The Kyle Report

The Kyle Report

Thursday, May 18, 2017

May sees worst sales tax deficit of the year

Kyle’s sales tax receipts took their worst hit of the fiscal year in May, accounting for nearly half of the year’s entire sales tax deficit in this month alone.

Receipts were a whopping $77,828.24 or 10.07 percent less than what was anticipated for the month. That amount represents 48.6 percent of the entire year’s sales tax deficit of $160,510.66 and is $21,198.57 more than the previous worst month of this fiscal year. That earlier drop-off was attributed to lower-than-expected sales during the Christmas holiday period. The May figures usually represent money consumers spend in March.

Although the actual receipts were 5.1 percent higher than May 2016, this month marked the third straight one where that year-over-year increase has also declined.

The numbers don’t seem to be a reflection of the local economy — although the city’s population has increased over this same time last year, it’s doubtful that is has increased by 5.1 percent in a single year; it’s more likely this shortfall was caused by overly optimistic financial forecasts by city number crunchers. However, in little more than two months we’ll learn if this year’s figures result in a tempering of sales tax receipts expectations when those same crunchers announce their preliminary forecasts for FY 2017-18 at the July 29 unveiling of the city manager’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Council amends Comp Plan to reflect “Smart Growth” philosophies

The term "transect" is most often connected with ecology. It refers to a progression through a sequence of ecological habitats — for example, from a wetland, to an upland to a foothill. Ecologists use the transect to describe how each habitat supports symbiotic sets of mineral conditions, microclimate, flora and fauna. "Smart Growth" urban planners have adapted this theory into something they call the "rural-to-urban transect" which, to put it in its simplest terms, means a sequence of human habitats of increasing density and complexity from the rural outskirts of a community to its urban core. The overriding principle of the "Smart Growth" urban planning movement, formulated early this century but a concept that really gained widespread support among learned urban planners in the last 10 years, is that a city’s "overall design should correspond to the logic of transition from the natural edge to the man-made center."

Council member Travis Mitchell wisely applied that concept last night to the city’s mid-term amendments of its 2010 Comprehensive Plan before the council approved, 6-1, the first reading of the ordinance adopting those amendments. The one lone negative vote came from no-growth mouthpiece Daphne Tenorio.

Mitchell’s change to the plan was, admittedly, minor in the overcall scheme of the entire plan, but significant in that in puts urban planners on notice that, from henceforth, the city is going to adhere more closely to the Smart Growth philosophy of urban management.

"A developer wants to build 13 houses instead of 10 in 650 feet," Mitchell said. "I understand that. That’s what a developer wants to do. It’s what’s coming at us, overwhelmingly right now. Almost every zoning request that we’re getting is for (the more dense) R-1-3. Some of those were absolutely appropriate in our core areas — next to the library on Scott Street, for example. That was appropriate there. But in the case of the East Settlement (land use district) and far east Kyle, putting in incredibly dense, flat, straight subdivisions is something I think we need to say is ‘conditional’."

Then Mitchell addressed the fundamental philosophy of the Smart Growth movement.

"These areas are far away from business development," the council member told his colleagues. "We have roads in those areas that are very narrow and when you put in dense development — 13 homes for every 650 feet — you get more traffic and it’s not the way a city should be naturally formed: density towards urban cores and regional nodes."

Mitchell’s motion to move the R-1-3 zoning category, along with R-2 (duplexes), from the list of the recommended uses to the list of conditional uses in the East Settlement landuse district passed on a 6-1 roll-call vote, with Shane Arabie casting the one dissenting vote. His motion to move R-1-3 only from recommended to conditional in the Heritage District passed on an identical roll call vote. Both districts are on the eastern edge of the city and a map of their actual locations can be seen by going here and then clicking on the last item of this list, "Land Use District Map May 2017."

It is worth noting, however, that immediately after adopting these amendments into the mid-term Comp Plan update, the council voted 4-3 to implement that denser R-1-3 zoning for a residential subdivision to be located in the East Settlement District.

In other action during last night’s four-hour, seven-minute meeting:
  • City Manager Scott Sellers informed the council that a regional wastewater treatment plant might require construction far sooner than anticipated because of a denser-than-originally planned development in an area nominally located in San Marcos that many probably think is actually in Kyle. The development, once called LaSalle but which now bears the name Waterstone extends north and east from the northeast corner of I-35 and Yarrington Road. Under a convoluted agreement apparently reached several years ago, San Marcos owns and controls the surface of this property while Kyle has control over what’s below the surface. That simply means the land itself and whatever is developed on it will be officially located in the ETJ and most probably at some point within the corporate limits of San Marcos, but Kyle is responsible for providing for the underground wastewater infrastructure needs for that development. Under the terms of that agreement, Kyle agreed to provide wastewater service for 7,500 LUEs in that development. The news Sellers broke to the council last night was the developer is now planning on 10,000 LUEs there .The area is located in the Blanco River Basin which means the natural gravity flow of liquid would be south. However, Kyle’s wastewater treatment plant is located north of the development so the cost of installing and operating the lift stations required to send the wastewater from the development to that treatment plant, especially with the added density, could be more expensive for Kyle than contributing to the cost of building a plant further south that would be jointly owned and operated by Kyle, San Marcos and the HCPUA. The overall plan, according to Sellers, is for a 20-25 year build-out of the development. But because (1) it is expected, according to Waterstone’s developers, to have "homes on the ground" in the development by the end of 2018, and (2), according to the city manager, "the infrastructure needs to go in be right-sized today," Sellers told the council that plans for that facility may have to be accelerated but his immediate need was direction from the council on whether he should sign a letter pledging Kyle’s willingness to provide the needed infrastructure according to the accelerated development schedule. "The issue we are bumping into right now is a timing issue," Sellers told the council. He added "Because the engineering has not been finalized we don’t know exactly the location of that regional plant and we don’t have a plan to fund that plant," but, he added, "the pre-payment of impact fees can accelerate that timing of the regional plant where instead of putting infrastructure into the ground to get to our current plant it basically goes to pre-fund the regional plant.."
  • After Mayor Todd Webster said the purpose of a proposed convoluted parking ordinance was designed, for the most part, to institute a fee structure for parking fines in order to quell the complaints from local residents over $200 parking tickets, the council voted 6-1 to turn the entire ordinance over the city’s legal department to edit it so that, essentially, it makes more sense than it does now.
  • Following the presentation of a Memorial Day resolution recognizing members of the armed forces who lost their lives in battle, council member David Wilson announced a tentative site and a funding plan needed to supplement the money already designated by the city for the proposed Kyle Veterans Memorial. "We want a quality memorial," Wilson said. "We have the rough outline of what we want — something we can really be proud of in our community." Wilson said the current plan is for the memorial to be located at the lake outside the Performing Arts Center on the northwest corner of Kohlers Crossing and Kyle Parkway. "There’s a little indention between the two fountains right there at the PAC center," Wilson said. "The developer there is agreeable to the location." Wilson said one of his plans is to launch a "Gofundme" campaign to raise money to help pay for the construction of the memorial.
  • The council quite correctly reversed the wrong-headed recommendation by the Planning & Zoning Commission and granted, in a 6-1 vote, Community Commercial zoning for a half-acre parcel located on West Center Street, what is arguably regarded as Kyle’s "Main Street." Although the original application was for that zoning, P&Z recommended a more restrictive Neighborhood Commercial zoning instead.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Council to discuss already-ignored Comp Plan updates, peculiar parking program

The City Council agenda for this coming Tuesday’s 7 p.m. meeting calls for the body to hold a public hearing and vote on mid-term amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which has already been openly and defiantly ignored by the Planning & Zoning Commission, as well as the first reading of a much-needed yet peculiar parking ordinance.

In its meeting last Tuesday, the Planning Commission ignored the fact that the city’s new vision for its future lists community commercial zoning as a recommended use for a particular section of town and rejected an applicant’s plea for that particular zoning, voting instead to recommend a more restrictive zoning use for the land in question. The decision sent a clear message to developers and potential investors interested in Kyle: "Pay no attention to what’s contained in our Comprehensive Plan. It isn’t worth even considering. Here in Kyle, we make up our own rules on the fly."

Now I have always maintained a city’s Comprehensive Plan is a guide and not a rule book. But there’s something wrong when a majority of commissioners vote against a recommended zoning use for no other reason than the personal whims of that majority. That substitutes those short-sighted whims for what is stated as the long-term vision of the city as a whole.

Interestingly, the council also has that same zoning item on its agenda Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if the council follows the recommendations of the updated Comp Plan, which it will vote on as Item 18, or the recommendations of the Planning Commission, which comes up two items later.

There is much to applaud in the Comp Plan revisions under consideration, even though the Planning Commission has, by its actions earlier in the week, essentially declared those revisions worthless. Chief among them is the elimination of the so-called "Employment District" land use designation for a section of the city where absolutely no one would locate a significant center of employment, especially since it is served neither by Kyle water or wastewater infrastructure. Under the revisions, that extreme northeast area, most of which actually lies outside Kyle’s corporate limits, will bear the designation "Transitional Settlement" district, which is now being described as an area for "low-density housing … serviced by private wastewater treatment plants while still preserving its rural landscape heritage."

The other districts to receive a major overhaul include a pair of districts that formerly each bore the name New Settlement District. Under the revisions, the former New Settlement District located entirely east of I-35 will be called East Settlement Community. The proposed wording of the revised plan describes the remaining New Settlement District, which stretches across the southern border of the city, as being "as diverse as the district is expansive" and one which is "defined more by the function of the streets and neighborhoods that serve any particular block being examined and less by the multiple land forms characteristic of the region as a whole." The plan seems to recognize this area is ripe for potential development, particularly along the planned new route of RR 150 which will cut through the district: "Future development will occur along roadways best suited for access, and in the best proximity to the emerging water and wastewater infrastructure planned for in the city’s capital improvement plan."

Also worthy of note is a sentence inserted in the description for the Midtown District, which incorporates what is currently mainly a residential area north of downtown and east of I-35: "High-density residential, attached residential, and non-residential projects like employment and retail sales should be considered based on their … likelihood of compatibility of adjacent uses." Although this is entirely accurate, there will be some residents living in that district that will likely take issue with that statement, such as was the case last year when residents of the Silverado subdivision were successful in bullying the council to deny "high density, attached resident" townhouse zoning to property located within this district.

A sentence added to the description of New Town District, which includes most of the Plum Creek subdivision states "As parcels along major roadways and alongside high capacity wet utilities become available, the development density of those parcels should be established higher than other areas of the city, especially any properties in proximity to either I-35, FM 1626, or both." It also states this district includes "the proposed site for an ‘Uptown’ shopping/activity center," presumably planned for a location at or near the northeast corner of FM 1626 and Kohlers Crossing.

The revised comp plan recommends an increased number of mixed use developments for the Old Town Community which includes downtown Kyle and that area immediately east of downtown all the way to where Center Street intersects with Rebel Road. " … development should encompass a true model of multiple uses within the same structure to permit greater potential to operate in the same land area available today," according to the new wording used to describe the district. "Once a greater number and variety of service and product providers assembles in Kyle’s Old Town District, store owners should be able to solicit patronage from not only the residential immediately adjacent, but from the considerable number of residences to the north and northwest." This wording is also likely to receive some pushback from longtime residents in the area.

The revised plan also tries to further differentiate the so-called regional nodes from those nodes designed as local in nature. "Regional Nodes are scaled and designed as activity centers where users not only secure goods and services, but also congregate and remain for extended periods, unlike Local Nodes which are designed around quick turnaround convenience retail," according to wording inserted in this update.

Although this will be the first reading of the ordinance adopting the Comp Plan amendments, Tuesday’s meeting will provide the final opportunity for a public hearing on those amendments, According to a staff memo that accompanies the agenda item, "The process as spelled out by the city’s charter is a series of three public hearings: two of which have already taken place before the Planning & Zoning Commission on April 11 and April 25, 2017; the deliberation period from the second public hearing was extended to May 9, which had the added effect of postponing this third public hearing in front of the mayor and city council to May 16. This meeting will serve as the final meeting (emphasis mine) where the edits will be deliberated and adopted in front the city council."

The proposed parking ordinance, while welcomed and needed, is problematic because of its somewhat checkered history, its inclusion of an anti-panhandling section in what’s supposed to be strictly an ordinance regulating parking, its discriminatory attitude against multi-family areas of town and the typical Kyle approach of looking only at present needs without any regard to long-term vision.

The history of this ordinance includes an attempt several weeks ago to bring it before the Planning & Zoning Commission over the strenuous objections of one commissioner who maintained the commission’s consideration of a parking ordinance did not fall within the duties assigned the commission by the city charter. Then, at last Tuesday’s P&Z meeting, Planning Director Howard Koontz informed the commission it would no longer be assigned to consider the proposed parking ordinance because it fell outside its jurisdiction. That was greeted with the strenuous objections of another commissioner who argued P&Z should consider everything involving "planning" or otherwise it should be renamed "the Zoning Commission." That commissioner left unsaid whether the definition of everything involving planning included planning for such things as the proposed Hot Air Balloon Festival or exactly where that line needed to be drawn. Then, three days after Planning & Zoning was removed from any jurisdiction over the proposal, it suddenly appeared on the city council’s agenda posted Friday evening.

The anti-panhandling feature which mysteriously finds it way into what’s supposed to be a parking ordinance is contained in Section 47.37 (f) which reads: "It is unlawful for a person to loiter near corners, sidewalks, crosswalks or intersections of congested roads for the solicitation of money or the selling or promotion of goods and services." Personally, I have absolutely no idea what that has to do with parking.

The multi-family discriminations can be found in Sections 47.52 and Sections 47.53. To avoid duplication, I’ll simply mention the latter which says "It is unlawful for a person to leave, stand or park a large motor vehicle, travel trailer, personal water craft or boat, either attached or unattached to a motor vehicle on a public street in any single family residential zoning district (again, emphasis mine) in excess of 24 hours." The question is why discriminate against such streets as Cromwell Drive, which (1) extends from Kohlers Crossing past Sampson, (2) is quickly becoming "an apartment row," (3) is one of the principle entrance and exit drives for Plum Creek, and (4) should have the same restricted parking prohibitions as public streets in single-family districts? The reason is simple: The folks who craft these ordinances don’t live in apartments so they don’t care what happens on the public streets where apartments are located.

Why this is such a short-sighted ordinance is because it is a proposed parking ordinance that contains neither the phrase "parking meter" nor "parking garage." I realize neither exist within the city at present, but that’s why I say this ordinance looks only at the present and does not address the long-term.

I also question the wisdom of the wording in Section 47.27 (e) which states that for any parking violation "The registered owner and the operator of the vehicle, when not the same, are both liable to the city for the parking citation." Here’s the problem with that: How is the person issuing the parking citation going to know whether "the registered owner and the operator of the vehicle" are not the same person unless that person issuing the citation waits at the parked vehicle for its operator to return?

Section 47.30 states it’s a "level two violation," punishable by a $30 fine, to park in a no parking zone, but a "level three violation," punishable by a $50 fine, to park in a fire zone. Isn’t a fire zone, by definition, a no-parking zone?

The wording of Section 47.31 should be more inclusive, Right now it reads "When signs or markings are placed on a public street or in a public area giving notice thereof, no person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle for a period of time longer than the time indicated on the signs or markings." I think it should include additional wording so that it reads: "When signs or markings are placed on a public street or in a public area giving notice therefore, no person shall stop, stand or park a vehicle for a period of time (1) longer than the time indicated on the signs or markings or (2) during a time expressly prohibited by the signs or markings." This would then include signs limiting vehicles to parking for, say, two hours only, as well as enforcing regulations where parking is prohibited, for example, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, except holidays and the like.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda include:
  • Two items that appear, to my eyes, identical. Both items 24 and 25 are exactly the same request (each contains the exactly same worded request letter) from James Ingalls, an engineer with Moeller and Associates of New Braunfels, requesting waivers from minimum development standards for the Windy Hill subdivision. Not that I can find a thing wrong with the request; it’s just that I can’t find any distinction between the two, except that on the agenda one bears the label "FP-16-006" and the other "FP-16-007." Hopefully, sharper eyes than mine can discern the difference.
  • A request to shell out $1.4 million to Burgess & Nipple, Inc., of Austin to "provide design drawings and specifications for construction of the new (wastewater) treatment facilities and for upgrading or repurposing existing facilities." According to City Engineer Leon Barba, the design firm has already completed plans for expanding the current wastewater treatment plant. Under the terms of this proposed expenditure "B&N will submit plans for review at the 50 percent and 95 percent completion level," according to Barba. "Staff will review the plans and specifications and provide comments. When the plans are 95 percent completed, a cost estimate will be prepared and then submitted to TCEQ for review and approval. When the 100 percent of the plans and specifications are completed, B&N will begin and complete the bidding process." The $1.4 million will come from accumulated wastewater impact fee funds.
  • A presentation from City Manager Scott Sellers on something called the Waterstone Development. I have absolutely no idea what this is, but presumably it’s one of those items that has been discussed in council executive sessions that, up until now, bore a colorful nomenclature like "Radiant Red" or "Passionate Purple," or even the already discussed "Just Peachy," which is scheduled to be part of this week’s executive session. The only relevant item a Google search produced was a listing for a Massachusetts-based Waterstone Retail Development that "operates as a real estate development, acquisition, and management company in the United States. The company specializes in the creation and repositioning of shopping centers. It focuses on grocery-anchored power and non-traditional specialty centers. The company develops properties under the 'build to own' model. Its activities include land acquisition, new developments, project repositioning, financing, construction, leasing, management, and portfolio acquisitions." However, this company has no recorded dealings anywhere in the state of Texas, so I doubt it has anything to do with Sellers’s planned presentation.
  • Wastewater Division Manager Jason Biemer is also scheduled to make a presentation on the implementation of a computer-based monitoring system being installed at seven wastewater lift stations that Biemer says will give the city "(1) more robust detection ability of a potential failure; (2) better monitoring of pump health i.e. efficiency; (3) better preventative maintenance, predicting failures before they happen in many cases; and (4) faster response from treatment staff to potential plant upsets."
  • The nomination of Plum Creek resident Amy McWhorter, who holds a master’s degree in public administration "with a concentration in land use management," to the Board of Adjustments/Sign Control Board.
  • Spending $97,108.86 (and that includes a $74,501.14 buyback discount) to purchase one of these for the Stormwater Department. That 97 large represents 20 percent of the unencumbered balance in Stormwater’s approved fiscal year budget.
  • Spending another $98,356, or 25 percent of what’s left of that unencumbered balance in Stormwater’s approved fiscal year budget, for two of these.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Knight joins Tenorio trying to rile conspiracy theorists with false information

City gadfly Lila Knight has joined co-conspirator council member Daphne Tenorio in taking to Facebook to make false accusations about yesterday’s City Council meeting and workshop.

Knight wrongly accused the city on Facebook of editing the video of the meeting to eliminate Mayor Todd Webster’s harsh but well-deserved criticism of Tenorio because of false and misleading comments she made on Facebook about the council’s scheduled meeting earlier in the week.

Tenorio re-posted Knight’s comments on her Facebook page. I’m not sure why, exactly, because Webster’s comments actually held Tenorio up for public ridicule and incurred the wrath of her colleagues on the council. One could argue that Knight should be thrilled there is no video record of her ally being the object of such a tongue-lashing.

The truth is the folks in the room behind the council chambers simply forgot to hit the "record" button until after the meeting was called to order. I can sympathize. I made the same error on numerous occasions, back in the days when a VCR was the only option to record something on television.

Yesterday’s city council recording begins during a verbal altercation over Tenorio’s false claims between Tenorio and fellow council member Becky Selbera, an altercation that seemed to be veering from the vocal to the physical. (I’ve heard oddsmakers were giving 25-1 odds in favor of Selbera in the event of any such physical encounter.)

Calling the false claim of editing, "shades of Richard Nixon," Knight ended her comment with "Please. Don’t mess with government documents."

Knight claims to be some sort of a historian, but if she truly was one she would know it was Rose Mary Woods, not Nixon himself, responsible for editing 18½ minutes out of June 20, 1972 audio tape of an Oval Office meeting between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman. Woods claimed she made roughly the same mistake as the video recorders at Kyle City Hall. Woods told a grand jury that more than a year after the date of the meeting — on Sept. 29, 1973 — she was reviewing a tape of the Nixon-Haldeman conversation when she said she had made "a terrible mistake" during the transcription. While playing the tape on a Uher 5000, she answered a phone call. Reaching for the Uher 5000 stop button, she said that she mistakenly hit the button next to it, the record button. For the duration of the phone call, she kept her foot on the device's pedal, causing a portion of the tape to be re-recorded.

It is also worth noting that the City of Kyle’s video recording is not "the official" recording of the meeting. The official one is an audio recording made by City Secretary Jennifer Vetrano. It is a public document and available to any citizen who wants to listen to it. It is also the recording Vetrano uses to compile the meeting’s written minutes.

It is no secret that I have often been accused, most harshly by My Hero, of being overly critical of our city officials, but, unlike Tenorio and Knight, my criticism concerns actual comments said/left unsaid or actions taken/not taken. For example, I wrote yesterday how disappointed I was in the council’s discussion following the presentation of City Manager Scott Sellers’s initial thoughts on the FY17-18 budget. At no point in the discussion did the council members mention the fact that Sellers warned them water and wastewater fees might have to be hiked dramatically in order to overcome a potential $26.5 million deficit in the city’s Utility Funds. Instead, the council talked only about the property tax rate. It was if the council purposely did not want to draw the public’s attention to these possible rate hikes and instead were positioning themselves politically as the person who will go the farthest to cut taxes in order to prepare for a November mayoral run.

Every other involved citizen is free to have a different opinion. They are free to opine that talking about the property tax rate is far more important than discussing utility fees. But that is a disagreement about something that actually transpired (or, it could be argued, didn’t transpire),

If Lila Knight truly believed what she wrote, instead of merely blowing smoke, she would file tampering charges against city officials. I’m betting she won’t because she knows that all she is really doing is spreading false information.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Council discussion ignores potential $26.5 million gap in Utility Fund

Today’s city council roundtable discussion of the budget for the next fiscal year completely disregarded City Manager Scott Sellers’s projection that the Utility Funds’s new budget needs exceed its new revenue estimates by $26,512,450 and instead concentrated on where to set the property tax rate.

Discussions with Sellers and Mayor Todd Webster after the meeting adjourned did deal more with the infrastructure needs funded by the Utility Fund. In fact, Webster went so far as to say it would be "irresponsible" not to deal with those needs, but, the actual council discussion itself seemed more like the opening salvo of November’s mayoral campaign than a reasoned approach to fund the services the city needs to provide.

Sellers, as is his unflappable style, took it all in stride, promising the city’s staff would not "reduce the level services to our citizens," regardless of where the council eventually sets the tax rate.

"The council wants to reflect the increased valuations that will come upon the homeowners by some form of reduced tax rate," the city manager said following the formal adjournment of the council’s gathering. "Staff understands we will not reduce the current level of service delivery, but yet we will operate at an effective rate rather than the new rate which will be given to us later. Where we land in there is up to our budgeting process over the next two months, but we will ensure that we do not reduce the level of services to our citizens."

Sellers said despite the fact the council did not discuss the need for funding the needed water/wastewater infrastructure improvements required of a city growing as quickly as Kyle, those needs will not be ignored as the staff prepares the actual proposed budget it plans to deliver to council at the end of July.

"The other thought is that the priority is on the infrastructure development of the city," the manager said. "We are obligated. We have a responsibility to extend our wastewater infrastructure as the city grows to accommodate that growth. We are expanding the wastewater treatment plant to match that growth as well. The interceptors — those sewer lines that will accommodate that growth — unfortunately need to be put into the ground before the development occurs. Over time we will recover those costs, but today those costs are coming due. So the budget will reflect that wastewater and water infrastructure that we need to sustain a growing community."

Those wastewater infrastructure needs are paid for out of a Utility Fund which derives its income predominantly from water and wastewater fees paid by residents, not the General Fund, whose money source comes predominantly from property taxes, sales taxes and franchise and other corporate fees. More than two thirds of the General Fund goes to financing public safety as well as parks/recreation as well as paying off debt service incurred by bond sales.

Sellers said a drastic reduction in the tax rate would have an effect on city services far greater than the overall proportion of that reduction

"The overall property tax rate used to fund the General Fund has two components," Sellers said. "The debt component is the larger component of our tax rate so the city service delivery is really only from 24 cents of the current overall tax burden (of around 57 cents). So when you put that into perspective you realize that much of what has happened in the past from a tax rate and a utility perspective has been done to manage the rapid pace of growth."

Mayor Webster emphasized the General Fund over the Utility Fund in a post-meeting discussion, saying it could be difficult to enact a major property tax rate reduction, as at least one that one council member proposed, because "it’s clear there isn’t any fluff in the budget."

"There’s not fluff in anything they talked about here," the mayor said. "It’s all real needs. It’s very hard to look at what was presented and say any of these things aren’t something you could qualify as something the city needs to have. At the same time, what I think you heard from a majority of the council is a desire to try to balance those things."

Webster did touch tangentially on the possible Utility Fund deficit.

"I think the desire is to do things as fast as possible — and I share that desire — but if doing them fast results in a substantial increase in costs to taxpayers we have to balance that out." he said. "At the same time, the city went through a long period where the city either didn’t have resources or just didn’t have the wherewithal to address a lot of these things. So I’m lucky I walked in when the recession was over. But I think the growth in appraised values and the growth in commerce in this city is a reflection of the commitment the city has made to infrastructure."

He called today’s gathering "a really good meeting."

"It was clear to me that a majority of the council seemed to have a very clear understanding in ways I haven’t necessarily seen in the past," the mayor said. "I think the conversations and the feedback from the council was a higher level from what I’ve experienced.

"And everyone on the council — except one — seems to be putting some real thought into it in terms of how can we really balance what the needs are versus what we can afford to do."

Webster echoed Sellers’s concern that reducing the tax rate has a far greater impact on the city’s ability to provide services than the amount of that reduction would suggest.

"That’s the thing that’s going to hang us up the most when it comes to dealing with the tax rate," Webster said. "A good 60 percent of our tax rate is covering debt service, so when you reduce the M&O (maintenance and operation) side, you create a further imbalance there so you become very debt heavy. And that has impacts on lots of things. It has impacts on your potential bond ratings. So we have to demonstrate some wisdom when we push through it."

The mayor said the message Saturday’s meeting sent to the average Kyle taxpayer is that "the council is looking to try to find a way to fund the city to the extent possible within the existing revenue stream and we will do our best this time around not to try to grab all that growth."

Webster said he was hoping this was the budget cycle the city could say it had made all the needed investments in its infrastructure and then could simply concentrate its efforts on daily municipal operations.

"But there’s no question it would be irresponsible not to plan for and acquire the water we need for the long term," the mayor said. "And historically there has been very little accomplished for more than a decade in terms of upgrading our wastewater infrastructure. So we’re now having to pay for years of catch-up on wastewater.

"So there is a desire and there’s going to be a serious effort to really come to the budget to try to find a way — given all the things we’ve identified — not to just grab all the additional revenue that’s been generated and spend it,

"The second thing is everyone really needs to understand that there are some very significant infrastructure issues coming, one of those is our wastewater infrastructure which would have a horrible impact on them if we don’t deal with it. If we don’t deal with it, it’s irresponsible."

Webster said residents must be aware that the city council’s budget deliberations must include deciding on where the city’s future water needs are going to come from.

"We have a plan for that," he said. "We’re trying to keep that as low as possible and we have 13 entities and communities all coming together to bring water to this region so that as the growth comes everyone who lives here and is invested here continues to have water. But that costs money and it costs a lot of money. And our share of that is a lot of money. The decision there is what do you do now versus what do you do later.

"But the wastewater thing is literally a problem right now. If something isn’t done with wastewater it will prevent us from growing commercially. It will have health effects. It could lead to state intervention, fines and a whole bunch of things. And you could see a situation where, in a worst case scenario if something isn’t done, you could actually see wastewater backup."

Webster noted that council member Shane Arabie advocated for keeping the tax rate at its current level so that the city can invest in all its needs while council member Travis Mitchell went to the opposite end, proposing a reduction to the effective tax rate, i.e., the rate that would provide the city the same amount of revenue it received in the current fiscal year.

"The answer I think is that it will be somewhere in between," the mayor said. ‘And that’s just the nature of the compromises that have to be made. It’s going to be a hard conversation."

Friday, May 5, 2017

Tenorio takes to Facebook to mislead about Saturday’s council meeting

City Council member Daphne Tenorio, who might have known better had she attended last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, has gone on Facebook to make false and misleading claims about Saturday’s special council meeting that calls for the first reading of an ordinance to annex into the city 119 acres of the Blanco River Ranch property and de-annex another 242 acres.

"Why does our city want to hide information from you?," she asked rhetorically in a Facebook posting dated Wednesday (I am only just learning about this posting because the council member, in an attempt to hide information from me, has "unfriended" me on Facebook. The posting was passed along to me just now by a third party.) "Where is the transparency your sainted council members preach?"

Well, to answer her first question, the city is not trying to hide anything. Notice of the public hearings have been posted, as required, in the Hays Free Press. To answer her second question, had she attended Tuesday’s city council meeting (admittedly her absence was the result of what was described as a "major medical emergency"), she would have been able to participate in a discussion over a resolution precisely dealing with this move.

"Why can’t this wait until our next scheduled meeting?" she wrote. "So why a special meeting? Most people are with their families shuffling children from event to event. Not to mention Saturday is election day and Hays CISD is having their (sic) 50th anniversary parade."

What she failed to mention is that this meeting was scheduled as a budget workshop long before the scheduling of school district’s self-congratulatory parade. She should also know by now these budget workshops are routinely held on Saturday mornings. The truth is she probably does know, but that fact doesn’t fit her polemic.

As far as waiting until "our next scheduled meeting," this is, in fact, the council’s "next scheduled meeting" following the passage of the resolution at the meeting she missed.

Her Facebook rant also said: "I know most don’t care what the city council does (my personal Politifact meter rates this as "mostly true"), but when they call a meeting on a Saturday to talk about annexation??? (my Politifact meter rates this as "Liar! Liar! Pants on fire.") Saturday’s meeting was not called "to talk about annexation," it was called to discuss one of the most important jobs a council person has — providing input into the direction of the next fiscal year’s budget. The only job more important than that is the actual details of that budget.

Not only that, simple mathematics should inform Tenorio that since the proposal calls for the city to de-annex more than twice as much land as it is incorporating, this is a more of a meeting "to talk about de-annexation."

If she had attended Tuesday’s council meeting, or even watched the recording of it later, she would have known, as Planning Director Howard Koontz said at the meeting, "Effectively, this is just a cleanup of the prior annexation that has already taken place. The area that is being re-annexed will consist nearly exclusively as right-of-way. The areas that are being re-annexed back into the city coincide with right-of-way lines where the street network will be located. The largest area of the land we are losing is proposed to be a residential area. That will be in the county and out of the city limits."

Assistant City Manager James Earp added "The only thing changing here is the actual alignment of the road" and he noted at the same time that this was planned for the council’s meeting Saturday, additional proof this has been on the schedule for a while now. In fact, Mayor Todd Webster said at Tuesday’s council meeting immediately after the council unanimously approved a corresponding resolution on the motion "We’ll revisit this on Saturday."

Had Tenorio been there she might have heard that.

I’m not saying she should ignore a "major medical emergency" to attend a council meeting. That, by definition, could be and most likely was prohibitive. But this Facebook rant indicates she’s adhering more to the Donald Trump Tweeting School of Communications than responsible stewardship concerning the promulgation of city programs and policies.

Now, where I have a problem with tomorrow’s agenda is Item 2, one to adopt a resolution for accepting a petition to create a Public Improvement District in the Blanco River Ranch Development. My problem is the last sentence of the memo, dated tomorrow, May 6, that accompanies the item and says "The proposed public hearing date is today, June 6 2017." Besides the fact that "today," in this instance, is May 6 and not June 6, that later date is also the date set aside for the council’s first meeting in June, Not only that, even though that May 6-dated memo says "the proposed public hearing date is today," the agenda for Saturday’s meeting contains no mention of a public hearing on this PID proposal. So, are we to assume the public hearing will take place on June 6 and not "today"? Personally, I found this confusing, but only enough to mention it here and not go into a rant on Facebook about it.

Incidentally, the only other item on the agenda besides the budget workshop and the subjects addressed above is one to accept a reimbursement from the Blanco River Ranch project developers for "the costs expenses associated with retaining the consultants" needed for the development of the aforementioned PID.

That should get absolutely nobody in an uproar, but these days you never know.

Workshop may provide hint on city’s taxing, spending priorities

There are two directions the in which the city can direct itself for the upcoming budget. It can decide to spend new-found money without having to raise the tax rate or it can ignore needs to satisfy those demanding a tax-rate cut. And if the city council ultimately decides on the latter option, then the question becomes will that cut be sufficient enough to avoid an overall property tax payment increase for Kyle property owners.

The public may get a hint on which direction the city is going when the council meets at 8 a.m. Saturday at City Hall for its first workshop and public discussion of the FY 2017-18 budget.

Another issue sure to be raised and discussed at the workshop is the funding of unfilled positions.

According to preliminary valuations released by the Hays Central Appraisal District earlier this week, the taxable values on homes in Kyle increased 9.97 percent. And Kyle Finance Director Perwez Moheet told me during a break in Tuesday’s city council meetings he doesn’t expect the certified numbers this year to vary that much from these initial estimates. If anything, he said, they may even go higher.

"I have seen instances where the preliminary numbers were lower than the certified (valuations) in July," Moheet said. "Based on the numbers I’ve seen this year, I think it will stay about the same. Right now, when I compared the numbers, it was 11.9 percent change. We’ve added new properties."

But assuming HCAD’s 9.97 percent increase is close to the certified valuations, that means the council would have to set a tax rate, according to my calculations, of $.5226 per $100 valuation, which is a little more than a five-cent reduction in the current rate, to keep residents from having a higher tax bill than this year’s. In other words, a tax rate of $.5226 would be the maximum allowable to provide an actual tax cut, Anything between that and the current rate of .$5748 would merely be a reduction in the increase, but not an actual tax cut. It would also mean the city would have to hope for another 10.6 percent increase in sales tax collections as the main source for additional General Fund Revenues and that may not be nearly enough to meet the city’s needs.

Exactly what those needs are remains to be seen. Hopefully, Saturday’s workshop will provide a clearer picture of the actual needs inventory.

Sources have told me City Manager Scott Sellers will propose keeping the tax rate exactly where it is, at .5748 per $100. That position could be welcomed news for Police Department advocates who are demanding the construction of a new, high-tech, police headquarters building, a position, according to the results just released of a city survey, that does not have much public support. Such a project would have to be funded by a bond sale and keeping the current rate might provide the cushion needed to finance that sale without an additional property tax rate increase. It should be noted that along with this idea having litte public support, I have not seen the endorsement of a new KPD headquarters from a majority of council members either — at least, not at this time.

The current budget focused its spending priorities on one-time purchases (i.e., vehicles, other heavy equipment), so it’s likely that this year could begin a cycle of recurring expenditures such as devoting more funds to street maintenance and repair. According to the results of that survey commissioned by the city, 91.5 percent of all respondents said "routine street maintenance and repair" should be a high priority for the city, with more than a quarter of them — 27.48 percent — saying it should be the city’s highest priority. That’s a pretty clear message. On the other side of that same coin, more than half — 56.82 percent — of the respondents said they were either very dissatisfied or dissatisfied with the city’s routine street maintenance and repair. No other subject received more than a 50 percent dissatisfaction rate.

On the other hand, three quarters of the respondents — 76.46 percent — said the construction of a new police headquarters should be a low priority item. In fact, more respondents ranked a new police headquarters as the city’s lowest priority than any other item. So clearly, the public does not appear to be supporting the police on this issue and that fact will resonate with political leaders.

One other result of the survey I found interesting was that 45.75 percent of respondents complained the city provided "too few services" (49.56 percent said city services were "about the right amount.") The question not asked was whether that 45.75 percent would support a property tax rate hike to improve the amount of services provided.

The unfilled positions issue is slightly trickier. If the city intends to higher someone, it obviously must not only pay that person, but provide all such ancillary benefits as health insurance, retirement funds, etc. Thus, if next year’s budget calls for adding a new code inspector to the staff, it should, in theory at least, set aside the money for that position’s salary/benefits. But what happens to that money if the position is not filled? That’s a question that might be up for discussion at Saturday’s workshop as well. Sources close to the budget process have said, for example, there’s more than $1 million sitting in the city’s treasury that can’t be touched because it’s specifically designated for police officer positions that have never been filled.

Although the meeting is scheduled to last four hours, Sellers said during Tuesday's council meeting he hoped to end the workshop at 10 a.m. because of other activities scheduled for Saturday, including the Hays school district's anniversary parade that's scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and school bond/board election. There's also a little matter of the Kentucky Derby.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

City leaders say change in street widths to have no immediate effect on parking

Saying that the current rules are creating "freeways through neighborhoods" as well as a whole host of non-compliant streets, the city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to reduce the required unobstructed width of all streets in Kyle from 24 to 20 feet.

The council’s action will have no actual effect on parking on any existing streets in Kyle. Those changes would require council to enact additional ordinances.

‘The current fire code that we already adopted actually requires 40-foot street widths in order to park on both sides," Mayor Todd Webster said. "Under our current ordinance, no street in the town is compliant. You couldn’t park on both sides of a street anywhere in Kyle and be in compliance with our current ordinances. So instead of having ordinances that don’t allow parking on our streets, let’s have an ordinance that allows for parking on at least one side.."

The unobstructed width is basically the width of a road minus the feet (usually six or seven on each side) allowed for parked cars..

Last August the council amended the ordinance to provide a 24-foot unobstructed road width even though the International Fire Code recommended a 20-foot width. (For what it’s worth, Austin mandates a 25-foot unobstructed width.)

"We realized 24 is creating freeways through neighborhoods," Fire Chief Kyle Taylor told the council. "The 20 is really what we need for Kyle."

Webster asked Taylor if the measure would apply to already existing streets.

"Yes, because if we kept it at 24 feet, no one would be able to legally park on any street in Kyle," Taylor said. "We’re going to do a study. We’re going to look at the streets and figure out which ones cause fire trucks, school buses, garbage trucks, delivery trucks the most issues. Lowering this to 20 feet will help us move the parking to one side. If we kept it at 24, any road under 40 feet, nobody could park on."

Webster then asked City Attorney Frank Garza if the council needed to enact additional parking restrictions to enforce the street width regulations.

"The City of Kyle as a home rule has exclusive jurisdiction over its streets," Garza said. "So you have full authority. If there’s any issues or complaints with regards to whether there’s parking or not parking or to disallow parking or allow parking as a result of emergency vehicles being able to get through, you have that exclusive jurisdiction. As long as it’s a public street, you can regulate where vehicles are parked."

Garza then affirmed Webster’s observation that the method for doing that would be to amend separate ordinances that already exist. It is worth noting that Kyle has no separate and distinct parking ordinance and most city ordinances regulating parking most likely exist within neighborhood platting agreements.

"I’m trying to understand whether this action supercedes other things related to parking," Webster said. "Is this action going to trigger some sort of change in the parking scenarios that exist in our most famous neighborhood?"

"We have issues in other neighborhoods as well," Taylor interjected. "It’s not just one."

"I know," Webster replied. "It’s pretty clear, from what I’ve heard, that any change related to parking — people don’t want change. Which side of the street is it going to be, you’re going to end up with a fight if you’re going to make any changes to this. I understand, when you’re moving forward , when you have something like this it’s going to impact future development and I’m supportive of that. I’m not sure how disruptive we have to be with the current parking situations."

Taylor said social media reaction to the proposed change indicated many residents thought "we were going to go into Plum Creek with a tape measure. That just isn’t true. We would like to address some of the roads in Plum Creek — mainly the ones that go all the way around the neighborhood. Those are the tough ones we have to travel."

Council member Shane Arabie asked Taylor to explain how the International Fire Code determined how cars are allowed to be parked on city streets. Taylor said the code requires a minimum of unobstructed widths of 10-feet in each direction on a typical two-way street. The code considers a car to be seven feet wide, so that would mean a two-lane street that permitted parking one side of that street must be at least 27-feet wide.

"But the code gives you a little bit of leeway," he said. "If you’re going to park on one side, we’re going to make it nine feet . So you have 19-feet unobstructed plus seven for the car so 26 feet of roadway gets you parking on one side. When you go to parking on both sides, you get the same thing. They’ll give you nine feet. So now you’re down to 18-feet unobstructed with 14 feet for your cars."

Tuesday’s meeting was the second consecutive comparatively brief meeting, this one clocking in at one hour and 59 minutes, nine minutes shorter than the April 18 record-setting affair. And if you subtracted the time consumed by the Citizen Comment period, a presentation from the Kyle Area Youth Advisory Council and the executive session, the actual meeting took only 55 minutes. All items requiring council action passed on 5-0 votes (council members Becky Selbera and Daphne Tenorio missed Tuesday’s meeting, leaving the fate of the city in the hands of five while males). Other significant items that emerged from the meeting included:
  • The City of Kyle agreed to partner with BioDAF Water Technologies of Golden, Colo., to demonstrate that BioDAF has this incredible technology for clarifying wastewater that is 360 times faster than current methods and, thus, should be approved for use statewide by the Texas Department of Environmental Quality. According to BioDAF President, Business Development Marcos De la Monja the new technology is a process for removing sediments from waste water. "Instead of waiting for everything to settle down, we induce wastewater and we induce air into the water at a very high pressure. Once the water reaches atmospheric pressure, the air breaks from the water and it lifts everything up. In under three minutes, you clarify water that takes maybe 18-plus hours to clarify using current methods." Webster said if the technology works as advertised it could save the city a lot of money in operational costs at future wastewater plants.
  • Some clarification on the resolution to provide for a possible annexation and de-annexation. This was not the actual changing of the city’s boundaries — that will come at a later date, if at all, following a couple of public hearings — this was simply a move that allows the city to move ahead with the idea. Apparently the move is being made to bring into the city an area of the Blanco River Ranch that was originally planned for residential development, but will now feature commercial development and to take out land set aside for residential. This action will allow developers to institute PIDs in the residential areas that don’t amount to double taxation as do PIDs within the city’s limits.
  • Artura Guerra, president of Guerra Underground, told the council the main reason his company encountered delays that required a change order to his construction contract for a wastewater line along Center Street was because he was literally caught between a rock and a hard place. "The largest contributor to the delays was the hardness of the rock," Guerra told the council. He said his company had to dig a trench for a water main near Yarrington Road in South Kyle and while that ground was hard, it could be dug. He said the company expected similar conditions along Center Street and bid on the project accordingly. :We didn’t have specific information on how hard the rock was in that particular part of town," he said.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Kyle homeowners could face 10 percent property tax increase this year

Even if the city’s tax rate remains stable, a Kyle homeowner who paid $947.69 in city property taxes in 2016 could face a bill of $1,042.22 this year, according to preliminary figures released today by the Hays Central Appraisal District. And that doesn’t include school district taxes, which comprise more than 50 percent of the typical property owner’s tax bill.

HCAD began mailing appraisal notices to property owners Monday.

"Hays County's overall preliminary market value for 2017 rose to $23.46 billion this year, up 10.04 percent from $21.32 billion in 2016," according to a HCAD statement released today. "Commercial and industrial property increased in value by 10.45 percent from $2.01 billion in 2016 to $2.22 billion this year. Residential multi-family property saw the biggest increase in value by 14.07 percent from $1.35 billion in 2016 to $1.54 billion this year. This increase was due to new construction, completion of new apartment projects and a strong demand for multi-family housing. Hays County added 2,085 new homes and 49 new commercial buildings to the appraisal roll for 2017. Total new improvements added more than $637 million to the taxable value for 2017. Across Hays County, the average market value for homes increased by 9 percent. Hays County continues to be one of the fastest growing counties in the country."

The average market value increase in Kyle was slightly higher than the county average — 9.9. percent, from $170,547 in 2016 to $187,202. More importantly, the taxable value on those properties saw a 9.97 percent increase from $164,873 to $181,318. That means even if the city maintained the current tax rate of $.5748 per $100 valuation, the average homeowner’s city tax bill could be $94.53 higher this year than last.

"How this year’s appraisals will affect Hays County homeowners’ tax bills remains to be seen," the HCAD statement said. "The county, cities, school districts and other taxing units will use the appraisal district’s values to set 2017 property tax rates and determine the amount of taxes property owners will pay."

The City Council has scheduled a workshop Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon for a preliminary discussion on the FY 2017-18 budget. It is expected City Manager Scott Sellers will propose a tax rate at that time, although he will not present council with his official budget proposal until its Aug 1 meeting, three days after a planned public release on Saturday, July 29 and shortly after HCAD releases its certified appraisal numbers.

Property owners who believe their properties were valued too high will have until the end of the month to file a protest to appeal those valuations to the HCAD in one of three ways: (1) in person at the HCAD’s district office in Kyle, 21001 North Interstate 35; (2) by phone at 512-268-2522 or (3) online at Last year the Hays Central Appraisal District received 11,523 protests.