Tuesday’s City Council meeting is not designed for sprinters. This one is for marathoners only. The agenda contains 36 items, many —if not most — of which could produce passionate debate. Fasten your seatbelts and stock up on energy supplements.
It’s difficult to single out one item on this agenda for special treatment, because there’s so many that deserve some sort of concentrated attention: replacing the city’s ethics ordinance; how the city appoints members of boards and commissions; a proposed design guide for residential developments; council member Travis Mitchell’s "First Year on Us" small business incentive program that could be turned into a political football match simply because Mitchell has formally entered the race for mayor; additional revelations concerning the "Just Peachy" economic development project that, to a large degree, prompted the aforementioned change to the city’s ethic ordinance; and, of course, there’s that little matter of discussing the proposed budget for the next fiscal year as well as the seeking of public input on the recommended tax rate of $.5416 per $100 taxable valuation, about a 3½-cent decrease from the current rate, but, because of rising property values, just about the highest rate the council could set without triggering the possibility of a rollback election. Oh, yeah, there’s also three presentations scheduled: on the road bond projects, the planned veterans’ memorial and the city’s beautification plan.
So, to be different, I guess I’ll start at the end of the agenda (well, almost at the end — I’m going to try to ignore what appears to be another extended executive session during which three economic development projects, including Just Peachy, will be discussed and a decision might be reached on whether to pursue legal action against one or more measures passed by the Texas Legislature, presumably during the special session, which doesn’t officially end until Wednesday) and slowly, laboriously, work my way toward the beginning. The last item on the agenda, Item 33, is "Discussion and possible action regarding relocation of marquee." There is absolutely nothing accompanying this item to suggest what this might be about so it’s anybody’s guess.
And since I’m an "anybody," I’m going to take a guess. I have a feeling it has something to do with getting rid of that electronic sign in City Square Park, which, as I read the city’s sign ordinances, is technically non-conforming anyway and whose banishment would go a long way to promoting the historical significance as well as the beautification of that downtown attraction. The way I interpret the current sign ordinance, flashing electronic signs with variable messaging capabilities are only permitted in Kyle along the I-35 corridor. And City Square Park is supposed to be a historical site and I doubt any rational person would advocate for a flashing electronic sign heralding an upcoming charity bingo game on the Gettysburg Battlefield or a flashing neon "George Washington Slept Here" sign on the grounds of Mount Vernon.
Next is Item 32, a touchy one that could provoke some interesting discussion that could escalate into something more intense than could be labeled as simply "a discussion" — the first reading of "an Ordinance repealing and replacing the City's Code of Ethics Ordinance No. 581, as amended; providing an effective date; and providing for open meetings." I literally spent six hours earlier today pouring over the proposed revised language and could find absolutely nothing in there that jumped out at me as alarming, nothing that set off the warning sirens. Although I imagine one or two council members will have been programmed to argue the contents of the revisions.
The most noticeable change I came across was in the section that describes the composition of the city’s Ethics Commission and the terms of those commissioners. But among the material accompanying this item was a document labeled "Exhibit 1 Redline." Now I always assumed that in a "redline" document, all the words in red ink signified changes to the original document. However, in the Section 2 ("Structure of the Ethics Commission’) paragraph (d)(2) states "no member of the commission shall be an elected public official" and the only word in red in that section is "commission." Apparently, the original ordinance said "board," not "commission." So, if you follow the theory that if it’s not in red, it hasn’t been changed, then one has to wonder why Teresa Tobias, an elected member of the Hays CISD board of trustees, is also member of the city’s Ethics Commission. Unless, of course, this language prohibiting elected public officials from serving on the Ethics Commission really is a change, even though it’s not labeled a change by appearing in red ink. And if that’s true, what other changes might be hidden in this ordinance that are not highlighted in red either? Wondering about all that today really did make me severely dizzy, but, of course, this not the first time, nor will it be the last, the city has done something that sent my cranium spinning out of control.
But what seems to have been changed in this section is the language that describes the terms of the commissioners. Although the section describing terms begins "Commission members shall be appointed to three-year terms," don’t take that literally because it’s mathematically impossible for a commissioner’s first term to be a full three years. Here’s why. Each city council person gets to appoint a commissioner and that commissioner’s term runs concurrently with the term of the council member who made the appointment. So the only way a commissioner’s first term could be a full three years would be if it began on the date the council person assumed office. But that would be highly unlikely because the council member making the appointment must place that potential appointment on an upcoming council agenda for approval and that can only happen after the council member officially takes the position. If you’re still reading this, I’ll bet your head is spinning now, too.
Here’s what that means. If this ordinance is approved, it is likely that as many as four — the commissioners appointed by Mitchell and the retiring Mayor Todd Webster, as well as council members David Wilson and Becky Selbera — and possibly even five persons will have to be nominated or re-nominated to the Ethics Commission following the November elections. What is in red ink are the words that follow "appointed to three-year terms" and those words are: "to serve concurrently with the corresponding Council Member’s term. Upon a Council Member vacating his/her seat, the corresponding appointment immediately expires."
The rest of the changes appear to revolve around who must file financial disclosure reports and when they must be filed, along with the introduction of a simplified form someone may file if they have no changes to their previously filed financial disclosure form from one year to the next.
Enough of that. Let’s move up a notch to Item 31, the one that has to do with how the city appoints and re-appoints persons to serve on the various boards and commissions. Currently, a citizen wishing to serve on, for example, the Planning & Zoning Commission will, when a posted vacancy occurs, submit an application to serve on that commission. What has apparently transpired in the last couple of months, however, is that the city has been blessed with a large number of extremely qualified persons applying for specific board/commission vacancies, which means the city has to turn away these qualified applicants if only, say, one position on that board or commission is vacant. So a new paragraph is being proposed for the process which states: "In those instances that multiple interviewees exhibit the virtues and qualifications necessary to fill a single position, those candidate(s) not chosen to fill the solicited Board/Commission vacancy, can and should be recommended to fill other city Board and Commission vacancies for which they are additionally qualified. With agreement from both the applicant and the city review panel, the City Council can alternatively approve the recommendation from the review panel for an alternative appointment to a different Board or Commission vacancy, pursuant to the term length of that Board or Commission."
The new language also allows for the chair of a board or commission to recommend the City Council approve the re-appointment of a board/commission member whose term is expiring without that person having to go through the entire re-appointment process. In the case of a chair retiring, the mayor can make a similar recommendation.
Item 29 is designed to say exactly where in Kyle Sprint, AT&T, Verizon et al can build antenna towers or collocate on existing structures. The simple explanation here is that the city wants to restrict the location of these towers to "industrial areas," "highway rights-of-way" and "retail and commercial areas" as long as none of these are "adjacent to a municipal park, residential area, historic district or design district." The one noticeable conflict I found with this is that the city’s overlay districts are listed as among the "least preferable locations" for these structures, yet these overlay districts not only straddle "highway rights-of-way" they are actually named after them. Go figure.
Item 15 is the first reading of changes to the city’s sidewalk ordinance that allows the city "at its sole discretion" to repair a sidewalk even though the ordinance specifies that "All persons owning lots in this city upon the streets shall keep the sidewalks around the same in good condition" and failure to do so could result in fines of between $5 and $100. The change also states that if the city does decide to repair a section of a sidewalk that action "does not remove the requirement upon the property owner to properly maintain sidewalks and in no way absolves the property owner from liability." So there. A companion piece on the agenda, Item 16, is the awarding of a contract not to exceed $20,000 for "a pilot sidewalk repair program"
Which brings me to Just Peachy which is a plan that allows the city manager "to solicit land leases to third-party private groups to design, build, program and maintain recreational facilities on the (soon-to-be established Kyle Vista) park land and to bring these leases before City Council to be considered."
In other words, if former Yankee Derek Jeter, who just this weekend was named the head of a group purchasing the Miami Marlins baseball team, wanted to relocate that team to Kyle, this resolution would authorize City Manager Scott Sellers to begin negotiations with Jeter about building a stadium for the team in Kyle Vista Park, which is destined to be located immediately west of Chapa Middle School.
So, OK, neither the Marlins nor any other major league sports franchise is thinking about moving here, but remember all that talk from the Hays school folks about a natatorium? Hmmmm. And it’s quite feasible that a for-profit entity would be looking for a spot to locate a tennis club and the accompanying courts, an owner of a semi-pro soccer team might be looking for a location for a home stadium. There’s all kinds of possibilities that could carry the caveat of also providing fields, recreation centers, stadiums, etc., for public uses as well. Frankly, I think Just Peachy has reached the point where the city knows exactly who and what is going to locate a facility in Kyle Vista Park but, for competitive reasons, city officials are not at liberty to make that information public just yet. I do expect such revelations to be imminent, however. Watch this space.
Item 9 is interesting for what’s not included. It is proposed consent agreement among the City of Kyle and others with an entity known as the North Hays Municipal Utility District No, 2. The draft resolution states the bill passed by the state legislature that created the MUD is attached to the agreement as well as "the identification of the land within the district." What’s not included with the agenda is either the bill or the land identification, but I am presuming this is about some land north or Kohlers and west of FM 1626 that Plum Creek wants to develop as, in the words of the resolution, "a master-planned, primarily commercial use community which will include commercial and residential uses." According to the resolution, the developer intends to propose that cost for the district’s infrastructure be paid by the "imposition" of an ad valorem property tax. What’s not included is the tax rate or exactly on whom this additional property tax will be imposed upon. One would assume it would be strictly on owners of property located entirely within the MUD, but that isn’t really specified. I know for sure that residents of other parts of the Plum Creek MUD certainly don’t want to see a hike in their property taxes to pay for this.
From the If-You-Can’t-Get-It-Right-the-First-Time Department is the reappearance, as Item 8, of the proposed electrical franchise agreement with Pedernales Electric Cooperative. Someone at the city deserves more than just a good pat on the back and a hearty "well-done" for this deal because the new agreement cuts the term of the previous contract in half, from 10 years to five, while at the same time more than doubling the franchise fee, from 2 percent to 4.5 percent of gross revenues Pedernales receives from the sale of electricity and other power to customers in Kyle.. It is estimated that next fiscal year alone, this new agreement will mean $593,000 in additional funds to the city’s treasury. The first time this proposal appeared on the council’s agenda, the wrong contract was attached to it. This proposed ordinance definitely states 4.5 percent over a five-year life of the contract.
Item 6 is a public hearing to get citizen comments on the proposed tax rate for FY 2017-18 which, as it turns out, at $.5416 per $100 of taxable valuation, is $0.003 below the rollback rate, which was the maximum allowable rate set by the council at its Aug. 5 budget workshop. That proposed amount is also 3.32 cents below the current rate, although increased property valuations along with the fact that the school district, which accounts for around 54 percent of a property owner’s total property tax liability, and other Hays County taxing entities are not lowering their rates, means Kyle property owners will still have a significantly higher tax bill for this upcoming fiscal year. Personally, I would like to see the rate set at $.5407, which may seem significant but, in fact, would only lower the city tax bill of the owner of property currently valued at $250,000 by a measly $3. It’s just the idea of an even larger tax rate cut would make residents feel a little better about their municipal government. As a compromise, I could live with moving that $.0009 lower rate I just mentioned from the M&O side of the city's proposed rate to the I&S side.
There’s also a public hearing on the city manager’s proposed $74.8 million budget for the upcoming fiscal years and you’ll be able to spot, quite easily in fact, those who have been spending too much time around the stupid pill dispenser — they’ll be the ones criticizing the proposed budget..
Item 3 is Sellers’s update of Kyle’s Beautification Plan. Personally, I enthusiastically support converting part-time code enforcement positions into full time ones to add muscle to the city’s code enforcement initiatives. For too long, I have thought, the city has failed to place the proper emphasis on code enforcement. I do, however, have major reservations about spending $1 million "to repair and install irrigation on Kyle Parkway and median from Dacy to train tracks, install and maintain landscaping." It has been my experience that, largely because of the Texas climate, such efforts are doomed to fail. The plants wither and die in the Texas heat and no amount of irrigation can keep their appearance attractive throughout the year, A far preferable option, and one that’s far more environmentally as well as economically sound and viable, is xeriscaping, not only for the above-cited Kyle Parkway median, but all other similar highway beautification projects on the city’s beautification agenda.
And I’ve only gone into detail on about one-fourth of the items included on Tuesday’s City Council agenda. One fourth!!!!! Did I originally describe this as a marathon session? Perhaps a better term would be "sleep-over."