne Tenorio said she voted against it because Wilson’s idea was still in the concept stage and she wanted to see a concrete proposal before she would vote for it. Council member Travis Mitchell voted against it, as he voted against all the amendments that took money from this fund, because he wanted to keep it as "a buffer" in case sales taxes fell as far below expectations during the upcoming fiscal year as they have this year.

For the second week in a row, no one appeared to speak during the public hearings on the budget or the tax rate, although six persons addressed these items, at least peripherally, during citizens comments. Of the six, only two observed the three-minute limit that’s supposed to be imposed on speakers during this period and two of the six speakers, Dave Douglas and Kay Rush (who was absolutely clueless about how festivals and monument signs are being funded in the budget), hogged the speaker’s podium for more than five minutes each.

On the positive side, this was only a five-item agenda and so the entire meeting only took an hour and 46 minutes and that included a 31-minute executive session.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

P&Z reviews pending landscape ordinance revisions

Six the seven Planning & Zoning commissioners (Lori Huey apparently was on vacation in Florida) along with Development Director Howard Koontz and three "onlookers" sat around the table in the Minerva Falcon Conference Room at City Hall tonight to ponder the latest reiteration of the changes being proposed to the city’s landscape ordinances, changes that the commission is scheduled to vote on Sept. 13.

This was the first time the commission has discussed this pending ordinance in nearly a year and since then several new commissioners have joined.

"We made quite a few changes to areas basically where we identified problems," chair Michael Rubsam said, directing his remarks, in large part, to those new members who were getting their first exposure to the proposal that has been under discussion, I’m told, for nearly three years. "A lot of variances come through. Primary among them was the diameter of the trees when they are freshly planted. The four-inch trees are not typically stocked (by sellers) very well. They’re much more expensive than smaller trees and their survival rate really isn’t that good overall. So we knocked that down from four inches to three inches. We’ve changed the way we measure them and where they’re located, the density, the overall numbers. What we’re really trying to do is simplify (the existing ordinance). It was done this way deliberately, initially, to raise the bar very high because it’s better to ask for as much as you want and grant variances to work your way down."

Koontz told the commissioners the revisions change the way the city looks at landscaping for new developments.

"One thing that we’ve gotten closer toward is incentivizing keeping trees on an undeveloped site," Koontz said, "rather than moonscaping the site and replanting new landscaping. You can actually go through and design with the site, move your building around, move your parking areas around to keep mature trees there and protect them during and after construction. You’ll have a nicer property when you’re done."

Koontz did, however, caution the commissioners by telling them "One thing that’s really important to point out about this entire landscape ordinance is the tree ordinance and the landscape ordinance only has applicability when somebody pulls a permit to do something. You have to have some sort of other type of development permit. You have to be installing a parking lot, building a building or putting in stormwater management — something to that effect. If you’re just Target and you have more trees than you need, you can cut down the trees that you don’t need. We don’t have a tree preservation ordinance. Nor do we have a specimen tree ordinance or anything like that."

During tonight’s two hour and five minute workshop the commissioners recommended only minor word changes and additions, but nothing that substantially altered any of the changes on which the commissioners had previously agreed.

The agenda during which the commission will consider whether to recommend the changes, as presented tonight, to the city council for adoption, will also contain a proposal for an ordinance that attempts to regulate the percentage of a homeowner’ property, other than the actual house itself, that is covered with an impervious surface.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Numbers to keep in mind for Wednesday’s city council hearings on budget, tax rate

The City Council will hold the second and final public hearings on the proposed budget and accompanying property tax rate at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Last week, no one showed up to speak at the first public hearings. Hopefully, ,more will make their voices known this week in a forum where it matters and less on Facebook, a forum where it doesn’t. In anticipation of the realization of that optimistic prediction, here are some numbers to keep in mind for citizens who do decide to make their thoughts known to the decision-makers.

$.5848 per $100 valuation: The current property tax rate and the amount the council has already established as the maximum rate it will impose this year. In other words, any pleas to make the rate higher will be met, publicly, with deaf ears and, privately, with disdain and utter disbelief.

$.5748 per $100 valuation: The tax rate City Manager Scott Sellers has proposed for this year and the rate I’m betting the council will agree to no later than Aug. 31.

$.2395 per $100 valuation: The amount of the overall property tax collected that actually goes to running the city and the only amount that is available to be adjusted. The remaining $.3353 goes to paying off the city’s debt and that amount is untouchable.

$.5444 per $100 valuation: Commonly referred to as the effective tax rate, but what it means is this is the property tax rate the council could set to bring in the same amount of property tax revenues as the city collected this year. For the homeowner it means this is the maximum tax rate that could be set to keep you from having a higher property tax bill next year than you did this year.

$200,000: The amount each penny of the property tax rate provides to the city. The council must pass what, on paper, is a balanced budget. That means if you want to advocate reducing the tax rate, you must also be prepared to recommend exactly what you want to remove from the budget to re-balance it,; i.e., if you want the rate reduced by a half-cent, you must find $100,000 in expenditures you suggest should be removed from the list of proposed expenditures for the next fiscal year.

$5 Stormwater Fee: The monthly amount that will be added to a residential property owner’s water bill to fund a newly created and much needed stormwater utility. It was originally planned for $3 a month, but the council upped it by $2 at its meeting last Wednesday to ensure the utility was funded properly to get the job done. To put this in context, this $5 amount is far less than the monthly fee most homeowners pay for wastewater but just as important, and astronomically less than most commercial property owners will be paying (city stormwater guru Kathy Roecker estimates, for example, Wal-Mart’s monthly stormwater bill will be more than $1,100 a month). There is a misconception that this is strictly a flood-prevention program. It is far more than that; it manages both the quality and the quantity of all water runoff (including that toxic water that flows into the stormwater system when a person washes their car outside their home or decides to change the oil in their motor vehicle themselves and then dumps the old oil into the storm drains) as well as the functionality of all the stormwater drains and channels.

$722,983: The amount the extra $2 is expected to produce for the stormwater utility.

$518,500: The increase in revenue to the city’s General Fund over what was originally forecast, based on the certified property valuations. That amount was increased by $10,000 by the council’s decision last week to eliminate funding for public transportation services, but was decreased by (1) $25,000 to purchase a rescue boat for the fire department; (2) $20,000 to fund a Community Health Support Program; (3) $200,000 for police pay parity; (4) $100,000 for non civil service employees pay parity; (2) $120,000 to pay for two new wastewater maintenance technicians.

$63,500: What’s left of that $518,500 that citizens can draw on for additional expenditures without having to adjust income levels.

.5716 per $100 valuation: What I calculate the property tax rate could set at to eliminate that extra $63,500. However, for a home with a $150,000 valuation, this reduction would only reduce the annual tax bill by $4.76. It's probably worth that to keep that money in reserve.

20.6 percent: The amount of a property owner’s tax bill that goes to the City of Kyle. The rest of it goes to other taxing authorities (i.e., 14.9 percent to Hays County, 3.5 percent to both the Austin Community College District and Hays County ESD #5, and the lion’s share, a whopping 54.3 percent, to the Hays Consolidated Independent School District).

3: The maximum number of minutes allowed for each person to make comments during a public hearing. It's the smart choice to be courteous to others in the chambers and respectful of others wishing to speak by not exceeding the three-minute limit. And remember, anyone who does go over that three minute maximum usually comes across as a blowhard, a demagogue and/or a complete idiot. A helpful tip: Don't ramble. Don't speak off-the-cuff. Plan your remarks ahead of the meeting, even going so far as to prepare a script. Then time it. If it takes longer than three minutes, find places to trim it. If you honestly believe you have so much vital information and it takes longer than three minutes to impart it, then shortly before the three-minute time limit expires, give a copy of your prepared remarks to the city secretary and ask the council to approve a motion to make those remarks a permanent part of the record (i.e., the minutes) of the meeting.

$0.00: The amount of money in the budget allocated for anything having to do with roundabouts. That means any comments about roundabouts during this public hearing are totally irrelevant and should be stopped by the chair as soon as they are started. Don't waste everyone else's time and come across as a fool by bringing up the subject of roundabouts at these public hearings on the budget or the tax rate.

Here is the complete agenda for Wednesday’s council meeting.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

City’s sales tax woes worsen as council obliterates plan to prevent it happening again


That’s the only adequate word to describe Kyle’s August sales tax collections which were an astronomical $108,382.52 below projections. That means, on the books, the city faces a budget deficit of at least $226,229.22 for the year. That’s equivalent to a tad more than one cent of the property tax rate; i.e., the city would have to increase its property tax by $.01 per $100 valuation to cover this deficit. It also means that August alone contributed roughly 49 percent of that total deficit, which is why I referred to August’s collections as a "disaster."

Here’s the problem. Sales tax forecasts are not based on increased per capita spending, but on more people spending roughly that same per capita amount. Sales tax revenues are down because (1) the city’s population obviously didn’t grow (other than by annexation which doesn’t count because those consumers being annexed were already spending sales tax dollars here anyway) as much as anticipated, and (2) the city didn’t attract enough visitors willing to spend sales tax dollars here over an extended period of time (which is the principle reason City Manager Scott Sellers has wanted to make Kyle "a destination city.")

Also parenthetically, that is why I have opposed all these grandiose schemes for new highways designed to expedite motorists’ trips through and around Kyle. I don’t want plans to get people through Kyle, I want to see plans to get people to Kyle.

Council member Travis Mitchell also expressed alarm about this deficit during the city council’s July 30 budget workshop. He actually talked about reducing the sales tax forecasts for the upcoming fiscal year by as much as $200,000, which wouldn’t obviously cover this year’s shortfall (unless the city miraculously experiences a major rebound in the one month left in the fiscal year), but then next year’s forecast are not as optimistic as this year’s.

But then a miracle did come along. The cavalry (disguised as the Hays Central Appraisal District) rode to the rescue by releasing its certified tax rolls that were much higher than anticipated. So much higher, in fact, the city would be collecting $518,000 more than anticipated in revenue from property taxes even by lowering the current rate a penny. What Sellers proposed to do with that money was to use $200,000 towards higher police pay to put the Kyle Police Department pay scale near parity with surrounding police departments, use $118,000 to increase the pay of non-civil service employees and the remaining $200,000 as a cushion against possible future sales tax deficits.

It was obvious from watching the reactions on the dais at last night’s council meeting that Mitchell loved the idea. But then council members began chipping away at the $200,000, finding other things to spend that money on and with every chip, I could see Mitchell’s smile reduced a notch until, by the end of the evening, there was roughly only $45,000 left in that pot or enough to cover a mere 41.5 percent of one month’s — this month’s — shortfall.

The good news is sales tax collections are 12.4 percent higher so far this fiscal year than at the exact same time last year. The bad news is the budget projected them to be 15.6 percent higher. That 12.4 percent figure is actually rather healthy, from my point of view, but the 15.6 percent projection was simply overly optimistic. It was obviously based on a major influx of new residents that never occurred, Sellers’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year projects a 13 percent increase in sales tax revenues over this year’s. Personally, I would view that 13 percent number with a degree of skepticism, but it is far more realistic than that 15.6 percent projection.

Council votes to increase proposed stormwater fee, raise police pay, eliminate transportation subsidies

At the end of the council’s nearly two-hour discussion Wednesday night on changes individual council members wanted to make to City Manager Scott Sellers’s proposed budget, Mayor Todd Webster congratulated Sellers on the document he put forward.

Webster told Sellers this was a more difficult budget to amend "because you guys did such a goof job of paring it down. There weren’t any big targets out there, things that we didn’t need. I recognized that sitting there watching us mess around with the edges of your budget might not be the most comfortable thing but I really think you did a nice job and your staff did a nice job. You could see that this budget was really well thought out."

Apparently the rest of the city agreed with the mayor on this because Wednesday night’s meeting was the first of two opportunities for citizens to come before the council to vent about how their tax funds are being spent and whether they are receiving the proper amount of city services for the tax money they must shell out each year — this was the open invitation for any citizen to come before the council and proclaim "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!!!!" — and you know what happened? Not a soul showed up. No one. There were two public hearings scheduled on the agenda. The first one offered citizens the opportunity to say anything they wanted to say about the budget, about the idea of creating a stormwater utility along with a proposed fee to pay for it, about whether a penny should be added to the city manager’s proposed tax rate to align the city’s police pay scale with surrounding communities, whether to keep subsidizing rides on Buda Taxi. The second one offered the citizens the opportunity to say anything about the proposed property tax rate — higher, lower, stay where it is — anything at all. But no one came. This signals either (a) a completely satisfied community or (b) a completely disengaged community. I’m not going to argue which, at least not at this time.

Of course, there’s another opportunity to collect citizen imput on these matters some may find important. Two more public hearings — just like these — are scheduled for next Wednesday’s City Council meeting. It will be interesting to see how many, if any, citizens show up just to talk about the changes the council made to the budget at this meeting.

One thing I don’t expect to change, however, and that’s the city manager’s recommendation to set the tax rate at $.5748 per $100 valuation, a penny less than the current rate. The last time the council met to discuss the budget was July 30 at a workshop designed just for that purpose. At that time, however, the Hays County Appraisal District had not released its certified tax rolls. So the city was putting forth educated guesses on how much revenue a $.5748 tax rate would produce. The Kyle Police Association argued it was not high enough for its members to achieve pay parity with surrounding police forces and asked that the tax rate be kept at $.5848 with the extra $200,000 that one-cent increase would produce be devoted to police pay parity.

Now, however, the city has those certified roles and the property appraisals exceeded their most grandiose expectations. In fact, lowering the rate a penny to $.5748 would produce $518,000 more than the original forecasts. So, Sellers suggested, the council could take $200,000 of that for the parity the police were asking for, another $118,000 for provide pay increases for workers not covered by civil service and still have a nice $200,000 to tuck away for that proverbial rainy day. But as everyone has no doubt noticed, we’ve been having those rainy days this week, so the council found ways to spend most of that $200,000 between the rainstorms on Wednesday. Council member Shane Arabie asked for half of that amount fo pay for two additional wastewater employees and Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley got his wish for $25,000 to pay for a rescue boat for the Fire Department.

Other than police pay, the most noteworthy budget amendments were one from council member Travis Mitchell to raise the proposed stormwater fees paid by homeowners from $3 to $5 a month and one from Webster to eliminate the city’s subsidizing of taxi services. Mitchell’s proposal passed 6-1 with only council member Daphne Tenorio voting against, which seemed to be a 180-degree turn from what she was saying on this same subject during the July 30 budget workshop. The vote to eliminate the taxi subsidies was 5-2 with Fogley joining Tenorio in favor of maintaining the subsidies. The important thing to remember here is that taxi service from Buda Taxi will still be available to citizens of Kyle (as are other ride-sharing options). The only difference is the city won’t be subsidizing the service, meaning those using Buda Taxi could be subject to higher fares.

Webster said normally he wouldn’t quibble about a program that’s only going to cost the city $10,000 during the upcoming fiscal year ($50,000 was allocated for it currently) "but there’s definitely been sabers being rattled about lawsuits related to that program and a program that essentially only serves eight people I’m not willing to expose the city to litigation over it. It’s less about the $10,000, but more about we’re doing something that’s walking us down a path that’s going to get us into some trouble."

No one really mentioned the over-arching problem with this program. Municipally subsidized public transportation programs have one — only one — primary goal: to provide a transportation option for citizens to travel from their place of residence to their place of employment and then back to their place of residence. Sure, other riders use it for other purposes, but that goal – getting people to and from work – is the primary reason for a municipality providing a public mass transportation option. That’s why there are well-established formulas to determine whether a city actually needs mass transportation and those formulas are based on two factors: residential density and job density. And, to be honest, Kyle meets neither of those two criteria. And none of the up to eight total users of the city’s subsidized service was using it to get to and from work. They were using it for shopping or to go to a medical provider. Not that either of those reasons are trivial to the person needing them, but they do not meet the standard of providing taxpayer subsidized service.

In other action Wednesday night:
  • The fire chief, albeit unwittingly, asked the council do something illegal and that’s take sides on a matter going before the electorate. The chief asked the council to pass a resolution encouraging a "yes" vote to create an EMS district. City Councils are not even allowed to pass resolutions encouraging "yes" votes on their own bond proposals.
  • The council approved a development agreement with the Walton Group for a proposed, predominantly residential, development just southeast of the Kyle City Limits on Ranch Road 150 called Pecan Woods. The council also approved the creation of a PID for the project so that bonds could be sold to repay the developers for their infrastructure investment. Arabie voted against both measures because the developers failed to assure him the development would actually happen. Tenorio also voted against, but she has vowed never to vote in favor of a PID until ice skating becomes a regular feature on Plum Creek in August. And maybe, not even then.
  • Reconsidered a decision, that was voted down 3-2 at the last council meeting, to join the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition because two council members were absent at that meeting. Those two council members split on their vote Wednesday night and, as a result, this time the vote was 4-3 not to join. It appeared to me going into the debate that Fogley was in favor of joining, but wound up voting against. I didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to ask him why — or even if he actually did — change his mind, but if he did, I’m guessing it had a lot to do with Sellers’s revelation that the deadline had passed between the last council meeting and this one for applying for a grant that city had a slim chance of obtaining had they joined the coalition.
  • Sellers told the council that Kyle Field Days, originally scheduled for next month, will be delayed until spring, mainly because the city’s special events guru has left the city and a replacement has yet to be hired. This postponement, Sellers said, "will give us a little more time to work on it as well as advertise appropriately. The other evens that are being planned (presumably Hogwash) are being planned well. We’re seeing good numbers for those right now, but Kyle Field Day, which is coming up pretty quickly, we’re not."
  • Sellers also told the council "We are systematically upgrading our street signs throughout the city, starting with Center Street. So, if you noticed, as you drove in, instead of the typical green sign, you will see a very sharp red and blue sign. It’s attractive. We’re going to try to match our wayfinding and adopt-a-street signage after the same color scheme. We may even look at doing some backlit signage on some of our signal-light intersections, trying to preserve the same color scheme. A little bit of branding and it looks sharp."

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Clean Air Coalition and the legacy of P.T. Barnum

If you heard the words "There’s a sucker born every minute," the first person you’d probably think of is P.T. Barnum, the American showman of the last half of the 19th century known for his celebrated hoaxes and as the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Which is a shame, because there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that Barnum ever uttered those words. In fact, according to Barnum biographer Arthur H. Saxon "There's no contemporary account of it, or even any suggestion that the word 'sucker' was used in the derogatory sense in his day. Barnum was just not the type to disparage his patrons."

The first account I came across of anyone using this term was when I read Herbert Asbury’s book Gem of the Prairie: Underworld. In the book Asbury describes a time in the late 1860s when saloon/gambling house proprietor and Chicago politician Michael Cassius McDonald was equipping his latest gambling establishment, known simply as "The Store," and his partner, Harry Lawrence, expressed concern about all the roulette tables McDonald was putting in the place. Lawrence felt there might not be enough gamblers willing to come to The Store to play at all them. According to Asbury, McDonald told Lawrence "Don't worry about that, there's a sucker born every minute."

What’s important, I guess, is the veracity of the statement, not especially who it is attributed to.

I was reminded of that — the statement’s veracity — when I looked over Wednesday’s City Council Agenda and noticed that council member Travis Mitchell was bringing back the idea of the city joining CAPCOG’s Clean Air Coalition, a move that was defeated at the last council session Aug. 2.

Hey, I have absolutely nothing against the Clean Air Coalition but to anyone who thinks, for even one second, that group will accomplish one single thing to significantly improve air quality in the area, here’s my response:

"Don't worry about that, there's a sucker born every minute."

The original push for joining the Clean Air Coalition came from those citizens concerned about the possibility of a giant truck stop being located at I-35 and Yarrington Road, as though the coalition could actually do anything to prevent the construction of that facility. But I’m guessing the reasoning behind the push was if the city was a member of the coalition and the coalition went on record as saying such a truck stop would have had a detrimental effect on air quality in that area (which the coalition wouldn’t have) it would make it more difficult for the city, as a member of the coalition, to push for the truck stop construction.

Hey,as crazy as that sounds, there are those whose minds actually work that way.

There is only one way any local entity or coalition of local entities can significantly reduce vehicular air pollution and that is to significantly reduce the number of vehicles causing that pollution from the roadways. And the Clean Air Coalition is not focusing any of its energies into reducing the number of vehicles on our region’s roads. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

Not only that, but mandates enacted by the EPA have done more than any local coalition could envision accomplishing, by forcing automobile manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient vehicles for our nation’s highways. EPA mandates alone resulted in the Dallas-Fort Worth area being removed recently from non-attainment status.

Is there more that could be done? Certainly, but Kyle wouldn’t have to join the Clean Air Coalition to accomplish them. For example, if it was serious about air quality, the city would put forth a policy requiring its entire motorized fleet to be composed of CNG vehicles. It could mandate that any city owned/operated facility currently under consideration be LEEDs certified and it would mandate LEEDs certification standards on all developments within the city’s jurisdiction.

However, is there a real downside to joining the coalition? Not really, as long as no city funds are allocated for membership, no city funds are ever earmarked for the coalition for any purpose and no one expects the coalition to help improve air quality in Kyle.

On the other side of that coin, Is there any upside to joining the coalition? Yes, it’s good PR. It puts the city on record as being on the politically correct side of air quality debate. It’s like one of those resolutions the council routinely passes honoring one or more "fallen heroes." They accomplish nothing in terms of altering the course of human events, but it gives council members an opportunity to feel really good about themselves. It puts them on record as being on the side of "the good guys."

Council to consider proposed Pecan Woods Development Agreement, PID

After months of what I’ve heard were intense negotiations, the City is scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to approve a development agreement with the Walton Group, a multinational privately owned real estate investment and development group, on the development of 763 acres known as Pecan Woods, most of it southeast of the city limits along Ranch Road 150, and to create a $60 million PID for the project.

The boundaries of the proposed development are approximately Heidenreich Road, Ranch Road 150, Grist Mill Road and an imaginary line extending from Simon Middle School on RR 150 over to Grist Mill Road.

The PID bonds, which will have a 20-year shelf life, will be repaid by levies assessed against property owners within Pecan Woods. The money collected from the sale of the bonds will be used for streets and sidewalks; water and wastewater facilities; drainage facilities; landscaping and other aesthetics; and park, recreation and cultural facilities.

The bonds are scheduled to be issued in three phrases. This is important because there is one section of the proposed development, at the corner of Heidenreich and 150, that is designated for commercial development. That section will be annexed into the city but the rest of the development — the residential areas — will not only remain in Kyle’s ETJ, but cannot be considered for annexation until 20 years after the issuance of the bonds used to finance them. The first bonds are scheduled for the end of 2020, which means the city could not consider annexing Phase 1 until the end of 2040 at the earliest, at which time, I presume, a city council in place then could evaluate whether the condition of the development’s infrastructure made it an area worth annexing.

What follows are items I selected from the proposed development agreement that I found interesting:
  • The owner of the property agrees to dedicate to the city (at no cost to the city) a one acre site within the project that may be used at the discretion of the city for the construction of a police station. The location of the police site shall be determined by the owner, but will be located off of Heidenreich Lane or Grist Mill Road in a location that would allow the police station to provide its intended services. If construction of the police station is not completed within eight years, instead of being used for police services, the site may be developed consistent with surrounding use.
  • A minimum of 175 acres (approximately 23 percent of the entire project) of parks and open space will be dedicated to the city within Pecan Woods.
  • The owner will pay the city $2 million toward expansion of the wastewater treatment plant within 30 days of: (1) the city approves construction plans associated with the final plat for the Phase One of the project, or (2i) approves a Service and Assessment Plan for the PID bonds, whichever comes last.
  • "The failure or refusal of the city council or any board or commission of city to approve a proposed development permit, utility service extension, or other development approval with respect to Pecan Woods that complies with the terms of this agreement and the city code within a reasonable time after submission of a complete application shall constitute a default." The reason I highlighted this section is because, in the back of my mind, I thought it was illegal for a city council to agree to anything that could bind future city councils. So I asked the attorney general’s office about this and was told AG issued an opinion that distinguished between those actions that are legislative in nature and those that are administrative or propriety. In that opinion, the AG stated: "The hallmark of the first category is the authority of a legislative body to exercise continuing discretion in the setting of legal standards to govern behavior within the jurisdiction. If a contract impairs this "core" legislative discretion, eliminating or substantially reducing the discretion future bodies might exercise, the courts are likely to find that the contract has improperly impaired the legislative authority of future commissioners. By contrast, counties have, and greatly need, authority to enter into contracts and make administrative decisions concerning the management of public property and the day-to-day conduct of government business. A contract that facilitates public administration, and which places no significant constraint on future policy-making is likely to be upheld."
  • Sets aside a minimum 10-acre area at the far southeastern corner of the project adjacent to the flood plain for a community garden. According to the terms of the Development Agreement, "The garden will be dedicated to the City of Kyle Parks Department, but will be the responsibility of the Home Owners Association (HOA) to maintain the facility. On-site parking may be provided, as well as parking on adjacent streets. Facilities may include shade structures, restrooms and picnic tables. It will offer a vibrant and open space for volunteers, students and residents to come together to plant seeds, harvest fruits, vegetables and give the residents of Pecan Woods and surrounding development the opportunity to be happy and healthy without going to the local grocery/convenience store."

Friday, August 12, 2016

Property tax bills likely to skyrocket even if tax rates remain the same

Welcome to Hays County where the ground beneath your feet grows considerably more valuable every single day.

I’m not making this up. A home with a market value of $163,332 (the average for this area) last year increased in value $39.79 a day during this year.

That means (1, the good news) a homeowner’s investment is appreciating nicely, providing a superb return on investment and (2, the perhaps not-so-good news) that homeowner’s tax bill is going to increase dramatically, even if tax rates stay the same (possible worst case scenario) or even go down (somewhat more likely).

Last year, Hays County reduced its tax rate because of increased home valuations and I’m guessing the City of Kyle will reduce its rate, at least by around a half-cent per $100 valuation, this coming fiscal year. However, the Hays Consolidated Independent School District, which consumes 54 percent of your total tax bill whether or not you have school-age children living at home, is planning on leaving its rate right where it is.

That translates into that homeowner with the market value home of $163,332 last year will pay $223.35 more just in school taxes alone this year and see a total tax bill of $4,331.97 (a $411.64 increase) if all the other tax rates remain the same this year.

As I said, "Welcome to Hays County where the ground beneath your feet grows considerably more valuable every single day."

Thursday, August 11, 2016

That pesky rollback tax thing: “Would that it were so simple”

The rollback tax rate was instituted, I’m guessing (I researched the "why" of the rate and came up with nothing) to prevent taxing authorities from raising taxes exorbitantly high every time a new budget was due. If the taxing authority raises the rate above the rollback amount, the citizens could petition for an election during which voters could decide to "roll back the tax rate" to the rollback limit amount. The maximum allowable municipal tax rate increase in Texas right now is 8 percent per year (although a bunch of right wingnuts in the Texas Legislature tried to reduce that to 5 percent three years ago). On the face of it, the rollback rule would seem to limit the City of Kyle, for example, to raise the tax rate no higher than 8 percent over the previous year.

Would that it were so simple.

This year, for example, the maximum tax rate (or, as it is currently referred to, the "proposed tax rate") for Kyle this upcoming fiscal year is $.5848 per $100 valuation. The current tax rate us also $.5848. The rollback rate, however, is $.5797. How is that possible?

First, you have to realize the city’s tax rate is divided into two parts. The first is the so-called M&O (Maintenance and Operation) part which is that percentage of the total property taxes that will be collected that will go to actually paying for city services (salaries, utilities, day-to-day operations). This year that amount was $.2306 or 39 percent of the total tax rate. The second is the I&S (Interest and Sinking) which is that percentage that will be used to pay off the city’s bonded indebtedness. That 8 percent maximum allowable increase applies only to the M&O side of the tax rate equation, which means the city can increase the M&O rate no higher than 8 percent over the rate required to generate the same amount of revenue as the current year. The I&S component is figured out by determining how much will be necessary to pay the city’s debt payments during the next fiscal year. This calculation does not depend at all on the previous year’s payments.

That means, at least to me, the only reason why the rollback rate is below the proposed rate is because the I&S rate this coming year is much lower. But then the question becomes, how did that happen? I guessed it had something to do with the city’s recent and successful bond refinancing efforts, but, to make sure, I posed that very question this morning to Kyle’s superb Finance Director Perwez. This was his reply:

"You are correct, the I&S component of the tax rate did reduce slightly due to all of the bond debt refunding transactions completed as well as for the net change in the assessed taxable valuations.

"The total proposed tax rate of $0.5848 per $100 of AV, at this time, is strictly subject to and pending council discussion and changes. You will recall that when the city manager presented his proposed budget to the city council on July 30, the city was still waiting to receive the certified valuations from the chief appraiser at HaysCAD. During the budget workshop on July 30, after much deliberation, the city council adopted a resolution (required by tax code) to record vote ‘to place a proposal on the agenda of a future city council meeting as an action item to adopt a maximum ad valorem tax rate not to exceed $0.5848 per $100 of assessed taxable valuation for Fiscal Year 2016-17 for the City of Kyle…’

"At the next City Council budget meeting on August 17," Moheet concluded, "the city manager plans to discuss the 2016 certified valuations provided by HaysCAD, its impact on the proposed budget, and present his recommendation(s) to city council for the ad valorem tax rate."

I’m going to go ahead and read between the lines here and predict that City Manager Scott Sellers will continue to press for, at the very least, his current recommendation of a one-cent reduction in the current rate, which would push it just about a half-cent below the rollback rate. I would not be surprised at all, however, if he seeks an even larger reduction.

I am also going to predict that when all is said and done, the council will vote to reduce the current tax rate — if not as low as Sellers’s recommendation — at least to an amount at or below the rollback rate.

Not that I think the council is in danger of facing a rollback election if it held the rate steady. Under Texas law, 10 percent of the registered voters in Kyle would have to sign a petition requesting such an election and knowing that the average turnout for a municipal election is far less than that, I doubt that many valid signatures could be collected.

Incidentally, Kyle is not alone in this rollback tax predicament. Austin’s current tax rate is $.4589 and it’s rollback rate is $.4418. However, it’s proposed tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year is identical to that rollback rate.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kyle to be without a Queen for “a few months”

No word yet on when the reigning Dairy Queen will abdicate be demolished or exactly when her successor will be crowned open, but the architect involved in the project to essentially turn what is estimated to be a 40-plus year old structure 90 degrees to the left guessed today Kyle will be without a Dairy Queen for "a few months."

After this evening's 20-minute P&Z meeting, during which the commissioners chose Timothy Kay as their vice chair and voted 6-0 (commissioner Lori Huey missed the meeting) to approve a conditional use permit to construct a new Diary Queen on the site occupied by the current one at the southeastern corner of I-35 and Ranch Road 150, its architect, Greg Guerin of Forney, Texas, when asked specifically how long Kyle will be without a Diary Queen, replied "I don’t do the construction. I know some of these restaurants can get complete within a few months. I know construction is going to take at least a few months."

When asked when demolition/construction would begin, Guerin said "Hopefully, we get building plans submitted next month and then maybe get a permit within a couple months, we should be able to start. The owner would like to start as soon as possible."

Put all that non-specificity together and my guess is the new facility could be open right around the beginning of 2017, if everything falls neatly into place.

Guerin said one of the reasons for replacing the building, in addition to its age, was to alleviate a drive-through traffic flow that often caused backups on the northbound I-35 service road. He said the main entrance to the new Diary Queen, which will be almost exactly the same size as the current one (about 3,000 square feet), will be on Ranch Road 150 and cars will flow from the entrance in a southerly direction to the pickup window which will be located on the south side of the building. He said parking for those wishing to eat inside the restaurant will be located on the western (I-35) side of the property and that area will contain three lanes of traffic so as not to interfere with the drive-through customers.

No one at tonight’s meeting could tell me definitively when the current Diary Queen was constructed, but Guerin said the overwhelming majority of the restaurants still standing in Texas were erected in the 1970s.

Not counting chairman Mike Rubsam, the gender division of the Planning & Zoning Commission is three men and three women. I bring that up only because all three men — Kay, Dex Ellison and Brad Growt — nominated themselves to be the commission’s vice-chair (a position that has been vacant since Mike Wilson’s term expired several months ago). Although Kay claimed to be the most senior of the three nominees, according to the city’s web site, both his and Ellison’s term commenced last Sept, 15.

Friday, August 5, 2016

“The building looks perfect, but could you just shift it 90 degrees to the left?”

The Dairy Queen at I-35 and RR 150 as seen from I-35


Plans for new Diary Queen at this location

Joe Angle of Smith Dairy Queen, LLC, plans to go before the Planning & Zoning Commission Tuesday seeking a conditional use permit to construct anywhere from a 2,600 (according to Angle) to a 3,000 (according to the city) square foot Dairy Queen on a site that’s currently occupied by a Dairy Queen.
Looking at the plans being submitted to P&Z, it appears all Angle really seeks to do is turn the current Diary Queen 90 degrees so that the front of the building, that currently faces I-35, will face RR 150. This plan appears eliminate the grassy area between the current structure and RR 150, but, according to the city, some sort of new landscaping plan has been filed with the permit.
I can only assume Angle plans to demolish the building that currently occupies the 22601 I-35 address on which he plans to construct his "one-story, single-tenant restauran.," If the line of cars winding around the DQ at 5 p.m. today was any indication, such a demolition plan could pose, at least, a temporary hardship to a number of patrons.
According to the documents accompanying the agenda item, "The applicant seeks to construct a 3,065 square foot, one-story, single-tenant restaurant." However, the application filed for the conditional use permit, lists the proposed square footage as 2,601. The 400-square-foot difference may not seem that much, but 400-square feet is the maximum size of a home that cab officially be classified as a tiny house.
Obviously there are questions searching for answers here and I hope I can learn some of those answers at Tuesday’s meeting.

Economic Development Board’s rigged recommendation on joining Clean Air Coalition

The only "outside experts" the city’s Economic Development Board consulted when considering the impact that joining the Cleaning Air Coalition would have on attracting new business to Kyle were representatives of the coalitions’s umbrella agency.

That’s exactly like asking the fox for recommendations on how to build the henhouse.

The Central Texas Clean Air Coalition is part of the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) and, according to the official minutes of the Economic Development Board’s May 10 meeting at which this subject was discussed, the only two persons to address the board on the subject were Andrew Hoakzema, CAPCOG’s air quality control manager and the head cheerleader of the Clean Air Coalition, and Chris Schrenck, CAPCOG’s director of planning and economic development, neither of whom was going to be objective on the issue.

Immediately after their presentations, according to the minutes, board member Harish Malkani moved the Economic Development Committee recommend to the City Council that the city join the Clean Air Coalition, not as a supporting member, as the majority of the council wished, but a full-fledged general member. That motion was seconded by Tony Spano and approved unanimously (board members Tessa Schmidtzinsky and Don Tracy did not attend the meeting).

The charge from the city council to the Economic Development Board was clear: Determine whether joining the Clean Air Coalition would have a detrimental effect on attracting new business to Kyle. Does anyone think that simply talking to representatives of the Clean Air Coalition will provide the objective, thorough analysis that was requested by the City Council? Give me a break!

It seems to me a more thorough examination on this subject could have been presented by inviting representatives and seeking testimony from Austin area businesses who actually make relocation/expansion decisions or perhaps educators from the business schools at either UT/Austin or Texas State who may have actually studied this subject.

But, sadly, that was not the case. The Economic Development Board’s idea of an objective look on whether to join the Clean Air Coalition is to listen only to the chief proponents of the Clean Air Coalition.

That makes the board’s recommendation absolutely worthless.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Council eliminates politics from stop sign decisions; silences (at least temporarily) alarm ordinance

The City Council decided last night decisions on where to place traffic control devices in Kyle should be based on science and engineering, not politics, and effectively removed themselves as the "court of last resort" for those seeking unwarranted stop signs in the community.

The council also voted to table an ordinance involving alarm registration/false alarms and, in somewhat of a surprising move, rejected the idea of joining the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition. To absolutely no one’s surprise, the city voted to save $1.4 million in debt service by issuing refunding bonds on some of its outstanding obligations. What was surprising was that (1) the amount saved turned out to be $300,000 more than originally anticipated and (2) the council received the tantalizing piece of news that the city’s bond rating may improve.

The council voted 5-0 (Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley and council member Daphne Tenorio missed last night’s meeting) to deny a proposed ordinance establishing a process for "placement of traffic regulatory signs" that would have allowed citizens to appeal for stop signs directly to the council. Within the last 15 months, the council has approved the placement of unwarranted stop signs on three separate occasions.

The council directed the city’s staff to come up with a process for approving traffic control devices that does not include the city’s legislative body. That process would presumably involve a staff decision on whether to authorize a traffic warrant study on any proposed traffic control device with the final decision on whether to install the device based on the results of that study as well as some discretion on the part of the staff. The council itself, however, would no longer be involved in those decisions.

The ordinance under consideration would have allowed citizens desiring to have a stop sign installed in a place where preliminary examinations indicated such a device would not be warranted to put down a deposit with the city to help fund a full-fledged traffic warrant analysis anyway. If the analysis showed the device to be unwarranted, that deposit would be forfeited. However, the ordinance allowed citizens to appeal that traffic study decision to the full council that could vote to install the device even though it was not warranted.

"There isn’t anything that has occurred since the last meeting (on this ordinance) that has persuaded me that our policy should be anything other than we do not do unwarranted stop signs," Mayor Todd Webster said immediately after Police Chief Jeff Barnett had outlined the changes made to the ordinance between the time it was originally discussed two weeks ago and last night’s formal first reading. Webster saluted council member Travis Mitchell’s efforts "to find a correct balance" with the ordinance, adding if the council approved the ordinance "I could live with it. But I don’t believe we should be doing unwarranted stop signs and I regret that I participated in some of those decisions in the past because all it did was encourage more people to come in and we ended up making decisions for political reasons" while ignoring public safety issues. "When you put up stop signs in places where they are not warranted there is the potential of a safety risk."

Mitchell said that he was working on additional language for the ordinance but, during the course of the discussion on the proposal, he realized "as good as the intentions are to create multiple paths to allow people to have a chance to have a traffic control device where they feel it should be, the conclusion I’ve come to what this ordinance is going to do to us is increase the pressure politically. When you ask someone to make a deposit and the results come back unwarranted there is an expectation that this process was put in place so that they could pay for a sign and then bring it back to city council and we would approve it. I know that’s how I would feel if I paid $800 because I wanted a study done. How could we vote ‘no’ (on a traffic control device) after passing an ordinance like this? While I did have language here to change the ordinance and I want the citizens to have a path, the path that they have is staff. I feel queasy every time somebody asks me for a stop sign. I feel like I’m not the one to make that decision. I’m not the one to bypass staff and make that decision because a few people support it or gave money. So, although I had two more paragraphs to add to this ordinance, it just dawned on me that we’re meddling in something than we shouldn’t. It should be staff’s decision. I think this (ordinance) is going to cause more problems than solutions."

Webster complimented Mitchell for this position. "Given the amount of work you’ve put into this, your change of opinion here says something," the mayor told the recently elected Mitchell.

After directing staff to come back with a written process explaining how it will base its decisions on where the install traffic control devices, the council approved council member Shane Arabie’s motion to deny the ordinance.

Although the council chambers were not flooded by concerned citizens wishing to express their opposition to the proposed alarm ordinance (one person speaking during public comments made passing reference to the ordinance, but he basically abused his speaking privilege by taking up nearly twice his allotted time railing against a roundabout that hasn’t even been officially proposed), council members acknowledged they were basically bowing to political pressure in tabling an ordinance that is routine in the overwhelming majority of Texas cities, namely the registration of alarms.

Webster said he had concerns about a third party being involved in the process.

"We do hope to bring you some information about opportunities to partner with third party alarm administrators," Barnett told the council. "We had one tentatively on the agenda that we pulled at the last minute so we could get some new numbers that were asked of staff and to coordinate that with the third party vendor. At $25 (per year) recommended registration for residents and a $50 (also paid annually) recommended fee for a business or commercial, when we discussed that with the alarm administrator they were looking at about a 49-51 percent split, with the 51 coming to the city. One council member asked us to look at some other pricing options — $10 and $20 and then $20 and $50, to be exact — and we sent that back to the company but they just weren’t able to put their numbers together to have it ready for this agenda."

"I recognize most other communities do this," Webster said, "but I’m not sure it would be wise to move forward and deal with this without getting better details about what the value proposition is going to be like. I’m going to suggest that we table this item to have an opportunity to get a little more detail about what the contract (with the third party vendor) might look like." Then, directly to Chief Barnett, the mayor said "I’m watching what’s going on and I’m afraid you’re getting into an area here the consequences of which may not be what you intend in terms of community reaction."

Although registrations would not be required until the beginning of next year, Mitchell argued that was not enough of "a buffer" to inform citizens about the registration requirement. He estimated only a quarter of all alarm holders would be registered by that time. He recommended that, instead of issuing a citation to those with unregistered alarms that summon a police response, that only a warning be handed out for the first offense.

After telling Mitchell he thought that was a good suggestion, Webster said "My skepticism is still about a third party arrangements for these types of things." The mayor said he has heard ten times as many citizens voice opposition to the proposed alarm ordinance than those opposing the idea of a roundabout on Kyle Parkway. "That should give you some sense of the community reaction to it. I’m not close minded to the idea if the data is there, if it’s going to solve our problems, if the proposal generates the revenue that will compensate us for all that extra work that is taking place and it truly would deter false alarms. I am just not convinced this ordinance will do that. So that’s what I’m looking for."

The mayor also said he was looking for "reassurance on the data privacy side of this." He said he had concerns about an outside firm "who has access and knowledge of everyone’s alarm."

Barnett did point out that 98.44 percent of all alarms Kyle police officers respond to are false alarms, which was tantamount to having one officer whose sole responsibility was dealing full-time with false alarms. I asked the chief about the possibility of separating the ordinances and possibly moving ahead with one that solely dealt with penalties for excessive false alarms. His reply:

"Our current and existing ordinance does ‘fine’ people for false alarms. The problem is the day-to-day management of that operation. We do not have the staff to keep up with the tabulation, letter sending, follow-up, and fine processing on a regular basis. We can easily get six months behind in sending out the collection letters, which leads to more false alarms. Plus we spend time waiting on alarm companies to call their customer and act as an intermediary while our officers are waiting at the scene. If we had that information from their alarm registration, we could contact them directly and save some time on scene."

After being tempted by the lure that the city might be in line for a grant to make the police fleet more fuel efficient, the council voted 3-2 to reject the invitation to joining the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition. Mitchell joined council members David Wilson and Becky Selbera in opposition to the invitation, suggesting it was not likely Kyle would be awarded the grant anyway and that they could see no other "real tangible benefit" (Mitchell’s words) in joining the coalition.

During the discussion to approve the refunding of $9 million in outstanding bonds that, according to the agenda item, would save the city $1.1 million, Finance Director Perwez Moheet revealed "We have an exceptionally positive update to share with you this evening regarding the refunding bonds. This morning we were able to price the refunding bonds at various maturity points to a Citi Group global market such that the final interest cost savings to the City of Kyle will now be approximately $1.4 million. This is an increase of $300,000 from our original cost-saving estimate."

Moheet credited the extra savings to the city’s "excellent credit rating and its strong financial position."

"In summary," Moheet told the council in his typically subdued way, "the City of Kyle had a great day in the tax exempt bond market this morning."

Then the city’s financial advisor, Chris Allen with First Southwest, told the council "This (refunding) process requires us to meet with the rating agencies, Standard & Poor’s. They affirmed your rating of AA-. But they moved the outlook from ‘stable’ to ‘positive’. What that means is ‘positive’ generally signifies they’re about to push you to the next notch. And the higher the rating, the lower the borrowing cost. So that’s kudos to you as management and your financial team here."

Allen said the positive review from S&P resulted from "the city’s economic expansion and property tax base growth which has resulted in improved wealth indicators. They also cite strong budgetary performance with an operating surplus in the General Fund and a slight operating surplus at the total government fund level. They cite the city has good reserves and is liquid."

In other action last night, the council:
  • Approved five persons — Terri Thompson, Paul Terry, Matt Janysek, Inocencio Vasquez and Edgar Rodriguez — for reappointment to the Board of Adjustments/Sign Control Board.
  • Passed a comparatively innocuous ordinance regulating outdoor lighting standards that technically won’t apply to a third of the city’s area (recently annexed land) and to none of its residential districts.
  • Approved a $4.5 million contract that, for all practical purposes, finally kick starts work on the Bunton Road bond project.
  • Viewed pretty pictures of the city’s new website that is scheduled to go on-line next Tuesday.
  • Canceled its meeting scheduled for October 4 due to conflicts with a Texas Municipal League conference in Austin as well as a National Night Out.