Lytle discusses water woes, votes 3-1 to adopt tax rate

In Lytle, Precinct 5 Alderman Charles Cate votes via Internet against a proposal to adopt a 2022-2023 tax rate of $.3643 per $100 valuation to support a $16.7 million city budget for the same period. The proposal was approved 3-1. Cate, a reservist, is deployed to an undisclosed location and participates in council meetings via Internet connection. Photo by Anton Riecher

By Anton Riecher
The Lytle City Council voted 3-1 Monday to adopt a proposed 2022-2023 tax rate of $.3643 per $100 valuation to support a $16.7 million city budget for the same period.
Precinct 5 Alderman Charles Cate, a reservist currently deployed to an unspecified location, voted against the tax rate and budget via Internet connection during the meeting. Precinct 1 Alderman Joseph Morrow was absent.
Cate said he was concerned about using money from the recent sale of $8.5 million in certificates of obligation to cover approximately $700,000 in annual debt in the near term. That large of a boost in property taxes revenue in the next four or five years is unlikely, he said.
“My concern is future years,” Cate said. “Where is that increase going to come from?”
City Administrator Matthew Dear said that incremental increases in utility rates will bring them in line with what is paid in surrounding communities and would create some of that income.
However, Cate speculated that further investment in infrastructure would also be needed. The $8.5 million bond sale is largely going to water and sewer improvements.
“As we are aware, these aren’t the last projects the city is going to need,” Cate said.
The $.3643 tax rate is expected to produce a 10.6 percent increase in revenue due to higher property valuations. The rate for the current tax year is $.3905. The new rate proposal was approved on a motion by Precinct 3 Alderman David Emery seconded by Precinct 2 Alderman Sam Cortez.
A call for speakers at a public hearing on the proposed 2022-2023 city budget of $16.6 million drew no response from the audience for the council meeting. The meeting was closed after one minute.
Another public hearing on the budget will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11 before final approval, Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said.
BOIL NOTICE
Lytle public works director James McGrath gave the council a detailed report on a water outage Sept. 18 that resulted in a notice to boil all drinking water through Sept. 20.
The initial problem that led to the breakdown was a contractor who broke a three-inch water line, he said. One day prior to the break, public works was called to the scene to locate several lines in the area.
“It was hard to locate,” McGrath said. “We located one line by about 5 p.m. and promised to locate the other first thing in the morning.”
Unfortunately, the contractor arrived at the work site before the public works department returned.
“He told his crew to lay one more joint of pipe and busted a three-inch,” McGrath said. “We lost water pressure.”
However, in the course of making the repair to the three-inch line, a 12-inch valve “broke loose” several miles upstream. Replacing it and another valve required draining the water system, so work was scheduled for late Sunday evening.
“We turned off the water at 10 o’clock,” McGrath said. “There was no water above ground in any of the overhead storage tanks. Anyway, you wouldn’t believe it but it took until 3 o’clock before the water stopped draining at the creek.”
The crew got the two 12-inch valves installed and repaired the broken three-inch line before daylight, he said. But rescinding the boil notice required the approval of the Texas Department of Environmental Quality.
“We couldn’t get an answer until about 10:30 a.m.,” McGrath said. “They told us where to take our samples. We got them into town about noon.”
It was 11 a.m. the next day, Sept. 20, before TDEQ gave permission to rescind the boil notice.
City officials were forced to post a notice requiring residents to boil their tap water. Water in the area was still safe to shower and clean with according to the issued release, but residents in Lytle could not use the water for consumption.
“To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking, and ice making should be boiled and cooled prior to use for drinking water or human consumption purposes,” the release added. “The water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes.”
SIDEWALKS
On a motion by Emery, seconded by Cortez, the council approved a $440,000 advance funding agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to build more than 11,000 linear feet of sidewalk near local schools.
The project involves 1,600 linear feet of 6-foot-wide sidewalk on both sides of Prairie Street from Cottage Street to Laredo Street, including the front of the primary school. On Cottage Street, the project covers 2,650 linear feet of sidewalk on both sides of the roadway from FM2790 to Prairie Street.
On FM2790, 2,200 linear feet of 12-foot-wide shared path will be built on the west side of the roadway from Blume Drive to Lytle High School. Also included is 1,200 linear feet of six-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of the roadway from Cottage to Laredo.
Seventy-five linear feet of sidewalk from the southeast corner of FM 2790 and Laredo to directly connect with Lytle Elementary is also included in the project. The project also covers assorted detectable warning surfaces, crosswalks and signage, city administrator Matthew Dear told the council.
“It’s going to give our kids someplace to walk safely on either side of that road (Cottage Street),” Dear said. “It’s quite scary already with kids walking in a bar ditch with the drainage and mud. Or you get up on the roadway and take a chance on getting hit.”
Cortez said he considered the project a necessity “especially right there when it rains pretty hard and gets flooded.”
The TxDOT Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program provides funding for a variety of alternative transportation projects. TxDOT’s Public Transportation Division administers TASA funding for population areas of 200,000 or less.
Funds for the project will come from the sale of $8.5 million in certificates of obligation approved by the council earlier this month, the majority of which will be used to finance water and sewer improvements.
BRUSH PICKUP
On a motion by Cortez, seconded by Emery, the council approved an annual contract for municipal brush pickup. Hector Barrera & Son, the company currently handling brush pickup, was the only bidder, asking for $5,225 per month.
FIRE DEPARTMENT
On a motion by Emery, seconded by Precinct 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez, the council approved a $1,000 a month increase in the amount it pays the non-profit Lytle Volunteer Fire Department to provide fire protection for the city.
Dear said the added money will allow the department to increase its budget for paid personnel.
“The department went from two paid personnel 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to three paid personnel 24/7,” Dear said.
The department also received an increase from the other entities it contracts with – Medina County Emergency Service District No. 5, Atascosa County ESD No. 1 and Bexar County ESD No. 5.
LAKESHORE ESTATES
In the wake of complaints about the potential for flooding in the Lakeshore Estates development, Dear recommended that the council have an engineer review the entire drainage situation and come up with an overall fix.
“The problem is if we throw a band-aid on one thing what is the effect on others downstream,” Dear said.

Devine negotiating with trash collector, tensions over contract and service

Tony Gawlik, left, and Donovan Rodriguez, also standing, of Republic Services address the Devine City Council on Sept. 20 regarding a five-year extension of the company’s contract to collect solid waste locally. Seated from left to right is Denise Duff, city accountant, Dora Rodriguez, interim city administrator and city attorney Tom Cate. Photo by Anton Riecher

By Anton Riecher
Tension between the Devine City Council and trash collector Republic Services became obvious during a Sept. 20 council meeting to discuss a five-year renewal of the company’s contract.
At one point, Terry Gawlik, municipal sales manager for Republic, complained that it was difficult to maintain an “open dialogue” with city staff.
“I will tell you this, I’ve never had this experience before,” Gawlik said. “We do the best we can. We want to do the right thing.”
Complete video coverage of the meeting is available on the Devine News’ YouTube page at youtu.be/HxJhQUTGUpk.
Interim city administrator Dora Rodriguez said the city is restricting direct communication with Republic representatives unless City Attorney Tom Cate or the city council is present. That decision came after a recent letter sent to the city by a Republic attorney, she said.
No action was taken on the Republic proposal after the Sept. 20 discussion due to the many changes requested by council members, Mayor Cory Thompson said.
Republic Services took over the contract for the collection of residential refuse and recycling when it acquired Central Texas solid waste company ACI Recycling and Disposal. The new contract being offered by Republic involves substantial changes regarding residential and commercial trash collection.
One area of contention is that the new contract no longer allows for the collection of bags filled with yard waste. Instead, residential customers will be required to use a separate trash cart for yard waste with pickup limited to four times a year.
“People aren’t going to do that,” council member Debbie Randall said. “It’s going to sit out on the curb until your brush pickup.”
Gawlik said the transition away from yard bags is chiefly a safety measure.
“I know right now there is a labor shortage,” he said. “It’s hard to get people to help. But now you’ve got yard waste and you’re bending and twisting.”
Gawlik said most waste collectors are moving to this system. The benefit to the city is the rate for the extra yard waste cart has been steeply reduced. Those cost savings were challenged by Randall.
“We’re asking (residents) to raise their bill $5, $8 or $12 for the same service they’ve been getting until this new contract,” she said.
Standard brush pickup is going to quadruple because people will not pay to add the yard waste cart, she said.
“They are going to put it out there and they’re not going to care that it’s over your yard waste limit,” Randall said.
Another bone of contention was the length of time necessary for commercial customers to obtain either a temporary or permanent roll-off dumpster for trash collection. Council member Josh Ritchey said it took his business nearly two months to get a bulk trash pickup on at least two occasions.
“One or two weeks wiggle room okay but we can’t have the stuff one or two months because folks are calling code enforcement and making more work,” Ritchey said.
He asked for a guaranteed schedule for bulk pickups and for the delivery of roll-off units.
“I would like some kind of language that if a business owner contacts you more than three times and is unable to get the roll-off delivered within 45 days, within a reasonable time, they can go to a local service,” Ritchey said.
He did thank Republic for removing the fuel surcharge from its latest proposal.
Donovan Rodriguez, Republic’s manager for municipal sales, told the council that the contract extension delivered to the city August 18 included provisions for eliminating the roll-off franchise, billing non-profit organizations and churches at residential rates,
“I’m confident we can come to an agreement on the numbers,” he said.
Council member Angela Pichardo said that could offer the city two main incentives to negotiate – amount and frequency of waste collection.
“What are your solutions?” she asked. “What can you offer us?”
The volume of solid waste is measured in cubic yards. On average, the calculation is three pounds per person per day divided by 175 pounds per yard times seven days per week. That equals three divided by 175 times seven equals 0.120 cubic yards per person each week.
Donovan suggested increasing the allowed yardage to eight yards or more on bulk pickup with increased frequency of pickup and adding a community location where people can use a roll-off to save the cost of scheduling a bulk pickup.
When Gawlik brought up the issue of open dialogue, Cate countered that the city and the company were in the midst of such a dialogue at that moment. Gawlik said that during the work week it was hard to get clear direction from the city via email alone.
“I’d love to buy lunch, say thank you and find out the little details of what you need,” Gawlik said.
However, when Rodriguez asked if the staff was not answering his emails promptly Gawlik said that the city staff was “doing fine.”
Another issue during the discussion was Mayor Thompson’s insistence on a “no-fault” cancellation clause for either side in the new contract.
“No council in the future needs to be tied into any council decisions that are made today,” Thompson said. “This council got tied into decisions made more than a decade ago.”
Ritchey countered that if the contract includes such a cancellation clause “it’s not even a real contract.” However, Randall joined the mayor in support of a cancellation clause.
“The way it reads now we can say we are terminating and we have to wait four years before we can actually terminate,” she said. “We don’t want that anymore.”
Thompson said requiring cause as the basis for any cancellation would mean submitting the matter to a mediator for arbitration. Cate confirmed this when asked for his opinion.
“To be honest with you it can take a long time,” Cate said. “If we get into litigation it can take the time it took to fulfill the contract.”
Dora Rodriguez asked if it was possible to sign a two-year contract rather than five. Donovan Rodriguez said it would require recalculating the rates quoted in the contract.
An invitation by Gawlik for the council to attend a party held by Republic during the Texas Municipal League annual conference Oct. 5 through 7 in San Antonio met with a frosty response.
“Send us the information so we can make an informed decision on that,” Pichardo said.
Also tabled was a request from council member Ritchey to amend the city ordinance governing fowl kept within the city limits. Acting on the advice of Cate, Ritchey limited his remarks during the discussion since it was part of a business proposal that would provide him financial gain.
“I want to run poultry and (put) small houses in my 12-acre field?” Ritchey said.
The current city regulation limits the number of fowl to no more than 10 per residence with no roosters permitted. The ordinance also places strict provisions on such ownership regarding noise and odor nuisance.
Randall, who said from the outset that she would vote against the amendment, noted that “a lot of people have chickens that shouldn’t have them.”
Thompson noted that San Antonio has a blanket ordinance permitting eight chickens per residence. Fowl must be kept at least 100 feet from any dwelling or business.
He suggested tabling the matter until Ritchey can submit something in writing or designate someone to speak for him during the council session.
Cate complimented Ritchey for bringing the question before the council in the manner that he did.
“People are going to call me a lot of things but they’re not going to call me a liar,” Ritchey said.
The council turned down an application by church charity DFMA, represented by Michael Wilkinson, to install a soft drink vending machine at Briscoe Park as a fund raising operation. Although DFMA offered to install electricity to operate the machine, but the council rejected the idea out of concerns about liability and vandalism with all present voting nay.
The council met briefly with the city’s IT consultant, James Evans of Texas Technology, to discuss possible proposals to be made by Dora Rodriguez in a meeting with AT&T regarding cost cutting measures on communications for the city.
During a workshop on the upcoming 2022-2023 budget Rodriguez told the council that bond payments for the city airport have been moved from the general fund into the budget’s debt service. Thompson told the council that the action would help free up more money in the general fund.
Rodriguez said shifting the payments had been approved in advance by the city’s financial consultant.

Public hearing on Medina County tax increase on Thursday, September 22

While the tax rate has gone down some, higher appraisals have skyrocketed, and will bring in substantially more tax revenue.
The proposed tax rate, which is the highest allowed without holding an election will be .4743. Total property tax revenues under this rate will raise $23.7 Million, about 7% or $1.5 million more than the previous fiscal year.
The average taxable value of a home in Medina County increasd from $190K to $215K, an increase of about $25,444 or 13.38% increase.
The local Pct. 4 county commisioner urges residents to voice their opinions.
“You are going to hear how low the Tax Rate is and how it has gone down each year for the past several years. But remember that our Property Appraisals are higher than they have ever been,” said Comissioner Jerry Beck. “Our taxes have never gone down or even leveled off.”

Devine city tax rate cut discussed

By Anton Riecher
The only private citizen to attend the Sept. 8 Devine City Council workshop on the proposed 2022-2023 city budget voiced concern that a suggested cut in the tax rate might leave the city underfunded during financially risky times.
Fred Morales told the council that cutting taxes now might mean steeper increases in the future.
“I know everybody is super concerned about being conservative about how this (tax rate) number is set,” he said. “I just want to make sure everybody was putting a lot of thought into making sure there was going to be enough cash flow to accomplish the needs of the city.”
A complete video of the council session is available on the Devine News YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiO7tQQKBnc.
He also asked if the city had a financial advisor, looking at how to set the tax rate, to which the answer was unclear.
The Devine City Council voted August 30 to set a preliminary 2022-2023 tax rate of $.4913 per $100 valuation, the so-called “split the difference” option midway between the current tax rate of $.5298 and the calculated no-new revenue tax rate of $.4527.
However, the new tax rate, based on a valuation of $274.1 million, depends on the city staff finding at least $200,000 in cuts to its proposed “wish list” budget submitted to the council for consideration.
If approved, the preliminary rate would be the lowest passed by the council since 1983, Mayor Cory Thompson said.
Thompson told Morales that the feedback the council got at the Aug. 30 meeting indicated that in view of the escalating property valuations issued by the county this year, a rate cut was in order.
“The feedback I’m getting is people are upset,” Thompson said. “Not just with us but the valuations from the county. They are just upset with all of it.”
Morales said that reading of public sentiment was “absolutely correct.”
“I can attest to that,” he said. But once the tax rate is cut increasing it to meet unforeseen future needs might become that much harder for the council,” Morales said.
“The reason I’m asking is I’m just concerned about how that fits in with the city’s needs and how you feel things are going to be moving forward,” he said.
A final decision on the tax rate remains pending.
“Everybody is having to make due with less,” Thompson said. Council voted to approve a public hearing to further discuss the budget scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept 20 at the city council chambers at city hall.

Lytle approves
$8.5 million bond sale to finance water, sewer improvement

Andrew Friedman, representing SAMCO Capital Markets, reviews the details of an $8.5 million bond sale to finance water and sewer improvements with the Lytle City Council during their Monday (Sept. 12) meeting.

By Anton Riecher
The Lytle City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve the sale of $8.5 million in certificates of obligation, the majority of which will be used to finance water and sewer improvements.
On a motion by District 3 Alderman David Emery, seconded by District 2 Alderman Sam Cortez, the council voted to sell the certificates amortized over 20 years at a 3.94 percent interest rate. The sale closes on Sept. 28.
To see full video of the latest Lytle City Council session visit the Devine News channel on YouTube at youtube.com/channel/UC5NvVUNwMPeR-VVmLSKY-Ng.
Andrew Friedman, representing SAMCO Capital Markets, the city’s financial advisor, told the aldermen that the sale required establishing a credit rating for the city.
“We went through a rating process with Standard and Poor’s,” Friedman said. “They look at not only audited financials but also want to get a sense of who Lytle, Texas, is on top of what you can read on paper.”
As a result, the city attained a strong AA- credit rating, the highest rating possible is AAA, followed by AA+, AA and AA-, Friedman said.
“When you drop below that you have to go out to pay for municipal bond insurance,” Friedman said. “We were able to avoid that.”
City Administrator Matt Dear told the council that $6.1 million of the certificate sale will go toward water system improvements, including building a water tower to feed a new looped water system. The certificates will also finance a $1.4 million sewer plant project.
Aside from utilities, $1 million will be designated for streets and sidewalks, Dear said.
A portion of the debt will be paid from the interest and sinking (I&S) portion of the city tax rate, Friedman said. However, the $7.5 million going to water and sewer improvements will be repaid from revenues generated by the city’s utility system rates.
Emery questioned Friedman about whether the debt could be refinanced if interest rates improve in the future. Friedman replied that the current rates would be “locked in” until February 2031 when the certificates can either be purchased from the investors using cash or the interest rates can be renegotiated.
In other business, the council voted to table action on proposals to address traffic issues on Lytle-Somerset Street, including the use of speed humps to slow vehicles. Dear informed the council that state law requires an official study by a traffic engineer.
Without state sanction, anyone who damages their vehicle going over a speed hump could potentially have a legal claim against the city, Dear said. In 2021, a plan calling for six speed humps and appropriate signage was estimated to cost at least $10,000, he said.
With inflation, that price is now calculated to be at least $15,500, Dear said.
A motion by District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez to table the matter until public sentiment about adding speed humps passed 4-1. District 5 Alderman Charles Cate, a reservist presently serving overseas, monitored the meeting by internet and voted against tabling the action.
Lake Shore Estates resident Trace Joyce once again addressed the council regarding flooding in the subdivision. Joyce reported that his home flooded in 2010 and has been threatened by rising water several times since.
Dear said he has filed a request for quotes from engineering firms in hopes to negotiate a price for the project. It is also under legal review, he said.
“Realistically, this project will probably take a year or two,” Dear said. Resolving drainage issues that stretch back to the beginning of the subdivision is not going to be cheap either.
Joyce asked if the city might have legal recourse against the engineering firm that developed the initial drainage plan for the subdivision.
Action on the item was tabled pending further research into the exact cause of the flooding.
On a motion by Emery, seconded by Rodriguez, the council voted to enter into an amended and restated solid waste contract with Waste Management, Inc., a waste and environmental services company.
Also on a motion by Emery, seconded by Cortez, the council voted to enter into a one-year extension of the CPS Energy gas systems contract.

Lytle increases rates
At the September 12 meeting, the City of Lytle voted to increase water/sewer rates. See details in public notice on page 13 this week.

Medina County approves Anti-illegal immigration “resolution” with altered wording,
continues to draw opposition from proponents of original document declaring “invasion”

Medina County Judge Chris Schuchart addresses supporters of a proposed anti-illegal immigration declaration during the commissioner’s regular session on Aug 25.

By Anton Riecher
The Medina County Commissioners Court voted unanimously Aug. 25 to approve a resolution in support of Texas governor Greg Abbott continuing opposition to illegal immigration across the state’s border with Mexico.
“Now therefore be it resolved that the Medina County Commissioners Court recognizes the failure of the federal government to perform its duties and supports Governor Abbott’s actions to attempt to Secure the Texas Border,” the resolution states.
Timothy Neuman, precinct 1 commissioner, made the motion to approve the resolution, seconded by Larry Sittre, precinct 2 commissioner.
However, County Judge Chris Schuchart stood firm in his opposition to the legal wording of a “declaration of invasion” supported by other Texas counties and elected officials that cites the U.S. Constitution as granting states the power to expel migrants crossing the border in the event of invasion.
Schuchart, who made his opposition clear at the commissioners’ Aug. 11 meeting, restated his position to supporters of the original “declaration” version of the anti-illegal immigration document.
“The document that you want us to pass is flawed,” Schuchart said. “It basically doesn’t follow the law. It cites five different footnotes that I can only confirm one of them to be fact.”
At the root of the impasse is the definition of the word “invasion” as accepted by U.S. Courts.

Mona Walters addresses the Medina County Commissioners Court Aug 25 voicing her opposition

“The Supreme Court has never overruled three federal appellate courts who say an invasion is not illegal immigrants coming across,” Schuchart said. “We all agree we have a huge problem but it doesn’t fit the definition of an invasion.”
Abbott, himself a former attorney general of the state, has taken no formal action on the declarations.
Schuchart, a retired attorney, also took issue with the proclaiming the document a declaration rather than a resolution. Of the 18 counties that have taken a position on the “invasion” issue, six have chosen to pass resolutions rather than declarations.
“There is a difference between a declaration of invasion and a resolution,” he said. “We will pass a resolution.”
Speaking in support of the original “declaration,” Hank Seay of La Coste said the present immigration situation “definitely fits my definition of an invasion.” To call it anything else amounted to “playing semantics.”
“I understand that politics always seems to get in the way and muddy the waters,” Seay said. “I believe that’s exactly what has happened here.”
Robert Oberlender of Natalia and David Logan also spoke in support of the “invasion” declaration.
“I think it’s an invasion regardless of the terminology and the definition of the word,” Logan said.
Mona Walters, another declaration supporter, inferred that refusal to back the original language amounted to an attack on Medina County Republican Party chairperson Julie Clark who spoke in favor of the declaration at the Aug. 11 meeting.
“Members of our Republican party who support Julie Clark have become alarmed,” Walters said. “Several have called and told me that threats have been made against Julie and her husband.”
Schuchart said he and the commissioners were on the same side as the declaration supporters on the anti-illegal immigration issue.
“We are all Republicans,” Schuchart said. “Everybody sitting (on the commissioners’ court) is a Republican. But for some reason the tactics that are being used against us are astonishing to me…”
Passage of an anti-illegal immigration resolution will not save citizens threatened by crime in the county, he said.
“That man over there (pointing to Sheriff Randy Brown) and his staff will save citizens,” Schuchart said.
To aid in that effort, the commissioners have added six new deputies to the sheriff’s office, plus three more school reserve officers (in Medina Valley ISD schools) who, during the summer, become part of the sheriff’s staff, Schuchart said. The county is also buying the sheriff 14 more emergency vehicles.
“We are spending money to protect the citizens,” Schuchart said.
You can watch our video coverage of the meeting at:
https://youtu.be/vHNS1kR4nKo

Solar farm project in Moore draws heat from local opponents

Frio County Precinct 2 Commissioner Richard Graf and Frio County Attorney Joseph Sindon address questions from the audience during a community meeting in Moore.

By Anton Riecher and Kayleen Holder
Opposition to a rumored solar panel farm being planned in Moore brought a capacity crowd together Thursday evening (Aug. 25) at the local community center.
Ray Freitas, manager of the Moore Water Supply Corporation, told the audience that a neighbor on Black Creek Road/CR 1660 had confirmed leasing acreage for a solar farm, sometimes referred to as a photovoltaic power station, using a large array of solar panels to convert sunlight into electrical energy.
In an interview afterward, Freitas expressed the concern that “one of the properties leased is part of the Black Creek system and could possibly contaminate the watershed.”
A landowner in the area, Darla Bacon, explained that in all, the solar farm project could span close to 600 acres.
“Solar farms form what’s called a thermal heat island effect, which increases temperature. I am surrounded on three sides so I will be right in the middle of that. It can increase temperature by 5 to 7 degrees,” Bacon said. “I am going to lose my dove hunting operation, and I am probably going to lose my cattle operation too. I have talked to a man in Deport,Tx who lives near a solar farm like this, and he said the humming sound that it makes is another thing that has driven people nuts. Replacing land with photovoltaic panels will likely increase runoff volume and reduce recharge for our water tables.”
Local bee keeper David Park also lives near the proposed solar projects.
“The biggest thing I am worried about is how it will de-value my property. We live in a house on a hill and can see for miles. We have lived here for 17 years. Who wants to look down on 500 acres of solar panels?”
Like most residents, Graves Wallace, had more questions rather than answers.
“Well, it’s certainly not something that you would expect to happen right next door to you. I did not see it coming. How will it affect the value of my property? What are the effects to our environment? And what are my rights? I truly don’t know. Those are questions I haven’t been able to find a positive answer to. One thing is for sure, time will tell us.”
When it comes to progress, Wallace said, “Electricity is great. Technology is great. But that old hand-crank ice cream maker–it always works.”
Moore VFD Fire Chief JD Earls has his own concerns on the firefighting side.
“Equipment, extinguishing agents, training, costs…..What is needed and how do we obtain it? Where do we get specialized training we’ll need?” Chief JD Earls said. “You cannot put water on electricity.”
At the meeting….
A pamphlet presented at the meeting titled “Drawbacks of Living Near a Solar Farm” set down a litany of possible issues with solar farms ranging from health concerns about electromagnetic waves, increased risk of fire from the radiated heat and the potential that harmful chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic, silicon, copper and lead could contaminate the environment. The concern is that damaged units may release contaminants into the environment. 
Frio County Precinct 2 Commissioner Richard Graf presided over the meeting. Also on hand to field questions were Frio County Attorney Joseph Sindon and incoming precinct 2 commissioner Mario Martinez who takes office in November.
Graf told those attending that his office received nearly a dozen calls last week concerned about the rumored solar farm project.
“I’d really like to say that as of this date (the county) still has not been formally asked or told that a solar company is coming in,” Graf said. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt at all that they are coming in.”
However, unless the company applies for tax abatement, it is under no obligation to inform the county of its plans. Graf said he brought the rumored project before the Frio County Commissioners Court during its regular meeting on Aug. 24.
“Based on all the information I’ve got it will be my pleasure to recommend to the court that we do not give them one,” Graf said.
He said the commissioners were “very attentive to what I had to say and were anxious for this meeting to happen so that I could get back with them.”
Graf and Sindon both stressed that the county has no regulatory authority to restrict industrial development.
“We all like living in Texas because we don’t want a lot of regulation,” Sindon said. “The government lets us do what we want.”
People are largely allowed to do what they want “unless it upsets the neighbors,” Sindon said. He noted that the commissioners approved tax abatement for a solar panel farm located on a large ranch with no immediate neighbors to the project (in the Pearsall area).
“Nobody complained,” Sindon said.
Martinez said he was in agreement with Graf in opposing the project.
“For the most part I’m with everyone here,” Martinez said. “I’m not saying we’re going to please everyone 100 percent but we want to look out for your wellbeing.”
Here is the link to the Moore Community Center meeting about the solar farm: https://youtu.be/qQs6pLCOX9g
Please note, there was some confusion at the meeting about how much acreage the Moore solar farm would include, but has since been settled and is reflected in this article as of information we received Tuesday.
The company which has leased land in Moore is based out of Chicago, a landowner said, and is not the same company that received tax incentives in the Pearsall area solar farms that are expected to become operational in 2023.

Lytle approves $16.6 million budget, staff says utility rates must go up soon amidst growing city/ infrastructure projects

Today’s technology is amazing…Lytle City Administrator Matthew Dear, standing, addresses the city council Monday night, including District 5 Alderman Charles Cate who attended via internet connection (see laptop at right where he is on screen). Cate, an Air Force reservist, is currently deployed to an undisclosed location overseas, Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said.

By Anton Riecher
The Lytle City Council voted Monday to approve a proposed 2022-2023 budget of $16.6 million, not including expected federal stimulus funds.
On a motion by District 3 Alderman David Emery seconded by District 2 Alderman Sam Cortez the proposed budget was approved by a vote of 4-0. District 1 Alderman Joseph Morrow was absent from the meeting.
City Administrator Matthew Dear announced that the city’s total taxable value for the new budget year is $234.3 million. To collect the same revenue as the current year a no-new revenue tax rate of $.3443 per $100 valuation would be necessary.
“The new budget will raise $88,205 more than the current year, an 11 percent increase,” Dear said. “A lot of that is based on increased values as well as new properties added to the property roll this year.”
Under state law, the maximum tax rate the city can approve without voter consent is $.3654 per $100 valuation.
If an expected $379,885 in relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act comes through the city will show an income of $17.8 million under the proposed budget.
“We do not have that number built into the coming year’s budget because we haven’t got that money yet,” Dear said.
The biggest obligations would be $6.1 million in water system improvements, $1.4 million in sewer system improvements and $985,000 in roads and sidewalks.
To make the new city budget work, Dear warned that the council will have to increase Lytle utility rates to bring them in line with surrounding communities in the coming year. For water, Lytle residents pay $12.00 a month compared to $38.14 in Devine, $32.47 in Hondo and $30 in Castroville,
For sewer, Lytle residents pay $18 a month compared to $30 in Castroville, $27.06 in Hondo and $23.57 in Devine.
“If we’re not going to change those we might as well put the brakes on everything we’re doing,” Dear said. “Tell the developers ‘Thank you, but not today.’”
A presentation by the Finance Director LaNet Hester noted Lytle experienced a 22% growth in 2021-22 and a 28% growth is expected each year until 2025.
District 5 Alderman Charles Cate, an Air Force reservist on deployment overseas, voted for the increase via an internet connection.
The council set 2:30 p.m. Aug. 30 as the date for a council workshop on utility and inspection rates.
In other action related to taxation, the council voted to approve a tax assessment and collection contract with Atascosa County. The county will charge the city $1.50 per parcel to collect, plus 10 cents for the central appraisal district.
If the city choses a different firm to collect delinquent taxes the cost goes up an additional 10 cents per parcel. The city’s current contract for delinquent tax collection lapses at the end of this year.
The council voted to authorize the city staff to issue requests for proposals to select a consulting firm to help Lytle apply for a $500,000 Texas Community Development Block Grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture.
“We’ve been told that the two top priorities this year will be wastewater and storm water,” Dear said.
First to apply for the job was GrantWorks. Michael Place, a client services representative for the company, works with the Alamo Area Council of Governments, which includes Atascosa County, and other regional COGs in obtaining grant funds.
Part of the grant process is “pre-scoring” the cities making application, he said.
“When we come to you and say we pre-scored you (it means) you rate pretty high and there is a good chance you are going to get funding,” Place said.
GrantWorks charges on a percentage basis but only if the grant application is successful, he said. The grant application would be required to benefit a low to moderate income area. Also, the city would have to provide a current audit.
The grant would also require a two-percent match of $10,000 from the city. The motion to search for consulting help was made by Emery and seconded by District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez.
Regarding the recent controversy concerning the proposed 170-plus lot Lytle MHC Mobile Park, the council voted to suggest 6:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at the city community center as the date for a town hall meeting on the project.
“The main objective out of this meeting is to have the developer present the plans and let the community actually get an idea of what is happening,” Gonzalez said.
“Although the meeting will be posted to the city hall website the city has no plans to make any formal presentation,” Dear said.
“It’s not a city meeting,” Dear said. “We are just facilitating a location.”
Citizen voices concerns on flooding around Lake Shores
A thunderstorm raging outside city hall set the stage for one resident concerned about high water. Trace Joyce spoke during the public comment period of the council meeting to warn that recent work in the Lakeshore Drive neighborhood to add an earthen crown above a pipeline increases the risk of flooding.
“It will increase the water that is going to be held,” Joyce said. “It increases the danger of a greater overflow when it has crested and it is finally pushed out of the way.”
Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said that a new drainage study is being discussed.
Ethics Comission created
On a motion by Emery seconded by Rodriguez the council voted to create an ethics commission to establish standards of conduct for city officials who volunteer to serve as city officials.
“Council members volunteer as full-time employees,” Dear said. “This is going to set forth our ethical standards on what is expected of you.”
The ordinance creating the commission establishes requirements for such volunteers to make financial disclosures and other reporting to avoid conflict of interest.
“For example, the planning and zoning commission is all volunteer,” Dear said. “If they had a financial interest in property being zoned it is information that we as a city need to know. They need to recuse themselves from that decision.”
Step toward Ozone ordinance
The council also voted to take the first steps toward an ordinance limiting the idling of heavy vehicles for lengthy periods of time inside the city limits.
“As we continue to grow and get more gas stations along the I-35 corridor we are going to continue to get trucks that are stopping and idling all night,” Dear said. “Bexar County is probably going to become an ozone nonattainment area.”
An ozone nonattainment area is one where air quality does not meet the federal ozone standards.
“Many truckers keep their vehicles idling overnight to provide air conditioning or heat while sleeping inside. An alternative is to park at a truck stop that provides electrical hookup to keep the vehicle comfortable,” Dear said.
Emery, who made the motion supporting development of an ordinance, urged the city to reach out to local truck stops to find out what alternatives are available. The motion was seconded by Rodriguez.
Other Matters
In other matters, the council:
•Approved $700 to finance the Veterans of Foreign Wars post to cook for a Sept. 11 memorial event to honor emergency responders.
•Appointed Martha Ellis of Lytle and Wanda Eggerton, an Atascosa County resident living near Lytle, to serve on the Atascosa County Library Board.
•Nominated Evangelina DeLeon, Margaret Wilson, Robin Cantu and Barry Sanders to serve on the Annual Citizenship Award Committee.

Devine council mulls over possible 2022 “no-new revenue” tax rate

Mayor Thompson, Deborah Randall and Josh Ritchey discuss the tax rate and budget at the meeting this past week.

By Anton Riecher
An unofficial majority of the Devine City Council favors a 2022 property tax rate of $.4527 per $100 of valuation based on increased taxable value of $274.1 million.
“The majority at the table wants to go with the no-new revenue tax rate,” Mayor Cory Thompson announced during an Aug. 16 regular session of the council.
Truth-in-taxation requires most taxing units to calculate two rates after receiving a certified appraisal roll from the chief appraiser — the no-new revenue tax rate and the voter-approval tax rate. The voter-approval tax rate — $.4866 – is the maximum rate the council can approve without a vote by local taxpayers.
The city’s current tax rate is $.5298 per $100 of valuation. By adopting the no-new revenue rate, the city will only gain $28,000 over the current tax rate.
With the increase in valuation, the no-new revenue tax rate amounts to a reduction for local taxpayers, District 5 council member Debbie Randall said.
“We still get a tiny, little bitty bump but it will be less taxes for the individuals,” she said.
The no-new revenue agenda item was not a final vote but simply a review in preparation for approving a final budget, Thompson said.
Two preliminary city budgets are being prepared for consideration based on a “wish list” compiled by the city staff, Thompson said. However, in preparation for the proposed budgets, District 4 council member Josh Ritchey asked for a list of all city job positions and their pay.
“My thought process here is every organization over five people has got some fat you can cut,” Ritchey said.
Randall replied that the city does not have enough employees to meet requirements now. However, she said she did agree with Ritchey that any pay increases for city employees should be based solely on merit.
“Technically, at my company there is no such thing as across the board,” Randall said. “You have to earn what you get.”
In other action, the council voted 3-0 to restrict all city council meeting to no more than four hours. Any agenda item not addressed in that time would be moved to a special session to be scheduled within two weeks.
The vote was taken on a motion by Ritchey seconded by Randall.
Initially, Thompson proposed a three-hour limit on any council session.
“If you can drive to Corpus in three hours you should be able to have a council meeting in three hours,” he said.
However, Randall argued that in her experience very few council meetings are able to work through a full agenda in only three hours.
“We would celebrate when it was done in three hours alone,” she said. “I’m thinking four maybe. We have been able to do it in a four-hour period.”
The proposed action came in the wake of complaints by city staff hard pressed to attend the lengthy council sessions, some lasting until midnight, and then putting in a full eight hours the next day.
“It’s hard on everybody,” he said. “Everybody has a job.”
Thompson noted that the council meeting in session had barely made quorum with only three of five council members attending beside the mayor. Under state law, a special session requires four voting members to establish a quorum.
The mayor said he would not support further restrictions on the time available for public comments during council sessions. However, those wishing to address the council might be better served by contacting their district council member.
“At the end of the day, the council person is the one that votes,” Thompson said.
Randall said she agreed that speaking to the district council member first can be more effective. But sometimes nothing can replace addressing the entire council.
“I tell them to bring their voices,” Randall said. “Sometimes we have to have them.”
The council voted to give city director of public works Robert Flores the authority to approve a certificate of occupancy upon the final inspection of the new Golf Clubhouse.
Action to set procedures for hiring a new city administrator was tabled.

Lytle Lady Pirates Varsity Volleyball has busy weekend at Devine Tournament

Lytle Lady Pirate Calyssa Sevier is hitting while Cadee Martinez and teammates are ready to assist.

By Noah Gilkey
The Lytle Lady Pirates travelled to Devine on Thursday the 18th to kick off their season of competition at the Devine Varsity Tournament. First up on their six game schedule were the Poteet Aggies, who they fought hard against before unfortunately coming up just short both matches. The final score of both games was 18-25, 18-25.
Leading scorers for that first game were Calyssa Servier with 3 kills, Rose Scotello with 4 aces, and Marissa Lopez with 4 assists.
Turning to their next game the Lady Pirates were eager to improve upon their last matches, and that they did by putting up a hard fight against Feast for three matches before ultimately falling to FEAST.
Leading scorers were Rose Sotello with 2 aces and blocks, Calyssa Sevier with 5 kills, Cameron Hutton with 2 solo blocks, and Alyssa Sprenger with an impressive 8 digs.
Finishing out the tournament on Saturday began for the Lady Pirates with Crystal City.

Lytle Lady Pirate Amelia Martinez sends a nice serve over.

“We made adjustments Friday during practice and prepared for the upcoming teams on Saturday,” said Coach Sam Mendez of the teams’ preparation for the second half of the tournament. “We came out with those adjustments hoping to be as competitive as possible going up against Crystal City. We put in a DS on the right side to fill in for our true RS Hitter Marissa Lopez. Amelia Martinez # 5 our DS held her own in the front row and did her job well.”
The Lady Pirates came out with the win against Crystal City. Leading the 25-21, 25-16 matches were Cameron Hutton with 7 kills, Calssa Sevier and Rose Scotello with 6 kills, Elysa Aleman with an amazing 18 assists, and Calyssa Sevier with 2 aces.
The Lady Pirates’ second match pf the day was against Fox Tech High School. Playing three matches with scores of 25-20, 23-25, and 20-25 the Lady Pirates came up just short of the win against Fox Tech.
Leading scorers for their second match were Cadee Martinez with 9 kills, Rose Scotello with 6 aces, 8 kills, and 22 assists, Marissa Lopez with 8 kills, and Alyssa Sprenger with 11 digs. Finishing up the tournament against Somerset the Lady Pirates finished strong and took the win in three matches with scores of 18-25, 25-15, and 25-16. Leading scorers for that final game were Marissa Lopez, Cadee Martinez and Rose Scotello with 2 aces, Calyssa Sevier with 9 kills, Rose Scotello with 16 assists, and Calyssa Sevier 9 digs.
Of the final results from the tournament, Head Coach Sam Mendez said, “Overall it was a good experience for the Lytle volleyball team. We made a lot of good changes. The girls are working hard and keeping their spirits high!”