The City of Devine received a Texas Community Development Block Grant (TxCDBG) Program grant, 7220119, from the Texas Department of Agriculture for a Water Improvements Project. A public hearing has been called for 5:05 p.m. on Monday February 6th, 2023, at the City Hall, 303 S. Teel Drive, Devine, TX 78016 to review the program performance of the activities completed under this grant which will include an explanation of the actual use of the Texas Community Development Block Grant Program funds and invite comments.
Notice of Meeting of the Governing Body of The City of Devine
NOTICE OF A SPECIAL LIVE STREAM MEETING OF THE DECINE CITY COUNCIL. GO TO CITYOFDEVINE.COM AND CLICK ON LIVE MEETINGS.
Notice is hereby given that a Special Meeting of the governing body of the City of Devine will be held on the 2nd day of February, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. at the Dr. George S. Woods Community Center, 200 E. Hondo Avenue, Devine, Texas at which time the following subjects will be discussed, considered or action taken:
Discuss and consider for the Council to move forward with a Bond Election and to select projects.
By ANTON RIECHER
In an emergency session Friday morning (Jan. 20) the Devine City Council voted to establish a $1 million line of credit with the Lytle State Bank to cover interim costs on a multi-million dollar project to replace aging asbestos-cement water lines still serving the public.
District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey said that a continuing gap in the loan funding committed to by the Texas Water Development Board made the council’s action necessary.
“The current contractor has been very, very good about working with us,” Ritchey said. “They’ve been working almost four months now without pay.”
“This past Friday’s emergency meeting was the first time council was made aware of the payment issue that had been going on,” Ritchey added.
The official notice posted for the Friday meeting warned that “the construction company working on the water lines has expressed its intent to stop working if it is not paid. The notice also states “if the construction company withdraws from the job the withdrawal will have an immediate effect upon the service of potable water to the citizens of Devine.”
For video coverage of the water line project being discussed during the Jan. 17 city council meeting visit the Devine News YouTube channel at youtu.be/9r2YNaB24aM.
In March 2018, the TWDB awarded the city a $500,000 grant and $9.4 million in loans to fund the project. However, new state management assigned to administer the funding have re-evaluated many of the previously approved aspects, according to the engineer.
Asked to comment on the action taken by the council Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez issued a press release stating the exact motion voted upon Friday.
“I move that the City of Devine establish a line of credit with Lytle State Bank up to an amount of One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00) in order to allow the City of Devine to pay interim costs on the water line project that is funded by the Texas Water Development Board …,” the release states.
All payments on the line of credit shall be made from current revenues of the city, the release continues. The mayor and city secretary are authorized to “provide and execute” all documents that may be reasonably required by the bank.
A statement issued to us by the TWDB Monday in response to the city’s issues reads as follows:
“The City of Devine’s 2018 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund project began construction in July 2020 on the first phase of a planned four-phase project. The first contract for Phase I was terminated by the City in April 2021, and in June 2022 , the TWDB approved a second set of plans for Phase I.
“In October 2022, the City notified the TWDB that the overall project had insufficient funds and that it had bid, awarded, and started construction under a second contract for Phase I.”
“The TWDB is currently working with the City to determine eligible costs for reimbursement. When this review is complete, the next step will be to review the bid, followed by potentially providing a notice to proceed for the second contract and release of funds for construction.”
According to TWDB, the city’s water distribution system includes asbestos-cement lines, cast iron lines and undersized lines.
“The City is currently under a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality agreed order for failure to comply with the maximum containment level for asbestos in the water distribution system,” the TWDB SFY 2018 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund annual report states.
The system poses as potential threat to public health and safety and may lead to diminished water pressure and adversely affect the overall water quality distributed to consumers, the report states.
Asbestos-cement pipe, with an average life span of about 70 years, was used extensively in the mid-1900s in potable water distribution systems. Asbestos fibers have long been linked to serious diseases including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
At least one aspect of the ongoing friction with TWDB came up at the council’s Jan. 17 regular session when Mayor Cory Thompson asked the council to ratify a change order in the water line project contract deleting a $39,500 bid item for the removal and disposal of 3,950 linear feet of asbestos-cement pipe.
“We got notified by the Texas Water Development Board that we essentially either stop the project or we go ahead and make this modification,” Thompson said. “So we talked about it, we talked to (City Attorney Tom Cate) and we said ‘Alright, we need to go ahead and sign this today. We can’t have everybody stopping.”
That action was taken on Jan. 6 but still required council approval to ratify it, he said.
City Engineer Raul Garcia Jr. said that the original purpose of the project was the replacement of the asbestos water lines.
“At that time (TWDB) had approved the plans and there was a categorical exclusion environmentally to do that,” Garcia said at the Jan 17th meeting.
However, a recent turnover in staff at the TWDB led to further review of the documents submitted by the city, Garcia said. The agency reversed its earlier approval to remove and dispose of the asbestos laden water lines.
“They wanted to back track to Phase I to see if we had done anything and, luckily, no asbestos lines were removed,” Garcia said. “Nothing has been done on this phase yet.”
Rather than remove the lines and risk spreading asbestos fibers Garcia told the council he recommended keeping the lines in place but unused.
“What we are going to do it keep the line in place, abandon them and, at a later date whenever the city can afford it or we get funding for it we remove at that time,” Garcia said.
Several council members questioned whether abandoning the lines was the best course of action.
“Basically we’re going to leave them there to die,” District 5 Council Member Debbie Randall said.
Ritchey said leaving the lines in place “sounds like a huge liability moving forward.” District 2 Council Member Angela Pichardo and District 3 Council Member David Espinosa questioned whether the asbestos might leach into the environment as the disused pipe continued to decay.
Garcia noted that any AC pipe abandoned in Texas Department of Transportation right-of-ways are required to be filled with concrete. But the city would probably limit its interaction with the pipe to cap it and compact the area with added backfill.
“That’s where we have problems with the asbestos,” Garcia said. “When you break it, when you saw cut it, it’s the dust and residue that is dangerous.”
On a motion by Randall, seconded by Pichardo, the council voted to approve the change order. District 1 Council Member Ruffino Vega was absent from the meeting.
However, resolving the issue of removing and discarding the asbestos-cement pipe proved insufficient to satisfy the TWDB with the status of the entire project, Ritchey said Monday. Hence, the emergency meeting held on Jan. 20.
“This is just more fallout from that new person coming in and applying their own projected role to the project,” Ritchey said. “They want to reapprove everything the last person approved. How much was in error by the last person I don’t know. “
The city administration has reached out to U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales for his help in negotiating a solution with the TWDB, he said.
Devine’s water pipe replacement project has had a troubled history even before its current woes. In March 2021, Phase I was suspended after the council’s decision to fire the general contractor, Triun LLC. However, work with Triun resumed in September. In August 2022, the council approved a $3.47 million bid by Qro Mex Construction, Inc. for the current phase of the project which includes installation of 20,343 linear feet of 8-inch water main, 3,327 linear feet of 5-inch water main, 6,613 linear feet of service line, plus various valves, hydrants and fittings.
One aspect of the project creating water supply problems for resident of southeast Devine was also discussed at the Jan. 17 meeting when Pichardo reported widespread water outages affecting her district beginning the previous week.
“We haven’t had water in our district for three to four days now,” Pichardo said. “They turn it off during the days. As I was leaving we still hadn’t had the water turned on for the residents who are pretty upset.”
Rodriguez confirmed that an unknown number of homes were experiencing low water pressure during weekdays requiring contractors to establish two emergency “tie-ins” to replenish the system.
“Yes, we’ve been getting lots of calls,” Rodriguez said. “Again, this is something the contractors have to do to be able to tie-in to the new lines to get away from the asbestos.”
At the root of the complications is trouble finding the older lines due to a lack of good maps dating back to their original installation, she said.
“Come to find out there was an issue with one valve,” Rodriguez said. “They had to go back and get hold of our engineer because, again, like I said, that area of town we don’t have the maps. For whatever reason, back in the 1950s, we didn’t have good maps.”
The contractors traced as much of the existing network as possible before construction began “but there are some things that are popping up that no one was aware of, even public works,” Rodriguez said.
The affected area lies southeast of the Union Pacific railroad tracks and runs south along FM 3176 and as far east as Live Oak Drive. Included in the area are major businesses such as Wal-Mart and Sonic located on East Hondo Avenue.
Service was restored over the January 14 weekend but cutoffs resumed the following Monday, Pichardo said. In particular, residents were annoyed that door-to-door notification was not received until after the cutoffs began.
Rodriguez said the contractor, Qro Max Construction, were responsible for distributing the notifications. However, the work originally was scheduled to begin Jan. 17, not as early as Jan. 11, she said.
Ritchey said Monday that the water service disruption has since been resolved.
By ANTON RIECHER
The Devine City Council held two closed executive sessions during its regular meeting Dec. 13 – one to discuss a possible settlement regarding city efforts to condemn three Devine Municipal Airport hangars and another to review applications for city administrator.
No action was taken following either closed session.
In November the council voted to condemn hangars 8, 8A and 10 by means of eminent domain. The formal motion refers to acquisition for “the Public Use of Designing, Developing, Constructing, Enlarging, Extending and Improving the Devine Municipal Airport.”
More than 27,715 square feet of hangar space is involved in the action.
The council also voted in November to advertise in professional publications for a new city administrator. City Administrator John Vidaurri resigned effective October 22, 2021, leaving city secretary Dora Rodriguez to step into his vacated role on an interim basis.
The city is seeking candidates with five years’ experience as a city manager or administrator who also hold a bachelor’s degree and degrees in public administration, management or business.
In other action, the council asked city attorney Thomas P. Cate to draft an amendment to the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinance based on the discussion among the council members. The draft motion was made by District 4 council member Josh Ritchey and seconded by District 5 council member Debbie Randall.
Mayor Cory Thompson said the current ordinance restricts alcoholic beverages within a 300-foot radius of schools and church. However, downtown Devine is all but officially dry due to an overlap of these radiuses often surrounding churches that are no longer in use.
“I’m often getting requests from business owners who want to sell alcohol but are located within these zones,” Thompson said.
City staff has been unable to find any official reason why the council chose to enforce a standardized 300 foot radius for these locations back in 1976, he said. Whereas modern minutes record the council’s action in detail, older minutes tend to be brief and uninformative, Thompson said.
Today, the ordinance is often not enforced 100 percent, particularly during events such as the Fall Festival or October Fest. Thompson noted that the Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter is within 100 feet of school property.
“For the most part I would like to see the ordinance go away but there are certain points I’d like to keep,” he said.
In particular, the mayor wants to keep the official closing time at 1 a.m. He also wants to continue requiring application for city permits to serve alcohol.
An addition that Thompson proposed to the ordinance is no glass bottles on public property. Alcohol would be allowed but containers must not be obviously displayed.
“Places like Marble Falls or parks in Travis County alcohol cannot be visible,” Thompson said. “If the beer can is in a coozie no one has a problem. On the other hand, no one wants to see an open ice chest.”
Noting that the ordinance had previously been amended in 1981 and 1990, Thompson said it has always been an “ever evolving document.”
“We can always readdress this,” he said.
In other discussion about ordinances, the council tabled action on fence restrictions under consideration by the planning and zoning commissioners. In particular, Randall expressed concern about fences that obscure traffic by being too tall, too close to the corner or opaque.
Some board fencing makes it impossible to see the cars waiting at stop signs at certain intersections, Randall said. Ritchey said he would like to see any new ordinance focus on safety factory rather than the style of fencing.
“Lots of stuff in their now is not palatable to a lot of folks, including me,” he said.
The council also discussed new code requirements regarding the collection of solid waste. Randall said she was in favor of requiring homeowners to promptly collect their waste containers after trash has been collected.
She said an impromptu survey via Facebook that she conducted found that most people would support rules to get the containers out of the street and off the curb. However, some folks simply replied “just let people be,” she said.
Thompson said leaving the containers in the street often restricts the flow of traffic on narrow residential streets. Also, maneuvering around the containers can make exiting driveways more hazardous.
The council took no action but asked Cate to draft changes for a future vote.
Misty Thompson of Thompson Houston Real Estate addressed the council about obtaining an extension on master plan approval at the 13.71-acre Cactus Flats subdivision. The council granted a three-year extension.
“We were not aware there was a time limit,” Thompson said. “Approval was only good for three years.”
To date only four houses have been built in the subdivision.
Also regarding subdivision development, the council approved a $103,693 road construction project for Shaver Street between West Davis Avenue and Kempf Street. The council voted 4-0 to approve based on a motion by Ritchey.
The council voted to make a correction in an earlier proclamation in honor of National Wreaths Across America Day on Dec. 17. Among the 3,702 participating locations across the country Devine was represented by the Devine Current Events Club, not the Devine Garden Club.
Business woman Brittany Sullivan-Ott offered the city council a deal during its regular meeting, offering to pay to repaint two sadly faded “Welcome to Devine” signs.
“It’s very faded in my opinion,” she said. “I’m tired of driving by it.”
Repainting the signs will cost $1,500 apiece, she said. Her only stipulation was to add the logo of her two businesses – C&R Grill and Alamo Truck Accessories – to the refurbished signs.
Other than that, Sullivan-Ott asked only for help installing the replacement signs. Both signs are located on Devine ISD property.
The motion by District 4 council member Josh Ritchey, approved 4-0 by the council, puts a four year limit on the new signs. Once expired Sullivan-Ott can replace them again or turn the honor over to some new willing entrepreneur.
By Anton Riecher
Flooding received the most attention during the Nov. 15 session of the Devine City Council with speculation about adding $4.8 million in drainage improvements to a possible bond issue election in May 2023.
Ralph D. Montgomery, owner of two houses at 406 Monticello Drive, addressed the council about “tremendous runoff” from Fox Run and Libold Drive affecting his property.
“I bought the property four years ago and I’ve had this problem ever since I bought the place,” Montgomery said. “It only happens during heavy, hard rain.”
Video coverage of the council session is posted at the Devine News’ YouTube channel.
Over the year the problem has grown worse with water backed up into the alley behind his home “coming in the back door” during the last major rain, he said. He blamed the new flooding on construction near his home.
Dealing with the problem at Montgomery’s address and throughout a large portion of District 4 would require a system of box culverts to reroute water from north of Mockingbird Lane, Mayor Cory Thompson said.
Thompson noted that the city staff has been unable to locate building permits on record for the construction at Montgomery’s address.
“Was there nothing in the seller’s disclosure when you bought the property because this isn’t a new problem?” Thompson asked.
Montgomery said no. He also told the council he took offense that the original construction at the site was for a business and not a home.
“It’s all been approved by the city,” Montgomery said. “How did it get built if it wasn’t approved?”
Thompson said a much less expensive alternative of building a wall to divert the runoff had been rejected as ineffective because openings must be permitted for driveways.
Montgomery complained that the city had previously built a wall from the alleyway behind a nearby home to Monticello Circle as a means to divert the water. However, that wall has seen no maintenance and is now overgrown with grass and weeds.
Thompson asked city engineer Raul H. Garcia to develop “a more realistic plan” for handling the drainage issue. District 2 council member Angela Pichardo told Montgomery the city would have to find a solution best for “the overall population.”
“If we do fix your situation it would fix quite a bit” of the District 4 flooding issues, she said.
The council also addressed drainage in the 400 block of W. Park Avenue near the intersection with Washington Drive.
“To permanently fix the problem will require a street reconstruction project of the adjacent streets that contribute to this area,” Garcia said.
As with Monticello Drive, the issues on West Park may require bond issue funding on the May ballot, Thompson said. However, since the flooding is attributable to the contours of the property anything major that would divert natural drainage would require federal approval.
On motion by District 5 council member Debbie Randall, seconded by District 3 council member David Espinosa, the council voted 4-0 to direct Garcia to come up with price estimates. District 4 council member Josh Ritchey was absent from the meeting.
In other action, the council passed a motion to correct action taken in April to award a contract for a water transmission line to Qro Mex Construction Company for the base bid of $146,818, plus $100,000 for the additional work contained in an alternate bid.
While the original motion still stands it “should have been worded slightly differently,” Thompson said.
On action of Pichardo, seconded by Espinosa, the council approved the purchase of available property adjoining Curcio Park for future expansion. City Attorney Thomas P. Cate explained that delinquent taxes owed on the property to various entities totaled about $12,500.
Peggy Lester, a resident of Warhorse Drive, asked the council to consider moving a propane tank at the city water tower. She said she was concerned that the tank could pose an explosion risk if struck by lightning.
City staff reported that the tank was placed on site to fuel an emergency generator during the winter storm of February 2021. The tank is already scheduled to be moved.
The council voted to approve the installation of a street light at 509 Howell Ave. after owner Mary Uhl agreed to cover installation costs in the neighborhood of $180.
Also approved was action to lease a portable building near the golf course clubhouse to Devine Golf Group for storage at a cost of $200 a month on a yearly lease.
Council members approved plans for the Devine Women’s Golf Association and the Devine Golf Group to conduct a golf cart parade at 7 p.m. Dec. 16. No street closure was required for the parade.
The council approved rescheduling its Dec. 20 regular session meeting to Dec. 13.
By Anton Riecher
By a vote of 4-0, the Devine City Council has elected to notify Republic Services of its intention to withdraw from the city’s present agreement for trash collection, citing a lengthy track record of service complaints from the public.
“The citizens are not happy with what you are delivering,” said District 3 council member David Espinosa.
The action by the council came during an Oct. 25 council session at which Republic was negotiating for a new five-year agreement to replace its existing contract in place since the company acquiring previous city trash collector ACI Recycling and Disposal.
The motion by District 5 council member Debbie Randall, seconded by District 1 council member Rufino Vega, instructed city attorney Thomas P. Cate to submit a letter to Republic that it does not intend to renew the existing contract which expires in four years nor continue negotiating a replacement contract.
“I’m done,” Randall said.
However, Cate advised the council that the city remains bound to Republic for the length of the present contract. Part of the negotiations over a new agreement was the city’s request for a no-fault termination clause in case of further disagreements.
That clause was absent from the latest version submitted by Republic. The company’s manager for municipal sales, Donovan Rodriguez, told the council that any such agreement would not be to Republic’s advantage.”
“It’s already been expressed that you would get out of the agreement as soon as you could,” Rodriguez said.
Republic sought to make substantial changes in residential and commercial trash collection, such as requiring the use of separate trash carts on designated dates to pick-up yard waste. Bagged waste would no longer be allowed. Another area of negotiation involved use of temporary or permanent roll-off dumpsters for commercial trash collection.
Republic offered compromise on both areas. However, council members Espinosa and Randall remained unsatisfied, particularly with Republic’s version of a no-fault clause.
“I thought we were talking more of a complete no-fault clause, possibly with a 90- or 120-day window to give everybody notice,” Randall said.
Using calculations prepared by the city staff, Randall said the six-mouth clause proposed by Republic would cost the city a minimum of $410,000 in penalties. Both District 4 council member Josh Ritchey and Mayor Cory Thompson joined Randall in rejecting Republic’s proposal.
“Obviously, four hundred and some odd thousand dollars is an unreasonably high option,” Thompson said.
Rodriguez said that Republic, in vying for the replacement contract, had offered considerable concessions to the city just to gain a single year’s extension. He also said that Republic has not heard the complaints claimed by the council members.
“I’ve heard great things from the residents,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve delivered over 80 coloring books with the last few months to the kids that come by.”
However, he told Espinosa that he has prepared responses to the complaints that the council member cited.
“I can get those to you because they weren’t all accurate,” Rodriguez said.
Espinosa said that regarding the city’s relationship with Republic “the damage has been done.”
“It’s time to move forward,” he said. “I’m sorry to say that, but that’s just where I’m at with this thing.”
Randall said that while the service offered by Republic might see short term improvement nothing would prevent a return to what residents had previously experienced.
“Even if we went with the (new) contract, even if we thought this was the most marvelous contract, the company’s history doesn’t reflect that it’s going to get any better,” Randall said. “You don’t have a good track history with us. It might get better for a month, but it’s just going to go back to what it was (before) with six pages of complaints for one week.”
District 2 council member Angela Pichardo was absent from the meeting.
NEW INTERNET TOWER
By motion of Espinosa, seconded by Vega, the council approved a request from Sego Internet of La Coste to install a 100-foot Internet communications tower inside the city limits.
Rodney Hitzfelder, president of Sego, said his visit to the council was courtesy to the city to determine in advance any impediments to placement of the tower.
“Two years ago myself and some friends had bad Internet and we got tired of what we had,” he said. “We started our own company.”
Sago Internet 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, Sego has erected seven towers and accommodates 130 Internet customers in Medina County towns and much of the rural area, Hitzfelder said.
For full video coverage of the council session visit the Devine New YouTube page at youtu.be/2gdzb53gZS0.
In a 2-1 vote, the council approved the drafting of a potential ordinance governing the raising of chickens within the city limits. City ordinances presently permit the raising of as many as 50 chickens per acre of land, Mayor Thompson said.
The motion by Espinosa calls for a draft ordinance that would allow the city to make a decision on a case-by-case basis. Vega joined Espinosa in approving the motion. However, Randall said her constituency flatly rejected the idea.
“We know there are chickens in district five,” Randall said. “They don’t want the farm issue.”
Ritchey abstained from the vote since he made the original request for an amendment to chapter 14 of the animal ordinance regarding fowl with the intention of raising chickens on his own property. A presentation in favor of such an operation was made at Ritchey’s request by poultry farmer Steve Smith, who lives outside the city limits.
“We raise them different from what most folks understand from conventional poultry for eggs and meat,” Smith said.
His operation involves raising the chickens outdoors rather than “jammed into a small coop,” he said. The birds are moved regularly to benefit soil health and reduce any odor.
“These are meat birds specifically,” Smith said. “No roosters.”
Several others spoke in favor of the proposal. However, Devine resident Kathy Lawler said she would worry about poultry operators who were not as conscientious as Smith.
“What if we have 15 people who don’t take care of their chickens and they do smell and do make a mess?” Lawler said.
Following a public hearing at which no audience members offered comment, the council voted to condemn hangars 8, 8A and 10 at the Devine Municipal Airport by means of eminent domain.
The formal motion adopted by the council refers to the action as an acquisition of property interest in the hangars for “the Public Use of Designing, Developing, Constructing, Enlarging, Extending and Improving the Devine Municipal Airport.”
More than 27,715 square feet of hangar space at the airport was involved in the action..
Before the vote a brief closed executive session was called to brief Ritchey who was unfamiliar with the situation behind the condemnation. City Attorney Thomas P. Cate told the council in open session that the action involved possible litigation.
On a motion by Randall, the council voted to approve $6,593 for the Devine Golf Group LLC as the city’s share of repairs to the water well and pump system at the golf course.
Jay Dishman with the management group told the council that invoice for the well repairs were obtained in August. However, since then a fire broke out in an electrical box connected to one water well near the clubhouse and has had to be added to the repair estimate.
“We paid for them already so we are just looking for what we had in our contract about splitting some of those costs out there at the golf course,” Dishman said.
He also addressed the the general condition of the water system at the course.
“We have a situation right now where we have one of our water wells down on thirteen,” he said. “We are in the process where we have already had an estimate for (that) repair.”
However, the course will not be presenting the cost to the city until another two estimates are obtained, Dishman said.
“As far as the water well system we have out there they are outdated and inefficient,” he said. “They use a lot of energy to (the point) where our jockey system that supplies the big pump (is down). To repair that we are looking at another $5,000 to $8,000.”
He warned against continuing to apply “band-aids” to these problems.
“This has been going on for a good while,” Dishman said. “The last management company that had it put $50,000 into it in two years.”
In other golf course news, the council tabled a proposal to leave a portable building east of the clubhouse in place to serve as office and storage space for the golf course restaurant. The measure was tabled until prices for the project could be obtained.
On a motion by Ritchey, seconded by Randall, the council voted to sell by public auction a lot in the Bain addition. A minimum bid of $24,000 was set for the sale.
The council also approved a subdivision plat for extension to the AEP electrical substation in Devine.
Under zoning, the council approved a variance request submitted for a lot requirement of a minimum 9,000 square feet and a side setback request at 217 S. Bright. A variance was also approved for a five-foot setback requirement at 508 Mockingbird Lane.
The council also approved permission for the Garden Club to move forward with a layout for sprinklers to irrigate near the Four Corners intersection in downtown Devine. Council members also approved a decision to remove two large trees blocking the alley between Mockingbird and Hickory Highway.
On a motion by Randall, seconded by Ritchey, the council voted to advertise in professional publications for a new city administrator. The city is seeking candidates with five years’ experience as a city manager or administrator who also hold a bachelor’s degree and degrees in public administration, management or business.
Initially Randall and Ritchey disagreed about the amount of experience required with Ritchey wanting candidates from “outside the box” Thompson and Espinosa joined Randall in insisting on candidates with ample experience.
With a less experienced administrator, current interim administrator Dora Rodriguez “would have to stay on as a go-to person a lot longer than she hoped to,” Thompson said.
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.
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.
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.