Medina Co Appraisal district purchase in limbo

Purchase of a proposed new home for the Medina County Appraisal District remains locked in litigation nearly 16 months after MCAD contracted to buy the former Hondo office used by the 38th Judicial District of Texas district attorney.
The MCAD board of directors took no action following a May 10 executive session on the real estate purchase.
“Our current building is owned by the county and we rent from them,” board chairman Tim Hardt said. “As a district we would like to own our own building.”
The ownership issue arose in late 2020 after the state authorized Medina County to form its own district court, Hardt said. Prior to establishment the 454th Judicial District Court, Medina County fell under the jurisdiction of the 38th Judicial District of Texas that also included Uvalde and Real counties.
MCAD has an earnest money contract to purchase the building in Hondo used by the 38th Judicial District from the three counties involved, Hardt said. However, Christina Mitchell Busbee, the district attorney representing the now reduced 38th, filed suit claiming that the counties lacked the authority to sell the property.
“We cannot close on the sale until that litigation is resolved as to who is going to sell the building,” Hardt said.
In other business, chief appraiser Johnette Dixon presented proposals for the upcoming 2022-2023 MCAD budget.
“The preliminary budget is reflective of an increase in operations and cost-of-living for the employees,” she said.
The current 2021-2022 budget for the district is $1,455,700. As a minimum for 2022-2023, the proposed budget is $1,542,025, Dixon said.
If the board approves the full cost-of-living salary increase proposed for the district, the final approved budget would be $1,553,725, she said.
A final decision on the new budget is expected during the regularly scheduled June 14 MCAD board meeting.
“The preliminary budget has to be approved in June,” Dixon said. “The final budget must reach the entities by August for their approval.”
A treasurer’s report presented to the board showed that the 12 governmental entities that comprise the appraisal district are on schedule in providing their pro-rated share payments, she said.
“Each of the entities pays into a portion of our budget based on their levy,” Dixon said. “We send them quarterly invoices and so far everyone is up to date as of the second quarter.”
The May 10 meeting marked the introduction of new board member Clay Bell who replaces Jeff Diles, an eight-year veteran of the appraisal district board of directors.
Vice chairwoman Jody Jacobs and county tax collector Melissa Lutz were absent from the meeting.

By Anton Riecher
Devine News Correspondent

A look at Medina County’s $1.4 million investment in local broadband

Thanks to funding provided by federal COVID-19 stimulus legislation, availability of wireless internet in Medina County is expected to greatly improve before the end of the year.

Medina County Comissioners granted $700,000 each to two local broadband companies to assist in putting up more towers, as well as $25K to third company.

Sago Internet of LaCoste and R Networks of D’Hanis have been designated by the Medina County Commissioners Court to receive $700,000 each from an initial $5 million grant for the county through the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2021.
To date, each company has drawn $200,000 to begin work on the broadband improvements, said Joe Arnett, co-owner of R Networks.
“We’ve used that money to order equipment,” he said. “We’re going to be building towers all over Medina County in underserved areas.”
Likewise, Sago Internet is moving forward on expanding its service to Medina County residents, said Rodney Hitzfelder, president of Sago Internet.
“We’ve bought towers, antennas and radio equipment,” he said. “We’ve contracted with an installation company to come in and do the installations. It’s a long process to put these things up.”
The ARPA funds can only be used for capital expenses – towers, equipment, antennas or construction costs, Hitzfelder said. None could be used for salaries, computers, attorney fees, land or tower leases or tapping fiber optic lines. Sago accepted the grant knowing that while it was a large sum of money for the capital costs it would create ongoing costs to the company as the system was being built.
Both Sago and R Networks operate as wireless internet service providers (WISP) using a system similar to cell phone networks. WISPs are generally found in rural areas not covered by cable television or fiber optic telephone lines capable of carrying a high-speed internet signal.
“Our wireless systems at this time require line of sight, from the customer’s antenna location to an antenna on one of our towers,” Hitzfelder said. “Not all residences can be reached. Hills, buildings, and most especially trees complicate the lives of a WISP installer. However, with our modern equipment the reach of each towers radius can be up to seven miles. This means the service footprint of one of our towers is over 150 square miles.”
A third company, CASCOM, also known as Castroville Computers, received $25,000 of the ARPA internet funds. Unlike Sago and R Networks, CASCOM specializing in using a wide range of technology to provide customized internet service to customers beyond the reach of more conventional internet providers.
“The money given to the other two companies is going to be well spent,” CASCOM owner Robert Peterson said. “They’ll get to the areas that need service.”
Of the two major WISPs based in Medina County, R Network has the deepest roots. Founded in 2012 by Arnett and his wife Shanna, the company began operations as a cell phone provider serving western Medina County and points beyond.
“I’ve always been in the wireless business,” Arnett said. “I was working from home and didn’t have fast enough internet. I knew just enough to be dangerous. After I managed to get better service at home, my neighbors started asking me if I could do the same for them.”
A business was born, he said.
The proposal put before the commissioners called for adding new towers to expand R Networks’ reach from its primary tower in Hondo, Arnett said.
“We’ve already got two leases done for two new towers building from our Hondo connection,” he said. “We already have a fiber optic connection outside of Hondo. We’re going to feed the new towers from this connection to expand to the east back to Castroville.”
Even after the $700,000 in ARPA funds is exhausted, R Networks plans to continue expanding across the county using its own money, much as the company has in previous decade, Arnett said.
“I’m forecasting that eventually we’re going to be able to build 10 to 20 more sites,” he said. “Some are not going to be full blown giant towers but smaller secondary towers.”
Hindering progress on the expansion are the same supply chain issues being experienced by industries nationwide.
“We’ve got equipment on order,” Arnett said. “We have just now started receiving some of it.”
Like R Networks, Sago Internet grew out of frustration with the available internet service in Medina County. When he retired as public information officer for the San Antonio Fire Department several years ago, Hitzfelder lost the use of the high-speed integrated services digital network (ISDN) line at his LaCoste home.
“AT&T was up, down, slow or never did anything,” Hitzfelder said. “I went with VIASAT and it was the same thing. As soon as you ran out of high speed data they shut you off.”
When still another alternative failed, the internet expert Hitzfelder conferred with, gave him some advice that worked – “Start your own WISP.”
“The startup money was not huge,” Hitzfelder said. “So I decided to do it. Now I’ve got everything I want.”
Sago operates four towers ranging between 100 and 160 feet in height – one south of LaCoste, one near Pearson, one south of Chacon Lake, all guyed wire towers, and a monopole tower on Potranco Road. All are now complete and operational and we are adding customers at this time.”
“We were very fortunate to get the towers relatively quickly because they are in short supply right now,” Hitzfelder said.
Also, Sago Internet has been in negotiation for several months with a landowner north of Devine to use a pre-existing tower with its own fiber optic connection.
“We have to pay for that out of our own pocket,” Hitzfelder said. “The grant money is only for capital items. These are very expensive lines from AT&T that we have to get enough customers to pay for.”
If a deal cannot be made for the desired site, Sago is also in talks with a landowner south of Natalia, he said.
The next phase will be four to five towers servicing the Natalia, Devine and Castroville areas, the area between Rio Medina and Quihi, and possibly an area near FM1283 and FM 471. After this deployment, Hitzfelder believes Sago may be able to complete two more similar phases, covering over half of Medina County.
Both Hitzfelder and Arnett noted that the bulk of the business they hope to attract will be with conservatively priced packages offering speeds adequate to check email and the news rather than internet gaming and other high speed pursuits.
“We have packages for folks that don’t have 10 kids streaming at once or playing games,” Arnett said. “I think that’s where Elon Musk and Starlink comes in. I don’t see any of my $40 a month customers switching to him at $110 a month because it’s three or four times as fast.”
For Medina County internet customers who value speed and service at any price, the alternative to Sago and R Networks has been Robert Peterson’s CASCOM. The company has operated in Medina County for more than 15 years.
“Don’t come to me looking for a bargain,” Peterson said. “You come to me when all the other internet providers have failed to give you good quality broadband. When people visit our customers, they say ‘Wow, how did you ever get internet out here?’”
A U.S. Navy veteran, Peterson said he learned his trade by keeping ship in radio communication by using satellite technology.
“If I can do it on a ship that is bouncing up and down on the water I can do it on the land a whole lot easier,” he said.
CASCOM uses a variety of options ranging from cell towers, high-powered antennas, repeaters used to amplify signals via fiber optic communications and various other technologies.
“It’s really on a case by case basis,” Peterson said. “In some spots we can double the available speed. In some spots we are equal in price to the other services available. But it’s a very customized decision because of all the extreme conditions.”
Providing internet for the most difficult to reach clients is a relatively small outgrowth of Peterson’s computer repair business in Castroville, he said.
“They couldn’t get the computer support they needed because they couldn’t get any internet,” Peterson said. “When I solved their internet problems for them they told their friends and so on and so …”
Companies solely dependent on WISP technology must focus on areas with the greatest customer density, Peterson said.
“I go after everybody else,” Peterson said. “I go after the ones where there is only one customer every mile and it is not a good return on the cost of putting up a tower.”

By Kayleen Holder News Correspondent

Lytle and Devine Election Results

Gonzalez re-elected Lytle Mayor, Rodriguez to council, Ritchey wins Devine City Council seat, Davis and Frieda re-elected to Devine ISD board

City of Lytle…
Mayor Ruben Gonzalez was re-elected with 363 votes to challenger Tom Cate with 174.
Michael Rodriguez won the District 4 Alderman race 50 to 21 over Marshall Witter.
District 5 Charles Cate was unopposed.

Ruben Gonzalez was re-elected Mayor for the City of Lytle.
Michael Rodriguez was elected to Lytle City Council.

City of Devine
Josh Ritchey won the District 5 seat with 39 votes over Cassandra Maldonado 15 and Wilburn Woody Woodrow 3 votes. Councilman D1 Rufino Vega and D3 David Espinosa were unopposed.

Josh Ritchey was elected to Devine City Council.

Devine ISD
Trustees Chris Davis and Renee Frieda were re-elected to their At Large seats over challenger Brenda Burford. Davis had 246 votes, Frieda 206 and Burford 95. Trustees SD1- Ali Buvinghausen and SD2-Carl Brown were unopposed.

Renee Frieda was re-elected to the Devine ISD school board.
Chris Davis was re-elected to the Devine ISD school board.

Elections this Saturday, May 7 for City of Devine, City of Lytle, Devine ISD and Statewide

Four different elections are taking place this Saturday, May 7, 2022 in our area. City of Devine voters in District 4 can vote, all voters in Devine ISD can vote, and all voters in the City of Lytle can vote in those elections. Statewide all voters can vote in the Special Constitutional Amendment elections hosted in their county.

Continue reading “Elections this Saturday, May 7 for City of Devine, City of Lytle, Devine ISD and Statewide”

Lytle discusses 80 foot sign, showing IHOP as proposed tenant near I-35

On April 11th, the Lytle City Council was held at 6:30pm. Starting with the pledge of allegiance, the meeting included a discussion on street names and the history behind the street name that the city recently removed/replaced.

Continue reading “Lytle discusses 80 foot sign, showing IHOP as proposed tenant near I-35”

City of Lytle election May 7

Mayor Ruben Gonzalez faces challenger Tom Cate
Michael Rodriguez and Marshall Witter face off for District 4

In the city newsletter, Lytle mentioned that the elections would be held by the three (3) counties. Due to unforeseen problems, this is no longer the case. The city will be holding the elections instead.
The purpose for this election is to vote for Aldermen for Districts 4 & 5 and a Mayor.
Incumbent Mayor Ruben Gonzalez faces challenger Tom Cate, the longtime City Attorney for Lytle.
Newcomers Michael Rodriguez and Marshall D. Witter are facing off for the District 4 seat after incumbent Jerry Stone did not file for re-election.
District 5 Councilman Charles Cate is unopposed.
The good thing is that all the voting, early and election day, will be held at the Lytle City Hall located at 14916 Main Street, downtown.
Early voting will be held April 25th thru May 3rd from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
On election day, May 7 the polls will be open from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
All voting for the City of Lytle alderman and mayoral elections will be at City Hall.
A new voting machine was approved. Paper ballots will be used and hand counted.
Early voting is April 25 through May 3. Votes can be cast at Lytle City Hall, located at 14916 Main Street, Lytle.
Lytle ISD- The Lytle ISD election was canceled due to all unopposed candidates.

County offers 50% tax break to Volta

Medina County Commissioners voted April 7 to allow County Judge Chris Schuchart to negotiate and offer Volta LLC a tax break to locate near Yancey.
Schuchart told the Devine News that he is offering Volta a 50 percent tax break over a five year period. School and state taxes would not be affected, nor would road and bridge funds. Judge Schuchart clarified that it would be a 50% abatement for everything above the current tax revenue which was $9,500 a year.
Volta, based in Houston, is a leading manufacturer of industrial power systems. According to Dun and Bradstreet, the company generates $70.9 million in sales annually.
“They expect to provide 50 jobs in the first year, and eventually up to 140 jobs,” Schuchart said in a short phone interview

ESD4 to expand helipad, loses backup ambulance in Moore

ESD#4 treasurer Billy Alvarado, foreground, and assistant treasurer Juan Zamora measuring the existing helipad at the ambulance district headquarters. Improvements will also be made to the driveway leading up to the helipad to make it safer for transferring patients. Photo by Anton Riecher.

Medina County’s Emergency Service District No. 4 board of directors agreed April 5 to extensive cost cutting regarding proposed helipad improvements at the ambulance headquarters in Devine.
The board dropped a proposal calling for a 92½-foot square, six-inch deep concrete helipad with extensive lighting in favor of extending the existing 20-foot square helipad with an additional 10 feet in skirting, possibly using concrete
Further improvements would be made to slope the driveway approaching the helipad to allow better access. Lighting improvement would be limited to illumination of the helipad wind sock.
Following a presentation by ESD No. 4 Treasurer Billy Alvarado on anticipated costs, the board voted unanimously to appoint Alvarado manager of the project based on his background in construction.
Alvarado said the cost of the suggested Federal Aviation Administration approved helipad could be as much as $80,000.
“Just in concrete alone we would be looking at about $30,000 to $40,000,” he said.
However, nothing states that the helipad in Devine needs to meet full FAA standards, he said. Instead, Alvarado suggested making use of the existing helipad in the proposed expansion.
“The pad right now is 20 feet by 20 feet,” Alvarado told the board. “The slab is solid with no cracks.”
As previously proposed, the 92 square foot pad would require a system of eight landing lights around the perimeter. Each of those lights cost $650 to $1,000, Alvarado said.
“These helicopters have big spotlight that can light up the approach,” he said.
Money saved on the pad size and lighting might be applied instead to improving the headquarters parking lot sloping up to the pad, he said.
Alvarado accepted the project manager position with the understanding that he may be moving outside the ESD No. 4 district in the near future. The move would require him to step down from the ESD No. 4 board, he said.
A response time report for March submitted by Allegiance District Chief Patrick Bourcier showed a total of 188 calls for the month of which 117 were in the Devine area. Overall response time averaged seven minutes with 43 percent within five minutes, 32 percent between six and nine minutes and 25 percent requiring 10 minutes or more.
In the Devine area, response time averaged six minutes. Eighty-one percent of Devine area calls required a response time of nine minutes or less. Only 19 percent required a response time of 10 minutes or more.
Board members questioned Bourcier with regard to an increase in calls originating in the Lytle. Primary ambulance service for that area is provided by Atascosa County with ESD No. 4 ambulances called in to handle the overflow.
“The call volume in that area, Lytle, has increased dramatically,” Bourcier said. He said he expected that trend to continue as more subdivisions open in that area.
In other business matters, Bourcier approached the board about setting up its own Internet account to handle the ESD No. 4 website. The website is currently maintained by Crux Technologies, a company affiliated with Allegiance.
A treasurer’s report submitted by ESD administrator Christy Merendon showed the district with a balance of $699,343 split between two banks. At Community National Bank money is split between $231,715 in an operating account and $125,002 in a savings account. At Security State Bank the district holds a money market account containing $237,999 and a certificate of deposit for $104,625.
Editors Note: The ESD 4 currently funds two full time ambulances to serve the Devine and Natalia area at a cost of $17,666 per month. The ambulance that was in Moore pulled out in recent months, so we no longer have that nearby back up unit which was being offered by Allegiance free of charge for a short time.
Several months ago, Devine Fire Chief Greg Atkinson addressed the ESD to let them know that Devine VFD hasn’t had any trouble landing helicopters on the existing pad, and many times, the helicopter lands right on the scene of an accident instead. He acknowledged that the EMS company does a good job, but he suggested that the residents of ESD4 would be better served by increasing the number of ambulances in Devine/Natalia based on some the response times to the calls he has helped with. Another citizen, echoed that sentiment, sharing how long her family waited for an ambulance on two separate occasions in the past few years.
ESD 4 Board meetings are held on the first Tuesday of the month unless otherwise posted.

By Anton Riecher
Devine News Correspondent