夫妻生活片One person's view of Kyle's city government.



Saturday, August 11, 2018

What degree of silliness can we expect in “Charter Debate Round 2"?

At the end of last week’s discussion on proposed charter changes, there was the feeling that an attempt should be made to synthesize and reconcile all the concerns voiced by the individual council members and attempt to come up with new wording for some of the proposals in time for the council to consider them at this coming Tuesday’s meeting. Well, whoever it was that came up with the language that replaces what was originally conceived for the proposed change in the Compensation portion of the charter (Section 3.09) succeeded in this endeavor beyond all expectations.

The author or authors of this new wording brilliantly synthesized what was needed to make sense of the section with the intent of the last Charter Review Commission to create a citizens review committee to recommend compensation changes. Unfortunately, that charter commission’s intent didn’t equate with its ability to legitimize such a compensation committee and the wording the commission ultimately came up with effectively neutered the compensation committee. And that’s basically the reason why this section of the charter was targeted for a change in language. The notion of this kind of citizen input into the process via an appointed committee, also received significant support last week from many council members.

Equally as brilliant, the new language converts the entire compensation procedure from a council decision to a legitimate process. For all practical purposes, under the original language, the council could propose to give themselves a salary hike, draft an ordinance legalizing such a hike, schedule two public hearings on the notion to accompany the two required readings of the ordinance and then, bang, after passing the ordinance on second reading they get a larger salary via a budget amendment.

That’s not going to happen under with this new wording. If this passes (and it should) "a salary adjustment approved in accordance with this section shall be included in the proposed budget for the subsequent fiscal year, and the effective date of the council salary adjustment shall be the first day of the fiscal year for the budget in which the salary adjustment is included. Council is prohibited from amending a budget to adjust council salary."

So there.

Although Tuesday’s meeting is labeled a ‘Special City Council Meeting," it has always been on the schedule because it is a meeting that’s legally required as part of the annual fiscal year budget adoption process. And Tuesday’s agenda contains all the requisite items required as part of that process. Chances are, however, that council debate about the charter — added to this agenda simply because the charter permits the council to recommend changes like this every two years and these changes must be done now in time to get them on the November ballot — will consume more time and energy and undoubtedlyproduce more fireworks (if last week’s discussions are any indicator) than debate on the proposed budget.

It will be fascinating, however, to measure the silliness factor. For example, what is the over and under on the number of council members who will vote not to give citizens a chance to render their opinion on these proposed charter changes because citizens were not given a chance to render their opinion on these proposed charter changes. Hey, I’m not making this stuff up. That exact line of thought was argued by as many as four council members last week.

How many times will council members venture wildly and erratically off topic like they did last week? For example, the subject of the compensation change is not how much council members should be paid or even whether they should be paid at all. It’s strictly about what process should be employed to arrive at those decisions.

And the discussion about the city’s manager residence should not involve whether that official should or should not be required to live within the city limits. The council should work from the assumption that such a residency requirement is needed and valid, so the debate should only be about what document should contain that requirement. Should it be in the charter, which provides council members with absolutely no flexibility, or in an employment contract, which gives council members a host of options in their hiring negotiations?

What happens when debate veers wildly off topic is that council members may say something that will come back to haunt them. About 30 years ago, the voters in one Dallas council district elected a vocal wildcat. This person would scream and yell and rudely criticize the mayor and her colleagues at just about every council meeting. On a trip I made to Atlanta at that time on behalf of a client, I discovered the City of Atlanta had made recordings of this wild women screaming during council proceedings and those recordings were part of presentations made to businesses Atlanta was trying to lure to the city to show them why they should never consider Dallas as a place for those relocations.

This last week I called around and tried to speak with officials involved in economic development efforts in Central Texas cities comparable to Kyle, Unfortunately, I couldn’t get any of them to speak to me on the record, but one individual, on the condition I would preserve her anonymity, told me that they are now the proud owners of a recording of a certain Kyle city council person saying any Kyle city manager "should have to drink the same water, drive the same roads" as everyone else in the city and has labeled that statement as "Kyle city council member equates living in the city with a prison sentence." Ouch!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Fogley won’t seek re-election, Tenorio announces food giveaway

The two most newsworthy events at last night’s city council meeting came (1) after the meeting adjourned — when council member Damon Fogley informed me he did not plan on seeking a second term — and (2) really before the meeting got down to dealing with action items — when council member Daphne Tenorio took advantage of the citizens comments period to announce a mammoth (at least for this neck of the woods) food distribution day Saturday Aug. 18. Sandwiched between these two items was a lot of bickering, petty sniping and council members generally making fools of themselves as they danced around a bonfire of flaming proposed charter amendments.

Fogley said his decision not to run again was based solely on the fact thatamount of time he needs to devote to running his business is far greater than it was three years when, in fact, he wasn’t a business owner at all.

"One of the main reasons I originally wanted to run for council is because I wanted to go into government, I wanted to eventually become a city manager," Fogley said. "But I took a turn another way when I became a business owner and I really like being a business owner."

Fogley confided he is seriously considering returning to college to seek one or more business degrees.

"I like what I do — it’s a very diverse business," Fogley said. "I have 10 employees now. We’re growing. "We’ve got some huger opportunities coming up."

Fogley said it appears he will be on the cover of a business magazine that will come out next month and "we have a reality show that also might be coming through. So there have been some big doors that have opened up with that.

"I’m just tapped out on time right now," he stated. "I’m still a full-time. paramedic, still heavily involved with the VFW. I really enjoyed serving on the council and I was really on the fence about (seeking re-election) until a couple of weeks ago. But the reason I’m not running is a time thing and I’m at the point now where it’s really jeopardizing opportunities for my business."

Fogley pledged to give 100 percent of his energy to the job of councilman right until his last day on the dais "and I want to make sure whoever comes up here and takes my seat is the right person for the job."

Fogley said he is also considering moving his residence to an area where he is trying to develop his business."It’s a franchise that I own," he explained. "I own three territories and I have an opportunity to purchase another region."

Fogley said he has no one in mind to succeed him. "I’ve only talked to three people, but I’m sure now more people are going to come out."

I mentioned Robert Rizzo, who filed to run in District 2 a year ago but was ruled ineligible because of a residency issue, who just this week filed to run for Fogley’s District 5 seat. "I’ve never met him," Fogley told me. "I don’t know anything about him. I don’t have anyone specifically in mind but if anyone is thinking about running I would like them to at least approach me and I’d like to know why they are running." He said he would welcome meeting Rizzo face-to-face "so I could learn what his motives are for running because I may support him depending on who he is running against."

The food giveaway Tenorio announced is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Aug. 18 on the Lehman High School parking lot and will be open to anyone with a drive able vehicle in which groceries, perishables as well as canned goods, can be loaded. Tenorio said groceries packed into six 18-wheelers are planned to be distributed during the event.

"Everyone is welcome to participate," she said. "No one has to qualify. It’s completely done by a drive-through. A family comes to the first stop, registers, a sticker is put on their window signifying how many members are in their family, goes to the next stop where canned food is placed in their trunk and then it goes from canned foods to dairies, to produce to meats."

The plans, as she outlined them, call for 100 church volunteers to on hand to aid in the distribution and "I’ve reached out to the Rotary Club and other non-profit groups for assistance."

"This will be the biggest distribution the Capital Food Bank has done and we’re real excited to be able to do this for our citizens," Tenorio said. "I think this a great opportunity to stock family food pantries right before school starts."

And those two events ended the statesmanship part of last night’s council meeting. Most of the rest of the time was consumed by seeing which council member could score the most points on the proposed charter amendment Wackometer. Warning to sitting council members: I would strongly advise you to never, ever watch a video recording of this meeting. It would be akin to watching a recording of a show-and-tell presentation you made in the first or second grade. "Holy cow!! I can’t believe I was ever that bad, that immature, that stupid sounding. Now I see why all the other kids were laughing at me."

Take all the discussions about the way in which the charter calls for council members to be compensated for their services. The argument was between one side on the council that argued people should not be dis-incentivized for running for a seat on the council and the other who argued people should view council service as a noble calling without regard to compensation and even another side that yelled Joe Average Citizen needed a voice in the matter (completely ignoring the obvious which was that this was supposed to be a discussion on whether Joe Average Citizen would have a voice on the matter in November at the voting booth). However, no one (except, to his credit, Mayor Travis Mitchell every so often, but no one else), dealt with the elephant in the room, the central, overriding issue which is the current charter language is a mess, it’s meaningless and it must be changed in some form or another.

The charter, in its current form, says (Section 3.09) "The mayor shall be paid two hundred dollars per month and each other member of the council shall be paid one hundred dollars per month." All well and good so far. You could argue whether that’s too much or too little, but that’s an argument for another day. Yet, that is exactly the argument that council became embroiled in last night, completely ignoring the real problem which is simply this: The most recent charter review commission completely botched this section of the charter by adding (and, admittedly, a majority of the voters didn’t help either) the following: "The council may appoint a citizen committee not more often than every three years to review the monthly compensation and the committee may recommend the council approve a reasonable adjustment to the monthly compensation of members of the council." Absolutely worthless. Regardless of whether such a committee is ever formed and regardless of what "a reasonable adjustment to the monthly compensation of members of the council" it might recommend, the council would be completely powerless to follow the recommendation because the charter will still say ""The mayor shall be paid two hundred dollars per month and each other member of the council shall be paid one hundred dollars per month." And as long as those words are part of the charter, that’s the law of the land. So the subject of the debate is not how much council members should be paid but whether the council should rid the charter of the idiot languageand change it into something meaningful.

In the interest of mediation, I would like to offer the following as a template for a compromise solution and possible charter/ordinance language on the issue. I believe it is a more comprehensive approach than those that have previously been discussed. It not only encompasses but broadens the notion of two public meetings Mayor Travis Mitchell desired to have before city council on any proposed compensation change and it preserves the notion of an independent committee, which many on the council appeared to favor. In fact, it really doesn’t deviate all that much from the intent of the current language. This change would have to take place at two different times and it would go along these lines:

Section 3.09: "Not more than once every three years, the council may appoint a Compensation Audit and Review Committee which may recommend the council approve an adjustment to the monthly compensation of the members of the council. Until such time as the first compensation adjustment is approved by an affirmative vote of at least five council members, the mayor shall be paid two hundred dollars per month and each other member of the council shall be paid one hundred dollars per month. No adjustment of $1,000 (this number is negotiable) per month or greater may take effect until 60 days after an affirmative vote by a majority of voters casting ballots on the proposed adjustment during the next available General Election."

The following language — or words that convey the same thing — should be included in an ordinance, but not embedded in the charter, to enable the council to create and outline the basic parameters and scope of the Compensation Audit and Review Committee. "The Compensation Audit and Review Committee must include at least one Certified Public Accountant, at least one active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or the National Human Resources Association (NHRA) and at least five residents of Kyle who are registered voters. (If someone wants to argue these five need not be registered voters, I could live with that). This committee is required, as part of its review and its recommendation process, to collect data on the compensation package offered to municipally elected officials in at least 10 other Texas cities with a population comparable to Kyle’s and to include that data as part of its recommendations. In addition, it must solicit and record for the record public input on any and all recommendations and this public input should include, but not be limited to, public hearings, at least one of which must be conducted at a location within the city limits west of Interstate 35 and at least one which must be conducted at a location within the city limits east of Interstate 35."

I said earlier there needed to be two language changes to this section of the charter. The second one, I hope is obvious. Following the first successful compensation alteration, the charter language should be amended to delete the reference to the $200 a month to the mayor and the $100 monthly stipend to other council members.

Now to the issue of where the city manager should live. As faithful readers might already surmise from my earlier rants on this issue, I think any city employee, any member of the city staff, regardless of his or her position, should enjoy the basic freedom of choice when it comes to deciding where they want their family residence to be located. For the sake of peace, harmony and good sense, I am willing to compromise on this issue and now let’s see if anyone else is willing to do the same.

I now agree with the notion there should be a requirement that the city manager live within the city limits of Kyle. However, I don’t believe this requirement should be embedded in the city’s constitution but, instead, this requirement language should be a part of any and all employment contracts the city extends to any potential city manager candidate. This gives the city council wiggle room. It give council members the space and the ability to make decisions and, if they so desire, to negotiate.

Let me tell you just how ridiculous, just how stupid, the debate on this issue became last night. The council members who opposed any change were arguing from the hypothesis that no potential city manager would ever want to live in Kyle. If you ask them, they will be too stubborn, too blinded, to actuallyadmit, to actually see from what direction they were coming from, but that was it. They began from the assumption that by removing this requirement from the charter, no city manager would ever live in Kyle. And there is absolutely no foundation that could support that point of view. None. Nada.

In fact, I would argue that quite the opposite would be true. I’d be willing to bet that 99 times out of 100, such a clause in an employment contract would not even be an issue, The proposed candidate would accept that language as written, and if everything else met their approval, he or she would soon ensconce himself and his family somewhere within the city limits.

But what about that one in a hundred chance when the candidate says that requirement is a deal-killer? That’s the beauty of this recommendation because it is not a mandate, it is not an ultimatum, — it offers the council the opportunity to consider a number of different options. Option one: The council could decide "We all agree there was not that much separating Candidate A from Candidate B. Candidate A says the residency requirement is a deal killer for him, so lets rescind our offer to Candidate A and extend it to Candidate B." Or the council could decide to go to an Option two: "We really like Candidate A. He is obviously the best choice for the job. Let’s see if we can get Candidate A to agree to concessions in other areas of the contract in return for us removing that residency requirement." And there are many more possible options, and those key words — "many more possible options" — are the important ones, the ones to remember. This doesn’t place the council in an untenable take-it-or-leave-it situation that may very easily wind up forcing them to make a decision that’s not in the overall bests interests of the city and its future.

At any rate, these are the subjects, if not the actual language, the council should be discussing — not the off-topic areas and the false hypotheses that rained down last night. That, to say the least, was embarrassing. That was depressing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What happens when you seek an audience with Kathy Ryan

It’s extremely easy to become enchanted with Kathy Ryan. All you have to do is sit down with her for either a brief or an extended conversation. Ms. Ryan is chair of the Friends of the Library, which operates the Library’s Thrift Shop, and is listed on the city’s website as a member of the Library Board. She is also the wife of Dan Ryan, someone I met when he was a member of Kyle’s Planning & Zoning Commission. Dan Ryan is also someone I came to have a lot of respect for. He was the rarity: a leader in Kyle who not only thought about Kyle in the present tense but actually had a vision of what Kyle should become. In talking this past weekend with his spouse I thought back to the days before the Internet when, if you needed to conduct research, you trekked off to the library. I quickly realized that, today, if you want to do research on the Kyle Library, you trek off to seek an audience with Kathy Ryan.

I trekked off to seek an audience with Kathy Ryan because I heard rumors of a riff between the city and the Friends of the Library and I wanted to check on the relationship from the library’s volunteers' point of view — specifically whether the Friends had felt any pressure on it being applied by City Hall. I must also admit I was concerned about a line item in the city managers’ proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year — a bunch of zeroes in the box listing the amount of money the city planned on spending for new library books.

"Not at all," she told me. "The Friends of the Library and the City have a very cordial relationship. We have had for years. We’re really independent of them. It took a little while to establish that because you know how it is — you have a new city manager and it takes time for him to get acclimated, then another one shows up. And also city staff, as the city grew and grew and added people, there’s a little confusion. They realize now we’re a 501.C.3. We run our own business (the Thrift Shop at the corner of West Lockhart and North Front streets, right behind City Hall) and donate the money ($34,400 per year over the last 15 years) to the library. That’s our purpose."

She assured me that if any undue pressure was being applied, she would be the one who would know about it.

She also told me later that she had looked at that budget item I was concerned about "and the book budget is fine. There are two line items that pertain to books."

Which brings me back to something I mentioned above — "if you want to do research on the Kyle Library, you trek off to seek an audience with Kathy Ryan."

"I grew up in Port Arthur — big time oil money there," she told me. "We had this gorgeous library, good schools. I moved to Kyle in 2000 and immediately went to the library because I’m a library lover. It was originally a little tiny stone building that’s across from Kyle Elementary on Blanco."

That came about, she told me, because two other local women, Bobby Word and Blanche Richmond, decided the city needed a community library.

"They got people to donate books, and they used a shelf in the back of the Bon Ton grocery store located where City Hall is now where people could come and check out books," she said. "But soon they needed a little more space and they wanted to be open more hours, so the city let them use a little back room in City Hall (the old City Hall which still stands on the downtown square)."

She said Jack Johnson, the owner of Halifax Ranch, offered to provide the money to build a new library. So a stand-alone library was built in 1961 on property that had belonged to the school right in front of Kyle Elementary "and then they added on to that twice."

She said both the county and the city "gave a little money" to keep the library operating and then the Friends of the Library started and raised money through cake sales and other activities. "They actually started the Fair on the Square which later evolved into what today is Founders Day," she said.

She said Johnson continued to support the library through the years and, to recognize his contributions, when the current library was built, the area containing the two community rooms was named in honor of Jack and Burdine Johnson.

But back to that 1961 library. She said one member of the Friends of the Library discovered the library in Marble Falls had a thrift store "so she went up there and they taught her how to run a thrift store."

The first library thrift store in Kyle, Ms. Ryan said, opened in an old bank building that was located where Room 111 is now on West Center Street. "Mr. Johnson came in and was very impressed with the effort they were making to support the library" and told them he would give them the money for the construction of their own building at the location where the Library Thrift Shop is now. That happened in 1990. In 1999, the building was expanded "and then we renovated the whole building in 2014."

"We feel right now our biggest problem is marketing," she admitted, "We need more customers and the only to get them is for people to know we exist."

Of course the question is why would anyone want to seek out and go to the Library Thrift Shop.

"You can buy clothing at very reduced prices," she said. "And sometimes people give things that are brand new. It’s amazing the stuff that shows up. They have everything — shoes, purses, clothing, dishes, housewares, electronics. We used to laugh — we always called it Kyle’s first department store because they had everything. My daughter lives in San Antonio and she can afford to buy clothes anywhere, yet she buys all her kids’ clothes at the Thrift Shop. They love to go to the Thrift Shop.

"We also serve the low income population in Kyle. There are a group of people here who really need to have some very inexpensive materials for clothing, shoes, whatever. If there’s a disaster, people come there because we help out disaster victims. There’s a group that comes in and picks up used clothing for a men’s homeless shelter and another group provides items to a children’s home.

"We encourage everyone to support the Thrift Shop by bringing us their gently used items, clothing, housewares, crafts, small electronics, books and the like," she told me. "The Thrift Shop serves a wonderful purpose in Kyle and all the revenue goes to support the library."

But back to the library and the story of how the library moved from that location on Blanco to its present headquarters on Scott Street. Ms. Ryan told me former City Manager Tom Mattis began the push for a new library building, but at the time a search for property on which to locate it began, around 2006, H-E-B decided to locate a store in Kyle "and the city’s staff was completely swamped with that huge project. So the library got put on hold."

The current building finally opened in 2012, "during the real drop in the economy, when the city was just strapped for cash. So for the first two years, this library operated with just a skeleton staff because there really wasn’t any funds."

It’s been a long journey and Ms. Ryan told me "Every time I walk into this building I can’t believe it really exists, knowing how hard we worked to get it."

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Council to consider charter changes

I must admit this about Travis Mitchell: the mayor’s not afraid to stick his neck out. And, off in the distance, I can detect the sound of axes sharpening.

Although I doubt somehow all of them are his ideas, the mayor’s name is the only one attached to a single item on Tuesday’s city council agenda that includes a number of proposed changes to the city’s charter. And, I must admit, for the most part, I think these changes make sense. All except one. There’s one I adamantly oppose and will be more than happy to march to the designated voting location and put a big black X — even if it’s an electronic big black X — in the "NO" box connected to this idea. And it’s probably not the one you think. It’s probably not even the other one you think.

The two proposals I’m figuring will raise the most ire and opposition from the usual band of storm troopers are the ones that will allow the council to set its own compensation level and the one that removes the requirement that the city manager must live inside the city limits. Both of those changes make perfect sense to me — in fact, I have been an advocate of that second one for a long time and was even considering lobbying for a spot on the next charter review commission just so I could try up close and personal to eradicate that requirement from the city’s books. Of course, it would be nice if the city manager lived inside the city limits of Kyle and I would have no problem if the council tried to include that stipulation as part of an employment contract with any future city manager. But to make it a part of the city’s constitution simply goes too far. Every reason someone could come up with to say the city manager should live within the city limits could also be made — with even greater conviction and persuasiveness — for the police chief. But there’s no requirement for the police chief to live within the city limits. And I’d love to hear from anyone who reads this who has a job that stipulates where they are required to reside. A hotel manager is not required to live in the hotel he/she manages. And, as Americans, we are supposed to enjoy certain freedoms and, although, contrary to popular opinion, freedom of choice, per se, is not enshrined in constitutional law, it is usually assumed as one of the rights Americans possess and enjoy and is usually defined as "an individual's opportunity and autonomy to perform an action selected from at least two available options, unconstrained by external parties." That specifically means a charter provision requiring the city manager to live within the city limits of Kyle is not only arbitrary, it is a clear violation of that definition of freedom of choice. So get rid of it.

The only way this provision could be considered fair is if the city actually provided a residence for the city manager, like Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor of New York City. And, whaddya know, the city a couple of years ago realized the folly of that charter provision and tried to establish an official residence for the city manager (and, of course, all future city managers) but the town’s lynch mob, which simply didn’t get it, swarmed all over City Hall and scared the council away from really considering the idea. I imagine that same mob might form again. I only hope this time the council members can display a little more courage, a modicum of backbone.

That compensation provision of the charter — the one that stipulates individual council members receive a stipend of $100 a month and the mayor getting $200 — was written into the charter close to two decades ago, back when the city’s population and its council oversight concerns were one-tenth of what they are today. Back then that amount seemed about right for a group of fellas to get together for no more than an hour or so twice a month to take care of all the city’s business. Today, the job is far more labor intensive, far more time-consuming. The current charter does give the council the prerogative to "appoint a citizen committee not more than every three years to review the monthly compensation" and it goes on to say this committee "may recommend the council approve a reasonable adjustment to the monthly compensation."However, as Mayor Mitchell pointed out when I asked him about the proposed changes, if such a committee was formed and if such a committee did recommend a change in the monthly compensation, that change "would actually create a conflict within the charter, because the founding document still called only for the specific ceremonial stipend."

Now, to be clear, the suggested change in the charter does not give the council a raise in pay. As Mayor Mitchell put it: "It merely creates the mechanism for the council to publicly discuss what they think is appropriate."

What the proposal specifically says is "Each member of the council shall receive as compensation for their services the salary established by ordinance adopted after two public hearings." In other words, council compensation levels would be set exactly the same way as the fiscal year budget. The proposed new language goes on to say "Members of the City Council shall also be entitled to reimbursement for all necessary and approved expenses incurred in the performance of their official duties. There shall be provided in each annual city budget an amount for the expenses of the mayor and for each council member. The city council by ordinance shall provide a method for determining what expenses are reimbursable and what requirements must be met to receive reimbursement."

By no stretch of the imagination is this a novel approach. Section 3.04 of the San Marcos City Charter reads: "City council compensation shall be set in a public forum by ordinance of the city council; and they shall be entitled to all necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their official duties. There shall be provided in each annual city budget an amount for the expenses of the mayor and of each council member. The mayor and the members of the city council shall be reimbursed for the amounts so provided for in the annual city budget for their actual official city business expenses. The city council by resolution or ordinance shall provide for a means of determining what expenses are reimbursable and what requirements must be met for reimbursement." Sound familiar?

"At the end of the day, if council approves, the proposal will go before the voters," the mayor said. "I have long held the belief that council compensation should be set publicly, transparently, relative to the work involved, and in such a way as to minimize the impact of compensation as a deciding factor for whether or not someone runs for council. In other words, the wage should not be so much that a member of our community is incentivized to run because of the wage, and not so little that a member of our community is dis-incentivized to run because of the wage.

"As Kyle's population has reached nearly 50,000 residents, the work required of council has never been higher," Mitchell told me. "To serve the residents effectively, council must often devote 15-20 hours per week, often during the middle of the day, with the mayor's workload being even higher. The charter is worded in such a way that council cannot easily adjust their compensation to even a conservative level, and that creates a strong dis-incentive for the average working-class resident to consider serving."

I must admit I did have some questions about the recommendation to eliminate the requirement for council members to have at least a 12-hour notice of a special meeting, but Mayor Mitchell informed me that "the Open Meetings Act requires 72 hours public notice for special meetings" and, as a result, "our 12-hour threshold is below state requirements and is therefore obsolete."

The proposed change I have a problem with, the one I will definitely vote against if it makes to the ballot in November, is the one to eliminate transportation services from the list of providers required to seek a franchise to operate within the city. One of the many things that have been blatantly obvious during the four years I have lived in Kyle is that our city government bends over at the waist to accommodate Buda Taxi, Whatever Buda Taxi wants, Buda Taxi gets. It’s a simple as that. What this amounts to is the city once again carrying Buda Taxi’s water. The mayor actually admitted as much when he told me the reason behind this suggestion: "The charter currently calls for transportation services to receive a franchise license from the city. Ride-sharing does not fall under this mandate. The evolution of ride-sharing services means companies like Uber and Lyft are now the predominant transportation service in Kyle. Since we cannot require a franchise agreement with these companies, I don't believe we should require taxi services to either."

That to me is exactly like saying "Since we cannot require a franchise agreement with DIRECTV, I don’t believe we should require one of Spectrum either."

The first reason I oppose this is simply because two different companies using a different method to deliver a similar, if not identical service, doesn’t mean the companies should be regarded as identical, even if they are competing. Perhaps "taxi services" (read that "Buda Taxi") should simply change its business model and evolve into a ride sharing company instead of begging for a government bailout, which is exactly what this charter change would be.

But there’s a bigger, more important reason I oppose this change and it relates to one of my main criticisms about policy decision-making not only at the council level but on many of the other city boards and commissions as well (including the one, Planning & Zoning, on which I am a member). The decisions are based on a snapshot of the city as it is today without any regard to what the city may and, most likely will, be in the future. Today, much to the dismay of a small group of extremely vocal residents, this city cannot economically support a public mass transportation system of any sort. Such a system probably won’t even be economically viable by the year 2050 when the city is expected to reach a population of 100,000. But it will be getting a lot closer by then. Now, there is absolutely no way — what with all the mobility transformations taking place at such a rapid rate — we can predict today what form that mass transportation system might take or what, if any, public infrastructure this system will infringe upon. Nevertheless, it would be criminal right now to simply assume any kind of a mass transportation system would not need to depend on some form of municipal infrastructure which is exactly what you’re doing if you are removing transportation services from the list of service providers that, in the words of the Kyle Charter, are "using the public streets or property within the city to provide service."

Back to that charter governing our neighbors to the south. The San Marcos charter, the one that seems to be the inspiration for the proposed compensation change on Tuesday’s agenda, requires a franchise for, among other entities, any "public service" company, which is defined in the San Marcos charter as "any company, individual, partnership, corporation or other entity recognized by law that uses the city's streets, alleys, highways or other public property to carry out its principal purposes, including but not limited to public utilities, commercial railway or street railway services, public transit services, solid waste collection, and vehicles for hire."

That seems the right way to go.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

City manager’s proposed budget reduced to three words: streets, water, wastewater

City Manager Scott Sellers formally unveiled today his $84.9 billion budget recommendation for the upcoming fiscal year — a proposal he described as "fantastic" — that contains (as far as I can see) nothing that could be called frivolous, maintains the current property tax rate but does seek a wastewater service rate increase and concentrates on providing the funds necessary to guarantee the city’s water supply, to expand its wastewater capabilities and accelerate street reconstruction and maintenance.

"Kudos to the staff," Mayor Pro Tem Shane Arabie said at the conclusion of Sellers’ presentation. "What was accomplished through this budget, the amount that we can accomplish because of this budget, brings us to another level of sophistication that we’ve reached as an entity and the high level of service that we are providing."

After thanking all the staff members who worked on the budget, and comparing the budget favorably to earlier budget projections for the upcoming year, Sellers said "We have brought forward a budget that is fantastic."

"There’s no better time to live in the city of Kyle than right now," the city manager said. "The quality of life is extremely high, the ability to fund quality-of-life initiatives is there and we are looking to the future in a way we’ve never been able to do in years past. To maintain the level of service that we are in this budget is truly exceptional."

According to my (albeit, unofficial) calculations, $44,137,063 — 51.99 percent of the total budget — will go towards street maintenance, the city’s water supply and wastewater upgrades in the form of new hires, equipment purchases and capital improvements. These unofficial calculations were, admittedly at a glance, seconded by the city manager just prior to his formal presentation to the council.

In that presentation, Sellers said the highlights of his budget recommendation were:
  • $84.9 million total proposed budget for all city funds;
  • $45.4 million in planned spending on capital (long-term) improvements in FY 2019;
  • $7 million dedicated to accelerate Stagecoach Road reconstruction project;
  • $19 million for the wastewater treatment plant expansion project construction;
  • $1.3 million for new equipment and vehicles;
  • $778,000 for 16 new full-time positions — eight in Public Works, three each in Police and Parks and one each in utility billing and information technology;
  • $441,511 for technology improvements;
  • A $324,201 increase for employee benefits to cover rising health insurance costs as well as merit and longevity pay increases;
  • No change in the property tax, water service or storm drainage rates although, according to Sellers presentation, the current property tax rate of $.5416 per $100 of assessed valuation exceeds the rollback rate by just under a penny, .96 of a cent;
  • A 10 percent overall increase in the wastewater service rate that will translate into a 3.5 percent increase — around $3.54 per month — in the average household utility bill; and
  • A 3.95 percent increase in the solid waste rates to pay for the annual increases included in the city’s contract with TDS

Of the almost $1.24 million earmarked for new equipment, the bulk of it — $994,500 of it or 80.2 percent — will be going to Public Works for such items as two dump trucks, an asphalt zipper, a street sweeper, a broom roller, a tub grinder, two concrete mixers, a trench shoring box and litter abatement equipment. The total also includes $110,000 for a new radio system.

Although the tax rate remains at 54.16 cents, property owners will face higher tax bills because of an 5.47 percent increase in property valuations this year. One piece of good news for residential homeowners is that it appears Kyle’s economic development efforts are producing dividends as the residential share of the total property tax bill fell from 74.36 percent last year to 70.95 percent this year. Although Finance Director Perwez Moheet said immediately following the budget presentation this reduction was not that big a deal, both Arabie and council member Damon Fogley welcomed the change and did say the 3.4 percent drop in the residential share of the total property tax bill was "of major significance."

The city will enter the new fiscal year with a debt of $80.5 million as compared to $85.6 million at the same time last year, according to the city manager’s presentation. However, the city manager cautioned, that figure does not include the $9.5 million in new debt planned for the wastewater treatment plant expansion or the "debt issued and/or planned by ARWA (Alliance Regional Water Authority) for the city’s share of capital expenditures," namely the pipeline required to bring water from the Carrizo Springs Aquifer to Kyle.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

City manager to propose $84.9 million budget with no property tax rate increase

I don’t know if there is such a thing as a "quick review" of a 200-page document, but I gave City Manager Scott Sellers’ proposed city budget for the upcoming fiscal year what I would call a "quick review" because spending too long carefully scrutinizing 200 pages of numbers quickly makes my head start spinning, my eyes start rolling and soon the hallucinations begin. I stagger around the abode like some deranged alcoholic following a 30-day bender. It’s not a pretty sight. Someone hand me a bottle of aspirin. Actually, a perfect Manhattan (straight up, not on the rocks)would be even better.

Here’s my overall quick summary — the overall impression I came away with once I began clearing away the spiderwebs in my brain caused by plowing through the document: Sellers is putting a lot of emphasis on improvements to the city’s street and wastewater infrastructure. Streets and wastewater. Those two areas seem to me to be the theme of the budget, the overriding concerns, the points of emphasis. But I’ll know better along with everyone else when Sellers formally presents the document Saturday morning to the city council.

Although the Sellers is seeking to keep the property tax rate at 54.16 cents per $100 valuation, the budget is forecasting a healthy 21.87 percent increase in property tax revenues over the current fiscal year. How much of that comes from an increase in residential property tax evaluations is yet to be known. The certified evaluations are expected from the appraisal district sometime today or tomorrow at the latest.

Accompanying that emphasis I mentioned on wastewater will be a request that the council OK a 10 percent hike in wastewater fees. There’s also going to be a 3.48 percent increase in trash collection charges that’s part of the contract the city has with Texas Disposal Systems.

The budget calls for adding 16 positions to the city’s payroll. The Public Works Department would receive the most new hires — six, including two in street construction. The budget also includes $404,000 for new street maintenance equipment, $200,000 of which would pay for something called an asphalt zipper and $130,000 for a dump truck. Sellers’ requests for new equipment also includes $250,000 for a street sweeper that would be assigned to the Drainage Utility. Parks would get three new employees, two of whom would be for park maintenance.

Sellers’ proposed General Fund budget for overall city operations and maintenance is $23.4 million, an increase of $1,575,770 (7.23 percent) from the current General Fund budget plus a CIP (Capital Improvement Projects) budget of $11.7 million.

Along with the projected 21.87 percent increase in property tax revenues, the budget is projecting a 9.95 percent in sales taxes. That could be a tad optimistic. If the projection of this year’s final tax sales tax collections is correct, it will mean a 5.6 percent increase over what was collected in the previous fiscal year and that was down from a 10.5 percent increase from the year before.

The amount the city collected in Hotel Occupancy Taxes has increased over last year, but not nearly at the amount that was expected. So far the city has collected $241,271 in Hotel Occupancy Taxes this fiscal year and expects to receive $315,000 when the year ends on Sept. 30. However, the current budget projected that final figure was going to be $437,910. Sellers’ proposed budget predicts collecting $320,000 in Hotel Occupancy Taxes during the next fiscal year,26.92 percent less than what was projected for the current fiscal year. Of course, that number could increase if the city takes action that permits it to collect these taxes from short term rentals, which is already required by state law.

The way I read it, the Engineering Department is the one receiving the largest monetary increase — $1.5 million — over last year with Police receiving the second largest ($841,422) and Public Works the third most ($594,167). In terms of percentages, Community Development’s 16.9 percent increase outpaced all other departments followed by Parks and Recreation (13.34 percent) and Police (12.66 percent).

The budget proposal calls for a $1.80-per-month increase in the residential wastewater fee for those living in the city limits, from $17.99 per month to $19.79. For those outside the city limits, the fee would increase from $24.28 to $26.71. Sewer fees are also targeted for an increase, from $3.48 per 1,000 gallons of water used to $3.83 for those in the city limits and from $4.70 to $5.17 for those outside.

The five-year CIP budget always includes a host of interesting nuggets and the one Sellers’ included in this budget proposal is no exception. Some of the highlights include (all expenses are for 2019 unless otherwise noted):
  • $10 million in 2019 and $7 million in 2020 for the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant that will come from the city issuing Certificates of Obligation. (The CIP also includes $250,000 in 2019 and $100,000 in 2020 for the engineering for the expansion to increase the plant’s capacity from 3 to 4.5 million gallons a day.)
  • $8.18 million in 2019, $10.6 million in 2020, $14.3 million in 2021 and $14.2 million in 2022 for the ARWA water supply.
  • $5 million in 2019 and $3.5 million in 2020 to complete the Lehman Road bond project.
  • $4 million in 2019 and $3 million in 2020 to complete the North Burleson Street bond project
  • $3.8 million in 2019 and $2.6 million in 2020 for the Southside Wastewater Collection System (funded by wastewater impact fees).
  • $2.5 million in 2019 for engineering and $4.5 million in 2020 for construction of North Old Stagecoach, the project Mayor Travis Mitchell revealed during this State of the City address earlier this week.
  • $1 million for Kyle Vista Park
  • $900,000 to complete the Marketplace Extension bond project
  • $800.000 in 2019 and $480,000 in 2020 for Kyle Crossing improvements,
  • $500,000 in each of the next five years for street improvements.
  • $250,000 for the Ash Pavilion Roller Rink.
  • $100,000 to complete the construction of the quiet zones at the Center and South Street railroad crossings

The first public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 14 with the second one planned for the same time a week later. An electronic copy of the proposed budget will be posted Monday on the city’s web site and printed copies may be reviewed beginning Monday at City Hall and the Kyle Public Library.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Mayor unveils funding mechanism for Uptown mixed use development, wastewater fee increase, Stagecoach Road reconstruction

Mayor Travis Mitchell announced today the city’s upcoming budget, which will be formally premiered Saturday morning, will include a $3.54 per month wastewater fee increase as well as cash funding for the reconstruction of the entirety of North Old Stagecoach Road. He also said the City Council will receive "in a few months" plans for the creation of a TIF District to help fund the Uptown mixed-use development to be located north of the Performing Arts Center.

Long-time readers may recognize that I have been advocating for the creation of TIFs in general and specifically one for this area north of Kohlers Crossing for more than three years, but, up until now, that suggestion has seemingly fell on deaf ears. Simply put, TIF Districts receive their funding through the increases in property taxes resulting from the development within the boundaries of the district. It creates an incentive for the best possible development.

Mitchell, who up until recently was not a supporter of the TIF concept, told the attendees of today’s Kyle Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City address luncheon, that his opinion was swayed during a recent tour "of other cities to view the very best they had to offer in mixed use development." Now, to his credit, although up until now Mitchell has never expressed a desire for the creation of TIF districts, he has been, at least for as long as I’ve known him, a supporter of, as he said in his address today, "a vibrant community (that) can be achieved through a concentrated mixture of land uses intentionally designed for residents to live, work and play all within walking distance" — what is known as the "Strong Towns" concept.

Mitchell said his tour of cities, most of which were either north of the Dallas/Fort Worth area or southeast of Houston — although, he said, one of these trips took him to Greenville, S.C. — were "all in an effort to understand how some of the most iconic and vibrant mixed-use developments came to exist." He said that he learned that "in a few of the most successful examples the city created a Tax Increment Financing District or TIF to generate revenue for public amenities from within the development itself..

"Well," the mayor said, "we have found such an opportunity right here in Kyle. It’s currently called Uptown, a 137-acre parcel of land behind the Performing Arts Center. It has existed as a concept for years. Folks who moved into Plum Creek might have had it pitched to them as a future development that would have sit-down restaurants, boutique retail, destination retail, playscapes, parks, a conference center, a sports venue, parking garages, wide sidewalks and more. In a few months the city council will receive a proposal to finally kickstart Uptown by creating the second TIF district in Kyle."

Mitchell said the money created by the TIF will be used to pay for "public improvements designed to benefit the whole city … 20-foot sidewalks in front of restaurants, parking garages, public parks, decorative lighting and more."

In announcing the plans for this mixed-use development, Mitchell said he was not abandoning the city’s downtown area. "Uptown is a project that will develop not as a replacement, but as an addition to our downtown community," he maintained.

Mitchell said the city must look beyond developing "apartment complexes and housing with very little retail and pursue a development that can elevate the development trajectory in Kyle forever.

"My vision for Kyle," the mayor proclaimed, "is to once and for all shed the stigma that we are simply a bedroom community lost in the sea of endless sprawl."

Mitchell, calling the proposed hike in wastewater fees "a good increase," said it was needed to fund the expansion of the city’s wastewater treatment plant. He also said the increase was lower than what had been anticipated. "What was originally a $26 million expansion that would require a $20 million bond and a $7-per-month rate increase has been reduced to a $19 million plant with a $9.5 million bond and a $3.54 rate increase, which translates into roughly 3.5 percent increase in the average utility bill," the mayor said.

Mitchell noted that this would be the first wastewater fee increase since 2014 and that the lower price tag for the expansion came through developer contributions and the city’s engagement of "several engineering firms to find ways to reduce the cost of the expansion without sacrificing quality or capacity."

After reviewing for the luncheon attendees many of the current road projects underway in the city, Mitchell announced "We have secured enough money through developer contributions and savings to immediately cash fund a $7 million project for both the engineering and construction of North Old Stagecoach Road from the Walgreens at 150 bending south behind Hometown Kyle to Center Street and then along Center Street from Stagecoach Road to Rebel Drive next to Los Vaqueros Café. The entire project funded with cash."

Mitchell said the project will take a year to engineer and another 18 months for construction, so, if all goes according to plan, this project should be completed sometime in mid-2021, by which time, the mayor said, the city’s population will be in excess of 50,000.