The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Friday, September 30, 2016

Council approves police contract, heaps praise on city manager

Just in the nick of time, the Kyle City Council unanimously approved a contract with the police union association today after which several council members lauded the performance of City Manager Scott Sellers, saying, in effect, they hoped he would remain in his current position indefinitely.

The council’s action to approve the labor contract with the Police Department came just a little more than 13 hours before its deadline to reach such an agreement, the start of FY 2016-17.

Details of what, under terms specified in something called the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, is known as a meet-and-confer agreement were not immediately made public. However, the City of San Antonio, to cite just one example, posts a copy of its meet-and-confer agreement on its web site and I have sent an e-mail to Kyle’s director of Human Resources to do the same or to find some other way to make the document public. The purpose of Chapter 10 of the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act, which calls for meet and confer, is "to promote full communication between public employers and their employees by providing a reasonable method of resolving disputes regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment between public employers and public employee organizations."

While various city council members seemed rather happy about the outcome of the negotiations, a representative of the Kyle Police Association, who identified himself to me as "Officer Pruitt, vice president of the KPA," seemed somewhat less enthusiastic while remaining outwardly reserved.

"There are things we would still like to discuss with (the city)," Pruitt told me when I asked if he was "happy" with the contract. "But I would probably need to get with my board before I spoke more about it, before I put out any kind of statement."

That reservation, as I mentioned earlier, was not shared by many of those on the council.

"I’m happy with the contract," Mayor Pro Tem Damon Fogley said. "Our heart is with the Police Department and we want to set that bar for re-hires and to make sure we have pay parity with surrounding communities. So I’m really happy with this contract moving forward."

"I think it’s clear that the council as a whole likes the Police Department," council member David Wilson said. "They want the Police Department to be as good as it can and, to do that, you’ve got to fund. I’m happy to make that motion" to approve the contract."

Wilson indicated approval of the agreement was not as unanimous among members of the Police Association as it was with the council. In fact, he went out of his way to say it was approved by "the majority," but by no means all members of the association.

Mayor Todd Webster acknowledged he was the council’s representative in the negotiating process. He said the negotiations were never "adversarial" and were conducted "in good faith." Webster acknowledged that many members of the association might be somewhat less than thrilled with the outcome because they "certainly didn’t get everything they asked for." But, he said, he hoped "the officers in the department understand there really is a commitment on our part to support them and to have a professional, well-run Police Department."

Following its 57-minute executive session, during which the council was briefed by its attorney on the meet and confer and a contract with the Kyle Chamber of Commerce as well as continuing Sellers’s annual performance evaluation, the council reconvened to not only make effusive comments about the city manager but to express its collective desire to keep him in his current position.

"The council is very happy with the city manager’s performance and the direction the city is headed," Mayor Webster said. "You’ve exceeded our expectations and it’s important that we say that publicly. We have started conversations about extending your contract."

The mayor said he hoped the council’s next regularly scheduled meeting, on Oct. 18, or the meeting after that, Nov. 1, will contain an item to approve a contract extension.

"I’m very pleased with what I’m getting and you’re accessible as well," Wilson added. "In particular, I like your ability to reach out beyond our borders. I run into people independently — somebody who says something positive about you. That’s a positive thing for our area and our community."

Fogley called Sellers "a great motivator and a great personnel manager. The employees who work here appreciate your leadership and are highly motivated to work with you, so I appreciate that."

Council member Daphne Tenorio, who has been critical of city staff in the past, acknowledged today that "communications have gotten so much better. I’m really appreciating the fact that you have been so accessible. I really appreciate the fact that we have been able to solve problems without having to go to the well of the taxpayers for more money. And I really appreciate the fact that you are leading the city in the direction I think we need to go, especially when we’re experiencing such rapid growth. I’m very pleased with the direction in which we’re heading."

Council member Travis Mitchell said he hoped "we’re going to find a way to keep you here long term" and joked he would be willing to "road block the exits" to prevent Sellers from leaving, which forced Webster to reply that the current conversation was "not precipitated by his coming in and saying he was planning on leaving. This is on the council’s initiative."

In other action the council:
  • Initially deferred taking an action on renewing Wells Fargo Bank’s lease on the plot of ground immediately north of City Hall where the bank hosts an ATM machine because, as Mitchell pointed out, the agreement contained no language referencing termination of the contract. After it came out of executive session, during which time the council inserted a penalty-free, 90-day termination clause, the council approved the lease agreement 6-0 (council member Becky Selberra was formally excused from this council meeting due to work-related conflicts).
  • Also deferred action on a new contract for providing funds for the Chamber of Commerce until its Dec. 6 meeting because, in Webster’s words, the council is "trying to figure out an appropriate way to handle this." Chamber CEO Julie Snyder and other chamber officials beseeched the council during citizen comments period to approve a pending contract, but their pleas went unheeded. Snyder left the council chambers while I was talking to Officer Pruitt about the meet and confer agreement, but I have reached out to her via e-mail to see if she’ll provide a reaction to the council’s inaction.
  • Heard Sellers talk about a new medical insurance option for city employees which has absolutely no effect on tax rates, public expenditures, etc. — is strictly an internal matter — and, as such, not worth of going into detail about here.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Proposed stormwater ordinance includes $5-a-month fee for most residential customers

As expected, the city has officially set Nov. 15 as the date for the city council’s public hearing and the second reading of an ordinance that would establish a stormwater management department to be funded, for the most part, by a $5 a month fee imposed on single family residential customers and a more complex assessment for commercial customers who will wind up bearing most of the operational costs.

These proposed fees come as no surprise. They are exactly the ones discussed when the city was deliberating establishing this utility during its discussions for the FY 2016-17 budget, which goes into effect Saturday.

The new department appears to border on being an enterprise fund, a term used when a department must pay for all its operating costs strictly from the fees it collects. For example, all the costs for the typical municipal water utility, including bond repayments, is usually paid for from the water rates it charges to its various customers. According to the wording of Kyle’s proposed ordinance creating the stormwater utility, "A separate fund shall be created … for the purpose of identifying and controlling all revenues and expenses attributable to the drainage utility." Those words, especially that word "all," would suggest the new department would be an enterprise fund. However, that same Section 50-504 of the proposed ordinance goes on to say the fund’s deposits will include "All drainage charges collected by the city and other such moneys as may be available to the city for the purpose of drainage." That, to me, means, if necessary, the stormwater utility may be able to dip into General Fund or other utility funds if necessary. However, the reverse is not true — the ordinance specifically prohibits money deposited into the stormwater fund to be used for anything other than storm drainage or flood risk mitigation.

Be that as it may, the principle source of funds for the utility will come from a complex formula in which commercial customers will not only be charged for the amount of impervious cover on their property but also the percentage of their property that is impervious. The other source will be a $5 a monthly fee that will be included as part of the customers’ monthly utility bill.

The commercial fee will be $.0021 times the square footage of impervious cover times an amount to be determined when the percentage of impervious cover on a property is multiplied by 1.5425 and then .5064 is added to that. So using round figures, let’s say a commercial property has 100,000 square feet of impervious cover on their property and that 100,000 square feet accounts for 80 percent of the total property. That customer’s monthly fee would be, if I understand the ordinance correctly, $365.48, roughly 73 times the amount paid by the owner of a single family residence.

The ordinance says the monthly fee will go into effect "with the adoption of this ordinance," which will undoubtedly take place Nov. 15. However, the last section of the proposed ordinance lists its "effective date" as "immediately following the publication of this ordinance in the local newspaper." So it’s really difficult to determine exactly when these fees will begin appearing on utility bills, but one council member told me during budget deliberations that will probably commence early next year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

City to renew lease on ATM for bank accused of defrauding customers

The City Council will meet in special session at 9 a.m. Friday to renew an agreement to lease an ATM site to Wells Fargo Bank, recently accused of opening two million false accounts for tens of thousands of customers, at a rate more than three times the amount the bank is currently paying for the spot of land on which the money machine is situated.

The ATM renewal is not the main reason this special meeting was called, however. The council also plans to go into executive session to discuss a number of items, including the continuation of the City Manager Scott Sellers’s performance evaluation (at the end of which I expect the council will, at least, try to extend his contract at most likely a higher salary) as well as whether to continue to provide funding for the Chamber of Commerce and, if so, how much to reduce the current amount of that funding. But the main issue to be discussed in executive session is a pending meet and confer agreement with the police officers association, the terms and conditions of which must be agreed upon before Saturday, the start of the new fiscal year.

It is obvious that the city and the association have reached an agreement on a new contract or else the item would not be part of the council’s executive session agenda. In fact, I would argue this special council meeting would not even have been called had not an agreement been reached. Attorneys will use the private session to brief the council on the terms of the agreement after which the council will most likely return from executive session and take action to formally approve the agreement.

For those few who haven’t heard how disastrous the last two weeks have been for Wells Fargo, one only has to look at the above video that shows part of the two hour grilling of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf on Capitol Hill for blatant fraud in regards to opening bogus accounts that has shattered the company's reputation and damaged the banking industry's reputation in general.

According to documents that accompany Friday’s agenda, the city had been leasing Wells Fargo space adjacent to City Hall for an ATM at the rate of $650 a month. The new agreement calls for the chastised financial institution to pay the city $2,154 a month during the upcoming fiscal year with that rate escalating 5 percent annually after that.

You can see the complete agenda for the special meeting here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is Kyle beginning to over-regulate?

I hate yard work.

Detest it.

I may be the world’s foremost proponent of artificial turf.

Perhaps these feelings stem from the fact that I was born and raised on the Lower East Side of New York. If we wanted to see a tree or even a patch of grass, there was always a neighborhood park within easy walking distance. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that my parents finally succumbed to the lure of the suburbs and purchased their first house, complete with a yard. Bet you’ll never guess who got stuck with doing the yard work. The lure, to be frank, was hard liquor, a difficult temptation for a teen to pass up back then. Specifically, it was an ice cold, perfectly refreshing Tom Collins my mother always had ready for me after I completed my Saturday yard chores. I absolutely loathed the chore of mowing/trimming the law and pulling weeds, but I loved those Tom Collins.

As a result, for the overwhelming majority of my adult life, I studiously avoided residing anywhere that required anything remotely connected to landscaping. The closest I came was that I would purchase a potted plant every now and then, but I only managed to keep them alive for a month at most. Then I discovered places like Michael’s that sold realistic looking fake indoor trees and plants. Whoopee!!

A little more than 20 years ago, however, I found myself in a position where it would advance my professional standing if I became a homeowner. After much consideration, I finally opted for a townhouse in a location where the homeowner’s association was responsible for all the landscaping in the front of my townhouse and my only concern was a small yard enclosed by a six-foot tall wooden fence in back. But it wasn’t long before, in my war with nature, the weeds declared victory. I tried everything this side of napalm. I hired a professional landscaping firm that moonscaped my back yard, then blanketed it with heavy duty plastic and applied a nice looking mulch on top of that. But the weeds were not to be deterred that easily. They managed to punch through that plastic and once more take over the yard. Finally, I just said "The hell with it," and paved over the entire thing. Made one big patio out of it where I enjoyed some fine cookouts with family and friends. After all, this was my backyard. My personal property. I could do whatever I wanted do with it as long as it didn’t have a negative effect on a neighbor’s property.

Now all this took place in Dallas where its stormwater fee, both commercial and residential, is based on the amount of impervious cover on your property. My penalty, if you want to call it that, was after paving over the back yard, I had a higher monthly stormwater fee. Fine with me. At least I didn’t have ugly weeds. At least I didn’t have yard work.

Have I mentioned that I hate yard work?

I bring all this up because last Tuesday the Kyle City Council, on the same night, passed a yin and a yang of ordinance revisions. The yin revised the landscaping ordinance and the yang revised the impervious cover ordinance. And after that I began to thinking to myself that the entire globe is divided into two parts: those parts covered with impervious surfaces and those covered with some form of landscaping, whether or not it is actually landscaped in the formally accepted use of that term. Or, to put it another way, the earth is covered either by surfaces that are impervious or those that are not. And by regulating one, you naturally regulate the other. Not only that, the council decided swimming pools were not impervious. The word "impervious" is an adjective and it means "not allowing fluid to pass through." If a swimming pool is not "impervious," it desperately needs repair. One of the many listed synonyms for "impervious" is "watertight," and anyone with a swimming pool that isn’t watertight needs to replace it quickly with one that is. The council, in its attempt to make sure every homeowner who wants one can have a pool in his or her back yard has made a declaration that is tantamount to declaring "from now on three plus three in Kyle will equal 33 because, as everyone can see, that’s what you get when you put two three’s together."

But the council can achieve its "chicken in every pot" goal and yet still acknowledge that there is a difference between a swimming pool and the water contained in that swimming pool (contained, of course, because swimming pools are indeed impervious). And the way to do this is to abandon the notion that every concern can be solved with another ordinance, another regulation.

The solution to this is very simple: First, a carefully crafted landscape ordinance can include whatever impervious cover standards are needed, mainly because these standards should only apply to commercial and multi-family developments anyway. Forget about, do away with, the notion that the government should regulate what an individual homeowner can or cannot put on his or her private property, unless, of course, it fails to conform to land-use regulations already in place, violates criminal statutes or his patently and obviously offensive to the public. But we’re over-regulating when we decide percentages need to be firmly established on how much impervious cover a homeowner can have on his/her private property.

Here’s how ridiculous this whole thing is: Under the impervious cover ordinance amendments that will have a second reading at the next regularly scheduled council meeting Oct. 18, a homeowner is restricted on the size of a patio he or she can have in their back yard, but it will be perfectly allowable to convert an entire back yard into a fish pool that will become a natural breeding ground for Zika-carrying mosquitos.

Look, if a family with five teen-aged children living at home and all the members of that family have their own automobiles, want to construct a large circular driveway in their front yard to accommodate all those vehicles, they should be allowed to do so. If a family that likes to entertain wants to construct a large patio in their back yard, they should be allowed to do so. It’s their property. But let their monthly stormwater fees reflect these personal choices they have made.

The city is coming up with all kinds of excuses for why all residences should pay a flat stormwater fee. The truth is, city officials simply don’t want to go to all the trouble to determine the amount of impervious surface on each piece of residential property, even though Mayor Todd Webster predicted during last week’s discussion on impervious surfaces that the day will come — and sooner rather than later — that residential fees will be set by their impervious cover amounts. I’m betting that a well programmed and outfitted drone flying over Kyle one afternoon could provide all the photographic evidence needed that could allow city officials to accurately measure the amount of impervious surface on every residential property in the city. But, instead of doing that, the city is taking what it believes is an easier way out – passing regulations that establish the maximum percentages of allowable impervious cover on every single piece of residential property.

So my answer to the question I posed in this headline is a resounding "yes."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

City finishes year with a quarter million dollar sales tax deficit

Last year, sales taxes not only increased dramatically, they were actually 13.56 percent above the bean counter’s projections. "Boom times are here! This growth in sales taxes will continue unabated!" This type of myopic thinking led the city to project the city would collect 18.56 percent more in sales taxes this fiscal year than last.

Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. In fact, the final numbers are not even close to those rosy predictions. Sure, sales tax income increased, but they increased, somewhat coincidentally, by 13.56 percent, not the 18.67 projected, and thus the city finishes the current fiscal year with what essentially amounts to a $281,897.11 budget gap.

Practically speaking, that’s not as serious as it might sound because the city not only has plenty of reserves to cover the deficit, but it was also fortunate that the budgeted number of police officers were never hired, so that money more than compensates for the quarter million in lost sales tax revenues.

But it should also be noted that, of the 12 months that make up the year, sales tax revenues exceeded projections in only three of them. September’s revenues of $519,583.11 were 9.68 percent below the projections for the month and it marked the fifth consecutive month revenues failed to meet expectations.

Frankly, however, I don’t expect to see a repeat of this in the fiscal year that begins nine days from today because the budget for FY 2016-17 is only forecasting a 9 percent increase in sales tax revenues over this year’s collections. In fact, I could argue that, in actual dollar figures, the forecast for FY16-17 is downright pessimistic in that expects the total increase in sales tax revenues to be $187,903.40 less than it was this year.

It took one bad year for those bean counters to come to their senses, to realize that "good times are not the same as boom times." But come to their senses they did and we can all celebrate that because it should give the city far more financial flexibility beginning Oct. 1.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Current status of the road bond projects

As promised, after getting that "much needed sleep" I referred to this morning (or at least enough sleep for a three-quarters-of-a-century-old homo sapien), I will now return to last night’s city council meeting during which City Engineer Leon Barba presented the following update on the five road bond projects:

Marketplace: Compete as of last week.

Goforth from I-35 to Bunton Creek Road, 1.18 miles: "Work began on that project March 21 of this year. This is a 13-month contract so theoretically we should wrap this contract up in April 2017. As of Sept. 1 the project was at 36 percent complete and 34 percent of time used. Currently the contractor is working from Bunton Creek to Steeplechase and we expect that to be open by Oct. 7, weather permitting. We’re still working through some utility problems we have out there." Barba added the city will be erecting additional signage to help motorists navigate around the construction and to make it easier to access the businesses located along Goforth.

Goforth Road Extension, Bunton Creek Road to Kyle Parkway, .2 of a mile: "The contractor still plans to start in late October on that project so there’s no delay in starting that project."

Bunton Creek Road: "Council awarded that $4.6 million contract on Aug. 2. We’re going to start it on Nov. 4. The contractor is out there working on some non-critical items just to get started. We’re having utility issues out there and we’re trying to get those resolved."

Burleson Street, from North Street to the I-35 frontage road, 1.32 miles: "Plans been completed since May. We’re working on five parcels we’re trying to acquire. One of those is very difficult. The lending institution is requiring a lot of things, including a survey of the whole property rather than just the little piece that we need. One owner has been non-responsive, but we continue to reach out. We weren’t able to agree on a price with another owner, so we’re going to have to find another alternative solution, some of which may include not completing portions of the project. We’re still trying to finish our negotiations to get the railroad to build that section of track we need at Burleson Street. Based on that, we’re thinking our date to start that project is going to slip. Initially, we were looking at November of this year. We’re thinking at best we’re going to have to start that project in March 2017."

“There was a big mistake made somewhere”

Admitting the city was "culpable" in a massive governmental bureaucratic kerfuffle that resulted in a local corporation facing a major overdue tax bill, the City Council took action Tuesday night to correct the situation, thus paving the way for a possible addition of 82 new professional jobs in Kyle, and then later passed a series of measures that could result in the location of a linen-cleaning business in North Kyle that could mean another 223 new jobs.

Put your abacus away. It works out to a total of 305 new jobs in one meeting. That’s a significant shot of economic adrenalin. But it did not come easy and it did not come without some serious soul searching from one city council member.

The "bureaucratic kerfuffle" I referred to above concerns RSI which set up shop in Kyle in 2007 on land that was owned by the city. That land was, in the words of City Manager Scott Sellers, "transitioned" from the city to RSI in 2011.

"When the property transitioned to RSI’s ownership in 2011, they reached out through their annual tax process with their CPA to pay the tax obligation to the local tax entities on the real property," Sellers told the council. "At the time they were told by the county, also probably by the city, there was indeed no tax obligation for the real property due at that time."

The same thing happened in 2012, 2013 and 2014. RSI kept asking about its tax bill and were told by the county it didn’t have a tax bill. But this year, Sellers said, the city "uncovered" the fact that, indeed, RSI not only had a tax bill for 2015 but actually owed back taxes from 2011 through to the present.

"We immediately notified Hays County and verified that a mistake had been made," Sellers said.

On its end, RSI has been bidding on large contracts that involved a significant research and development investment. "Because of that, RSI was not able to pay the full burden of the property tax they were faced with and appealed to the city for assistance," Sellers said.

Sellers indicated that during the last eight months, the city has been in meetings with Hays County to see if the back taxes could just be forgiven, since RSI was pretty much blameless in the whole mess. Sellers said the two parties could not find a way legally to do that. "The tax note, statutorily, would be due," he said. "So we tried to find a way to assist the company to remain viable with its tax note looming." Together with the Greater San Marcos Partnership, he said, they looked at "a job creation and retention incentive for the company."

RSI is bidding on a number of large contracts and if it lands any one of them it could mean a significant number of new jobs. However, RSI has facilities in many other locations and there was no guarantee those jobs would come to Kyle. So, to convince RSI to locate those 82 jobs here over the next 10 years, the county and the city have each pledged $123,000 for an incentive package.

"So what we are looking at tonight is an incentive package, combined with a direct loan to the company," Sellers said. "RSI will agree to pay the 2015 tax obligation. The additional tax obligation, while being paid by RSI, there is going to be a loan made by the city to the company. There will be a $123,000 commitment up-front from the City of Kyle, which equals $1,500 per job over the next 10 years. Hays County will match that $123,000. The incentive states that at the end of each fiscal year, the city will sit down, audit the number of jobs and insure a correct pro-rata of jobs have been created for the year. If not, the incentive is returned.

"There is also a $234,000 up front loan also being proposed as part of this package that would be an interest-free loan, payable beginning 2018 for 10 years," the city manager added.

Mayor Todd Webster acknowledged to Sellers the city "shared culpability for this error. There was some confusion around the (2010) transition of administrations from the (Tom ) Mattis period into the (Lanny) Lambert era, where there were things that just didn’t get picked up. There was the Bunton Creek PID issue and this is very much like that. But my sense is that the city bears some responsibility for the mistake. It’s not clear how such a big mistake occurred but the fact is it went on long enough that we could have lost one of the most important members of our business community. That led to me hoping you guys could come up with something to try to salvage this situation. There was a big mistake made somewhere. Whose mistake it was doesn’t matter, but I’m appreciative of the work you have done to figure out how to solve it."

Council member Travis Mitchell, who arguably had more hands-on responsibility for shaping the final agreement than any other council member, said the deal contained "three layers."

"One is an existing tax obligation," he said. "Not a tax obligation from the past, but a current bill that is now due that recognizes previous taxes were not properly billed to the employer. That’s different than saying they were billed and they chose not to pay. The second layer to it is who’s responsible. No business owner can escape culpability in that situation. However, we do have documented evidence that the property owner did try to pay the property taxes, did inquire multiple times through the years about paying those taxes and were told there was not a bill. That is an error. He did have a bill, but it was not properly given to him. The way I see it culpability lies on behalf of the business owner to know better and on the city and the county for making the error in the first place. The third layer is the incentive that’s on top of the first two issues and that incentive is our opportunity to make some of this right without putting the business in a very difficult position"

Mitchell said the ultimate result is that "RSI is getting a very small incentive to double in size in our target market with the best sector jobs that we can hope for in this town. They are also being forced to repay those taxes but are not having to do it lump sum right up front which no business of that size could afford."

The motion to pass the measure passed 5-1 on a roll call vote (council member David Wilson was out of town) with council member Daphne Tenorio casting the one dissenting vote. When council member Shane Arabie’s name was called during the vote, he paused for a considerable length of time before voting in favor of the deal. After the meeting I asked him about the pause and he told me "We’ve been negotiating for nine months and at the end the deal changed and it became something I didn’t necessarily agree with. I agree with economic development incentives, but I didn’t agree with the way it went at the end, the loan portion. I don’t agree with an up-front loan. I don’t believe we should be in the business of loaning money." In the end, however, he said he felt the positives — 82 new jobs — outweighed the negatives.

The vote came after an hour and 54-minute executive session that came at the beginning of the meeting, right after the citizen comments period. Council member Becky Selberra slipped out of the meeting shortly after the vote was taken at around 9:40 p.m., which is the reason all the subsequent votes totaled five.

The second economic development proposal involved the location of an approximately 20,000-square-foot-plus linen cleaning facility planned for the business park being developed across Kohler’s Crossing from the Home Depot. The four items on the agenda covering this project, each of which the council passed unanimously, provided for the application of a $1 million grant that would be used for the construction of a wastewater pipeline to service the facility.

In other action Tuesday night, the council:

  • Received a progress report on all five road bond projects that I will write more about tomorrow after I get some much-needed sleep.
  • Asked Police Chief Jeff Barnett to rethink his idea of renewing a lease on three Harley-Davidson motorcycles to determine (1) whether it would be more prudent economically to purchase and not lease, and (2) whether Harley-Davidson is really the best brand option.
  • Unanimously passed on first reading amendments to those sections of the city’s code that have to do with impervious surfaces after determining that cement swimming pools are not impervious. The most interesting thing about the discussion on this issue, however, was the prediction from Mayor Webster that "sometime down the road," residential stormwater fees will be determined by the amount of impervious surface on a resident’s property.
  • Unanimously passed on first reading amendments to the landscape ordinance.
  • Unanimously passed on first reading an ordinance that would more equitably distribute the costs of constructing water and wastewater systems among various developers.
  • Voted 4-1 (Tenorio voting "no") to contribute $10,000 to pay the city’s share for a study to determine the feasibility of constructing a regional wastewater treatment plant somewhere in the Blanco River basin.
  • Unanimously approved an agreement to provide retail water and wastewater services to the Anthem Development.
  • Adjourned at 11:26 p.m.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Council to vote on becoming part of low income housing grant program

CDBG grants, one of the longest-running programs of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), can be used for a number of purposes, but they are most often associated with affordable housing and anti-poverty programs. CDBG funds may be used for community development activities (such as real estate acquisition, relocation, demolition, rehabilitation of housing and commercial buildings), construction of public facilities and improvements (such as water, sewer, and other utilities, street paving, and sidewalks), construction and maintenance of neighborhood centers, and the conversion of school buildings, public services, and economic development and job creation/retention activities. CDBG funds can also be used for preservation and restoration of historic properties in low-income neighborhoods. The stated goal of the Texas CDBG program "is to develop viable communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment as well as by expanding economic opportunities, principally for persons of low-to-moderate income."

Kyle is hoping to throw some of this grant money down the sewer.

OK, I’m being somewhat cute with that previous sentence, but the reality is that Kyle is planning on a major new commercial development coming to the city. To prepare for that, Tuesday’s city council agenda contains a number of items designed to win $975,631 in CDBG grant money that would be used for the construction of wastewater collection system improvements, specifically an interceptor sewer from Southlake Sewer Lift Station to Bunton Creek Sewer Lift Station.

"City of Kyle, Texas is working with a company that wishes to locate a plant facility in Kyle and will be a relatively large user of water and sewer service," according to material that’s part of Tuesday’s council agenda. "The anticipated sewer flows are estimated at 115,000 GPD to 140,000 GPD. There are some wastewater collection capacity issues caused by a bottleneck in the existing collection system that must be addressed through additional public infrastructure (sanitary sewer construction). To avoid overloading the existing Southlake Sewer Lift Station the construction of new interceptor sewer main is proposed. The proposed interceptor sewer will be installed so as to bypass the Southlake Lift Station and transport wastewater via gravity sewer to the Bunton Creek Sewer Lift Station."

The company " that wishes to locate a plant facility in Kyle and will be a relatively large user of water and sewer service" is the same one I wrote about on Aug. 31 when I said "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."

What’s on the council’s agenda Tuesday is the process for obtaining that grant. The other associated items include one to hire an outfit out of Tyler, Texas, Traylor and Associates, that has expertise in applying for CDBG grants of this sort; approving the necessary application with the Texas Department of Agriculture to be eligible for CDBG money; and a resolution outlining the requirements to participate in the CDBG program.

It should also be noted CDBG moneys normally require budget considerations separate and apart from the city’s regular budget process.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:
  • Two public hearings, one to get input on the proposed impervious cover ordinance changes and the second regarding the revamped landscape ordinances that were forwarded to the council earlier this week from the Planning & Zoning Commission.
  • The possibility of spending $10,000 to be part of a Hays Caldwell Public Utility Agency’s study into the feasibility of locating a new wastewater treatment plant to serve the area in the vicinity of the Kyle-San Marcos border.
  • An agreement to provide water and wastewater services, at out-of-city rates, to the proposed Anthem Development, after Anthem constructs and installs all the required delivery mechanisms.
  • The first reading of an ordinance designed, in the city’s words, to even "the playing field and equally placing the roughly proportional cost of utility extensions on all new development, not just the market leaders as is the practice today." According to Assistant City Manager James Earp "Up until now, the city has allowed development to connect to lines built by other developers or the city, or a partnership of both, without having a way to collect the pro rata share of the infrastructure that the latter development requires to use. This results in earlier developers having a higher barrier to entry, than projects that follow and can benefit from the utility work that another developer was required to provide, sometimes at the additional expense of the city utility."
  • A consent agenda item that, if approved, will annex into the city 51.48 acres of land near the intersection of Jack Hays Trail and FM 1626 that is unoccupied except for a rather prominent radio tower. However, the property was recently purchased by Lennar Homes and is adjacent to a much larger area of land in the Plum Creek MUD that is also owned by Lennar, so one should expect it won’t be vacant for too much longer.
  • Another consent agenda item that seeks to make the Planing & Zoning Commission double as "the Impact Fee Advisory Committee for water and wastewater impact fee study and update." One can only hope P&Z can handle this assignment better than the last one they received from the council, i.e., to provide a mid-term Comprehensive Plan update. But after witnessing first-hand the reaction from P&Z commissioners when they were told this week they were getting this assignment, I’m not overly optimistic. In fact, P&Z Chair Michael Rubsam said "I hope they are also going to provide us with extensive training on how to do this."
  • Another consent agenda to accept a grant of $99,899.20 to cover the two-year salary for a victim services coordinator at the Kyle Police Department, As far as I know, this is the first time this subject has been discussed since February’s tragic murder of Samantha Dean, the last person to hold this position.

Here is the complete agenda.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Something economically important to note about that blood bank

I wish I could say I glossed over this when I wrote about the postponement of a conditional use permit for BioLife Plasma Services during Tuesday’s Planning & Zoning Commission hearing. The truth is I really ignored it.

During the discussion about why the blood bank, proposed to be constructed across Seton Parkway from where the Goodwill Industries center is under construction, required a comparatively high number of parking places, the facility’s architect Doug Elsbury said, among other things, that center will employ 90 persons.

That’s 90 new jobs for Kyle, folks! And I’m betting most, if not all, of these positions will be considerably more lucrative than minimum wage jobs. As far as I’m concerned, this project can’t move through the municipal pipeline quickly enough.

For an area zoned RS, which is the zoning for this particular site, the maximum number of allowable parking spaces is 101. BioLife wants 170. Why? Elsbury addressed that very question at Tuesday’s P&Z meeting:

Doug Elsbury
"We get that question a lot because it’s like ‘Seriously, guys, this is not even 17,000 square feet and you’re asking for 170 parking spaces. What are you doing in there?’ It’s amazing how many people donate. It’s a cool thing. You get money for donating as well as it’s medicine. Immune deficiencies is the main thing. So you have 72 beds. They typically have that thing at least half full of beds. And that front door is busy. And they have 90 employees. So the math adds up. We have factual evidence from the 80 centers that we’ve done that we need those (parking) stalls."

As you can see. Elsbury figuratively buried the 90 employees number (no pun intended) in his explanation so I am going to try to exonerate myself with that. But, later, I got to thinking about what he said. In the back of my mind I kept thinking "He said 90 employees, meaning 90 new jobs, at a medical facility. In my book, that seems significant and I didn’t even mention that in my original story.."

So, today, I reviewed my recording of the meeting and, sure enough, that’s what he said, albeit, as you can read for yourself above, somewhat off-handedly.

The Board of Adjustments will consider BioLife’s request at its Oct. 3 meeting. A public notice of that meeting appeared in this week’s Hays Free Press. That notice said "All interested persons are encouraged to attend the public hearing and express their opinion on the variance request." The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and personally I hope the city council chambers is crammed with supporters who want to see Kyle become a more economically viable community. Remember: this is not about parking, it’s about 90 new above minimum wage jobs in a medical facility.

And, hopefuly, once the Board of Adjustments grants the variance, the Planning & Zoning Commission will quickly approve the conditional use permit at its Oct. 11 meeting so that earth can start to be moved to create 90 new, much-better-than-minimum-wage, jobs in the heart of Kyle.

Earlier today, I had a telephone conversation with Elsbury about these new jobs.

"Not only are you creating decent-paying jobs, you’re infusing money into the area because you get money when you donate," Elsbury told me. "I think it’s around $40. So there’s quite a bit of spending money that would just come from that, let alone the jobs."

I told Elsbury during today’s telephone conversation that the overwhelming majority of new jobs in Kyle of late have been minimum wage retail positions and that I was assuming the BioLife jobs would be of a more professional, thus higher paying, variety.

"I don’t know exactly what their pay scale is," he said, "but these are jobs that require education, a degree. There’s phlebotomists — they’re the people that are on the donors’ floor. You have to be educated for that. That’s more than minimum wage."

So there you have it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rubsam prunes, trims, plants his landscape ordinance

You can’t blame Michael Rubsam for feeling like Rocky after climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The one great obstacle to his success as chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission had been removed. No longer is he Coleridge’s ancient mariner. It’s as if Camus had permitted Sisyphus to retire. Goodbye Landscape Ordinance and good luck at your next stop.

The commission finally passed Tuesday evening and sent to the city council its revised Landscape Ordinance. And when that unanimous vote (commissioners Lori Huey and Brad Growt did not attend) was recorded, a broad smile could be seen on Rubsam’s face as he raised both arms in the air.

"The landscape ordinance has been an issue for several years now," Rubsam told me after the commission’s two-hour, 24-minute meeting adjourned. "It’s been through many commissioners and we’ve had a lot of input, not only from the commissioners but also from the public. And I’m very pleased we’re going to move forward with this because I think it will streamline what we’ve been faced with granting variances in planning and zoning. It will clarify the rules for the builders in the future."

C’mon, Mike. Quit sounding like a government official. Tell us how you really feel right now.

"This is one of the best days I’ve had at the end of a P&Z meeting for a long time," he said, another broad smile lighting up his face.

The commissioners spent an hour going through the 21-page document making sure all five of them were pleased with every single word on every single page.

The most substantial discussion involved a section labeled "Exceptions" that read "In order to address atypical, site specific development/redevelopment challenges, the community development director and/or his/her designee is authorized to approve alternative compliance landscape plans when s/he determines that one or more of the following conditions are present" and then it listed four such conditions. Commissioner Timothy Kay wanted the commission to have that authority, not the "community development director and/or his/her designee."

Kay was also concerned about the next paragraph which said anyone "with standing" who didn’t like the staff’s decision to approve an alternative plan could appeal that decision to P&Z within 30 days. Kay wondered how anyone, outside the party who asked staff for the change, would even be aware a change had been made.

Although commissioner Dex Ellision said he agreed with Kay in theory he finally sided with the other three commissioners who said the driving motivation behind the revised ordinance was to keep P&Z from having to rule on all these requests. The commissioner also agreed that giving this responsibility to city staff would speed up the permitting process, something all developers everywhere clamor for (see the complaints of one such developer below). As for informing those "with standing" of a possible change, language was added so that once a change was requested, a sign reflecting that change request had to be posted on the property and the change could not be approved until at least 10 days after the posting of that sign.

That, and the word "Exceptions" was changed to "Variances."

The commissioners also recommended the council approve language amending the ordinances regarding impervious surfaces and postponed until their Oct. 11 meeting deciding the fate of two conditional use permits.

In the first conditional use permit case, the commissioners were concerned the north side of a proposed 9,000-square-foot retail center planned for the northbound frontage road of I-35, just north of the AMM Collision Center, did not contain the required masonry the city dictates must be on all buildings. The building’s owner, Dennis Artale, who said he hoped to lease a portion of the center for a restaurant and eventually construct a hotel just to the south of the center, said since all traffic would be driving north on the frontage road anyway, that side of the building wouldn’t be that visible. In addition, he said, a line of trees on the property line just beyond the building also obscured that side.

City planner William Atkinson said, however, everything Artale said was irrelevant. "The I-35 overlay standards have been in place for quite some time, prior to 2015," Atkinson told the commissioners. "To be honest it really shouldn’t be an issue that the four-side masonry on the north side needs to be in place. We go by our code and it’s a simple as that."

Needless to say, Artale was not happy with the entire process.

"This will end up raising the cost on the property in addition to the added wait time," he said. "I have never built anything in Kyle. This is my first experience and it hasn’t been a good one. I’ve built two retails in Buda off of 967 but I hadn’t built one here in Kyle yet. But it seems like the process takes a lot longer here. I don’t know if there is any way we can speed the process up because the small business person we have to get a loan to buy the land, the loan for the interim and all of that. It just adds more and more layers to the cost. Then we have to hope we can lease it out enough to make ends meet."

In the second case, involving a proposed 16,000-square foot blood bank across Kyle Parkway from Seton Medical Center, the commissioners were hesitant to act until the Board of Adjustments rules on the property owner’s request for additional parking places. That ruling is expected at the Board of Adjustments’ Oct. 3 meeting. The maximum allowable parking spaces for such a facility is 101. The blood bank, BioLife Plasma Services, is seeking 170, which their architect claimed, is the number needed to accommodate customer demand at all the other identical facilities the company has constructed around the country.

The big question on the impervious surface issue was whether a swimming pool filled with water could be considered an impervious surface. In the end, the commissioners decided it was.

Monday, September 12, 2016

P&Z to consider expanding impervious surface definitions

In advance of the city council instituting storm water fees, the Planning & Zoning Commission will consider Tuesday zoning ordinance amendments that will expand what is considered an impervious surface subject to stormwater runoff. Basically, the changes would align Kyle with more accepted impervious surface definitions in place in other communities with active stormwater management programs.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the city hall council chambers. A public hearing is scheduled as part of the impervious surface agenda item.

These changes won’t have an immediate dramatic financial impact on homeowners because the city is considering a monthly stormwater fee that will be uniform for all. That’s because Kyle’s housing stock is relatively uniform. But, as the city grows and its housing stock becomes more diverse in size, it is expected residential stormwater fees will be calculated in proportion to the amount of impervious surface contained on a homeowner’s property. That means a homeowner with a large concrete deck, a swimming pool or a large paved entryway could pay more than a neighbor without any of these amenities.

The city is considering requiring commercial property owners, however, to pay a monthly stormwater utility fee based on the total area of impervious surface on their property.

The definitions will have an immediate effect on future developments because it will adjust the percentage of a property that can be covered by an impervious surface is each zoning district. Because more features of a property will be considered impervious, the percentages are increased under the terms of the proposed changes. For example, in residential areas zoned R-1-2, the total amount of a lot that can be covered in impervious surface will increase from 45 to 60 percent; in a warehouse zoned area, from 60 to 75 percent.

Under current definitions, only the actual home counts toward the amount of impervious surface on a residential property. "This manifests itself as a problem," according to the staff analysis that accompanies the proposed changes, "because stormwater detention facilities are effectively sized for expected impervious surfaces, but in Kyle usual and customary paved surfaces like driveways, sidewalks, patios, pool decks, etc., can’t be adequately calculated to be contained during a storm event."

In other words, if the newly created stormwater utility is going to be successful, it must be able to account for all impervious surfaces so "that more effective stormwater control can be implemented in the developmental process," the staff analysis said.

Under the new definition, "Impervious cover means roads, parking areas, buildings, rooftop landscapes, patios, decking and other construction limiting the absorption of water by covering the natural land surface; this shall include, but not be limited to, all streets and pavement within the development, and all other surfaces comprised of wood, stone, concrete, asphalt, metal, brick and other masonry, decorative water features like ponds and pools, and swimming pools. Improved areas established on a suitably engineered sub-base, whose purpose is to capture stormwater from the two-year storm event and recharge ground water, are not impervious."

The amendments will define a "a paved area" as one "surfaced with asphalt, concrete or similar durable pavement, providing a permanent, erosion-resistant, all-weather surface. Gravel, river rock, and/or stone dust (road base) are not acceptable paved surfaces. Proprietary, engineered pre-cast systems incorporating natural surfaces which allow for stormwater management as well as load-bearing vehicle storage such as Geoblocks, Grasscrete, and Truckpave, etc., also qualify as pavement."

P&Z commissioners will also be asked to consider conditional use permits that will enable the construction of a one-story, 16,686-square-foot facility on Seton Parkway, across the street from the under-construction Goodwill store, to be used as a BioLife Plasma Services facility; and one-story 9,000-square-foot "multi-tenant retail center" (mini strip-mall?) on the northbound I-35 frontage road, just north of the AMM Collision Center, between Windy Hill Road and the 149 highway.

The commissioners will also consider much-debated changes to that part of the zoning ordinance dealing with landscape requirements and possibly whether to remove the landscape provisions from Chapter 53 of the ordinance and making it a separate chapter. A public hearing is also attached to the landscape changes agenda item.

In fact, you can read the entire Planning & Zoning Commission agenda right here.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Stormwater fee vote likely for mid-November

Although there has been no official announcement from the city (the last time I checked), I have learned it is likely the city council will conduct its public hearing on a proposed monthly stormwater fee and vote on the second reading of an ordinance to impose the fee at its Nov. 15 meeting.

I am going to go out even further on this limb and predict the council will approve the fee in a 6-1 vote. After all, it has already passed a budget that calls for the creation of a Stormwater Utility and it would be idiotic to create the utility, but not fund it. The most likely scenario is the fee will be $5 a month for residential customers and a much higher monthly fee for commercial customers that will be based on the amount of impervious surface on their property. 

Don’t carve that Nov. 15 date in stone just yet, but the council’s second meeting in November looks like the most plausible time for the city to pass the ordinance that will set the fee. The first reading of the ordinance most likely will take place at the council’s first November meeting.

Right now, according to sources within the city, the schedule looks like this:
  • Wednesday, September 28: First printing of Storm Drainage & Flood Risk Mitigation Utility (the official name of the utility) ordinance & schedule of charges with public hearing scheduled for Nov. 15.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 12: Second printing of the ordinance & schedule of charges along with the public hearing date..
  • Wednesday, Oct. 26: Third printing of the aforementioned information.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 1: City council meeting with the first reading of the SD&FRMU ordinance and schedule of charges as part of the agenda.
  • Tuesday, Nov.15: City council meeting that will include the statutorily required public hearing for the stormwater fee ordinance and schedule of charges as well as a vote on the second reading of the ordinance.

Even though during a July budget workshop council member Daphne Tenorio not only voiced support of a stormwater fee, she expressed concern the idea of a $3-a-month fee for homeowners was not high enough to adequately fund the utility, her statements expressed on why she could not support passage of the FY 2016-17 budget now reflects an opposition to the imposition of the fee. I have asked her to confirm this apparently reversal, but have not received a reply. Nevertheless, I am expecting her to be the one lone vote against setting the fee.

In a previous conversation, Stormwater Management Plan Administrator Kathy Roecker confirmed customers would not be billed for stormwater fees until sometime after the first of the year.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Council OKs budget, lower tax rate, pre-annexation template but tables loan-for-jobs deal

The City Council unanimously approved an $80 million budget for FY 2016-17 tonight, lowered the property tax rate one cent to $.5748 per $100 property valuation, unanimously passed a template for agreements that will be used whenever a property owner outside the city limits requests utilities from the city, but tabled a plan to offer RSI, Inc., an interest-free economic development loan in return for hiring new employees.

No reason was given during the council meeting for tabling the RSI agreement, an action the council took at the behest of City Manager Scott Sellers. After the meeting I asked Sellers why he made the request and he replied: "I think we just needed a little more time to get everyone comfortable with it." When I asked "Who is not comfortable with it," he just gave me a "C’mon, I can’t tell you that" smile, but added "You’ll know soon enough."

It was really the only unexpected event of the entire 28-minute meeting.

The blank spaces on the agreement template will be filled in and signed by all parties whenever a property owner outside the city limits wants the city to provide utilities to that owner. The agreement basically says that, in return for providing the utilities, whenever the city blows the whistle that property will be annexed into the city limits.

Sellers told the council the agreement applies to "utilities extended within the city’s CCN, meaning our service territory for water/wastewater, another neighboring jurisdiction’s CCN, a neighboring jurisdiction’s ETJ or in their corporate municipal limits. But what this agreement stipulates is any time those services are extended to a property owner they would need to sign one of these pre-annexation agreements which basically states they would dis-annex from whatever territory they are in and, in exchange, annex into either the city of Kyle’s corporate jurisdiction or sign an agreement that says at the time the city of Kyle desires or has the ability to annex that area that it will be a voluntary annexation."

Sellers said the city has extended utilities to some of these areas in the past and when the city tried to annex them, "there are times when we are fought for that annexation. Yet they are taking advantage of that city service we have already provided to them.

"So this basically states," Sellers said, "if you’re going to receive city services that you will annex in at the time that annexation is called upon." He said that annexation might not take place until three to five years after the utilities are provided, "but at the time that annexation is the logical next step for the city, that property owner will annex into the city of Kyle."

Mayor Todd Webster said the template came about largely because of recent annexation efforts.

"We had property owners receiving utilities who didn’t want to be annexed," the mayor said. "They said they already received all the benefits of being within the city without having to pay city taxes, so why should they be annexed? I could see from where they were coming from why they would feel that way. I think this policy will resolve a lot of future disagreements. And it wouldn’t apply to anyone unless they made the choice to ask us for utilities."

As predicted, the vote on the final reading of the proposed budget was 6-1 with council member Daphne Tenorio casting the lone vote in opposition, presumably for the same reasons she gave for opposing it on first reading last Wednesday. The vote on the lower tax rate was unanimous.

In other action tonight, the council:
  • Officially welcomed the city’s new recreation division manager, Jason Miller, who comes to the city after having worked for the city of New Braunfels, as well as Sarah Watson, who will become the city’s new programs and events specialist. Watson is also the staff liaison with Kyle Area Youth Advisory Council (KAYAC) and she told me after the meeting she plans on retaining that liaison position in addition to her new responsibilities.
  • Unanimously approved the appointments of seven high school students — Jude McClaren, Skyler Gold, Mia Padron, Dharma Heaney, Raymond "RJ" Navarro, Anna Holsonbake and Samantha Martinez — to KAYAC.
  • Unanimously approved Ryan Browning, council member Travis Mitchell’s nominee, to the Ethics Commission.

Friday, September 2, 2016

City to loan RSI $484,234 to be repaid with 82 new jobs

The City Council is expected to vote on an agreement with RSI, Inc., that will grant the company an interest-free loan of $484,234, which the company will repay by hiring 82 additional employees during the next 10 years.

The hiring of the 82 new employees is supposed to bring the total workforce at RSI to 132. Each employee must work at least 30 hours a week for the company to qualify for the repayment.

Under terms of the agreement, RSI is expected to hire seven new employees in each of the first seven years of the loan agreement, 10 new employees in year eight, 11 in year nine and a dozen in the final year. None of the new employees may be undocumented workers.

RSI, Inc., currently owns a five-acre tract at 1670 Kohler’s Crossing. The company describes itself as "an authorized distributor of electro-mechanical parts and services to global industries and markets such as (the) Department of Defense, energy markets, commercial aerospace, industrial markets, and transportation industries."

It is assumed that an increase in the number of employees at RSI will translate into an increase in sales which will mean more sales tax dollars for the city’s coffers. It could also increase the value that five-acre tract RSI owns which would also mean additional revenues to the city.

The loan balance will decrease by one-tenth of the original balance ($48,423.40) every year RSI meets its hiring obligations. If, at any time, the company fails to meet those obligations, the agreement requires RSI to "pay to the city the full balance of the loan payment upon thirty days after receiving notice from the City." In other words, if, in year 5 of the deal, RSI only adds five new employees to its work force, it would be required to pay the city $13,835.26, or two-sevenths of the annual loan installment.

The agreement also requires RSI to "retain and maintain a local intern program and provide opportunity for at least two Hays CISD students for a summer internship each year of this agreement."

There’s also an incentive for RSI to help the city with additional economic development. According to the agreement, "For every meeting (RSI) sets up between the city and executive-level decision-makers from other companies that the city agrees are potential economic development prospects for the city, the city will credit (RSI) $1,000 per qualified meeting. The maximum of these meeting credits is $25,000 for the 10-year period of this agreement."

In other action planned for Tuesday, the council is expected to approve the nominations of seven persons to the Kyle Area Youth Advisory Council and one, chiropractor Ryan Browning, to the Ethics Commission; approve a template that could be used as part of development agreements covering the delivery city utilities to areas proposed tor annexation; and, of course, finally approve a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 (I'm betting the vote on this will be 6-1) and the corresponding tax rate.

The complete agenda can be found here.