By Anton Riecher By a 3-2 vote, the Devine City Council rejected a motion to release the management group previously in charge of the city golf course from responsibility for an outstanding balance of $36,000 due for lawn chemicals.
By Kathleen Calame Publisher, The Devine News The pump on the Edwards Water Well #1 went down last Friday, August 25, 2023 leaving only one well to service the entire City of Devine, prompting an emergency meeting. At one point in time the City of Devine had five wells.
By Anton Riecher A recent report from the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviaition Division on the Devine Airport contained no “silver bullet” to quickly resolve the many problems plaguing the facility, airport board president Hap Squires told the city council Aug. 15.
Brian Navarro, golf course superintendent with the Devine Golf Group, revealed the existence of the tie-in during a status report on the golf course during an Aug. 19 session of the Devine City Council.
By Anton Riecher Mayor Butch Cook requested an investigation by the Medina County Sheriff’s Department of water drawn for private use from the city-owned Devine golf course water system by means of a recently discovered water line tie-in. “I think this needs to be turned over to the sheriff and have an outside investigation,” Cook said. “Whatever the sheriff determines is how we will proceed.”
By Kathleen Calalme Publisher In an interesting turn of events, Devine City Council decided to temporarily “terminate and stop advertising” in their search for a City Administrator until further notice, or September 18th, on a Debbie Randall/ Flipper Vega motion. The motion passeda 4 (Randall, Vega, Hernandez, and Pyron) to 1, with Josh Ritchey voting against stopping the progress. “I would like to terminate advertising for the city administration position until further notice or until September,” said Debbie Randall, District 5 Councilwoman. “Not until September…?” questioned Interim City Admin. Dora Rodriguez. “I think you need a time, September 15 or so,” suggested Mayor Butch Cook. “Okay, September 18”, Randall replied. After executive session at 8:11 pm the council reconvened and the mayor announced no action was taken during the executive session item, “Personnel matters- discuss and consider City Administrator issues.” Randall immediately made the motion to terminate advertising for a new city administrator. “The motion is to discontinue advertising for a city admin until Sept 18”, said Cook. “Any discussion? Already done?” Without any further discussion on why, Flipper seconded Randall’s motion and the motion carried with 4 ayes and 1 nay. Council and mayor responses After the meeting, The News offered each council person and the mayor a chance to express their opinion on this new turn of events in order to help the public understand why they are holding back on their search for a City Administrator. They were given the opportunity to elaborate on their “personal reasoning or opinion” for or against this motion to terminate the search, until Sept 18, about 48 days. Debbie Randall, District 5 response: “I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful, but my motion was based off of what was discussed in executive session, something I cannot discuss in public without breaking the trust of council”. Josh Ritchey, District 4 response: “Officially, I can’t share what happened in the closed session. In my opinion, it is extremely irresponsible to cease the search for a city administrator with our current lack of staffing and high level of debt. This reminds me of when Mayor Thompson simply stopped releasing resumes to council. While Mayor Cook is releasing resumes, the council has chosen not to interview until sometime in September, if I recall correctly.” Stacy Pyron, District 3 response: “While I can’t comment on discussions in executive session, I will say that I believe this was the best decision at this time. This is also temporary, and the position will be advertised again in September.” Flipper Vega, District 1- no response as of press time. Michael Hernandez, District 2- “All I can say is the only reason we put the thing on hold for hiring a city manager is because of budget. Interviewing 2-3 candidates in one day will take up so much time during budget session. The last 4 people we interviewed took almost 1 1/2 hours each and that was just 2 interviews per council session.” Butch Cook, Mayor- “It is my personal opinion that we should continuously and aggressively pursue hiring a competent and qualified City Administrator and it should be our top priority. In our style of government, the City Administrator is the most important person of all – more so than the Mayor or any individual Council member and until we accomplish this goal we will just be treading water.” Next on agenda was the budget workshop, something the council will continue to meet often to decide on priorities, the budget and tax rate. New Council and Mayor suggesting changes to several procedures The new City of Devine Council and Mayor are voicing some concerns over old procedures and suggesting new ones. Some would require changing of the ordinances, others not. Mayor Butch Cook just took office three months ago in May 2023 as well as council members Stacy Pyron and Michael Hernandez. Josh Ritchey was elected to the council last year. Flipper Vega has served several terms as well as Debbie Randall.
Top choice withdraws application for city admin position
By Anton Riecher In a surprising turn of events the top candidate chosen, Deck Shaver Jr. decided not to accept the city administrator position after all, citing “pressing family matters,” Mayor Butch Cook stated at a July 25 city council session. The council asked interim city administrator Dora Rodriguez to continue to advertise the job.
In other discussion, the council conducted a budget workshop to identify major areas of financial concerns once the city receives its effective tax rate from the Medina County Appraisal District in August. Dora Rodriguez, interim city administrator, said until the next budget workshop on August 8 the numbers available will be “very raw”. Mayor Cook noted that the final tax numbers are still pending completion of a massive number of protests filed by taxpayers across the county. District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey said he was “unclear on what we are budgeting for other than kicking the can down the road and putting band-aids on wounds.” “We do not have a vision for the city as far as development and a prioritized specs list,” Ritchey said. “So as we are adjusting budgets like last year and the previous year we’re just kind of batting around how do we not increase the tax rate.” Cook said he agreed. The first step is to determine from each council member what the priorities are in their district, he said. “Then we take those priorities and apply them to the overall priorities of the city,” Cook said. “We can start there. That doesn’t mean each person gets one priority and everybody has to agree to it. But that’s a good way to get started.” Cook said one priority he would like to see addressed in cooperation with the county commissioners is better drainage for portions of the city. Another priority would be water storage. “Until you decide your wants and needs that’s when you decide your tax rate,” Cook said. Regarding District 5 Ritchey said that emphasis should be placed on attracting more business rather than homeowners. “I’m not saying I’m discouraging homes but every time you put in more houses that’s increasing impact to your water treatment, sewer treatment and the road work you need to maintain,” he said. The businesses needed are small and medium sized operations that will add to the sales tax base, not super-sized big box stores, Ritchey said. “They’re very extractive,” he said. “They bring in a whole bunch of crap from China and about 75 cents of every dollar leaves town.” Regarding District 5, Randall noted that the city has done little with the 75 acres of property it owns near Interstate 35 set aside for future business development. That development can provide revenue to fund needed infrastructure projects. Devine is blocked against further expansion on almost all sides, she said. “That’s where we’re going to grow,” Randall said. However, Ritchey said development of the property would involve “putting in roads that lead to nowhere.” Randall countered that if you don’t build the roads “they won’t come”. Hernandez said that concern about protecting businesses already in place will mean never getting anywhere with developing the I35 corridor. “We are the main corridor going to the coast that way and to the river,” he said. Ritchey said he agreed with Hernandez but continues to worry about the “second and third order effects” on local business. For Cook another area of concern is better pay for trained city public works personnel being poached by other communities. “These guys are the backbone of the city,” Cook said. “We need them vested with the city.” Public works personnel received a six percent increase in the last budget. Beginning salary for public works is $15 an hour. “That’s way too low,” Cook said. On the other hand, Hernandez voiced concern about whether Devine police personnel were performing up to the level required, noting that the Devine police roundup published in the Devine News fails to measure up to the roundup published for the Lytle police. “You get too complacent because you’ve been here forever,” Hernandez said. He cited statistics showing that while one Devine officer may write more than 30 citations a month another may only show two or three. Regarding revenue, Randall focused on a topic drawing much recent attention – the Devine Airport. She noted that not counting Hangar 8A and 10 the city earns $46,215 annually for the hangars leased. However, the certificate of obligation covering the city’s purchase of all hangars at the airport costs $81,685 to cover. If the lease cost for the two smallest hangars, 8 and 8A, were raised to $300 a month and Hangar 10, the largest at the airport, to $2,500 a month then the city would be making $83,415 a year, enough to make the certificate of obligation payments “without dipping into the general fund,” Randall said. The airport would still depend on the city to finance maintenance, manager salary and the fuel station, Cook said. Randall replied that she was “not trying to make them self-sufficient”. “I’m trying to make sure we are paying that loan,” she said. Ritchey said that rather than offering “arbitrary” numbers the rent charged for hangar space at the airport should be based on the cost at nearby competing airports in Hondo and Castroville. Cook said the airport board will be attending the next regular meeting of the city council. City Admin Cook reported that in a text Shaver notified the city of his decision to reject the city’s job offer. In a later telephone conversation with Cook, Shaver explained that the issue involved Shaver’s wife who is currently overseas. “He decided it was in his and his family’s interest that he remain in Houston for the time being,” Cook said. The agenda for the July 25 meeting included an executive session on personnel matters to consider an employment contract for Shaver. Shaver spent last Monday in Devine at the city hall getting familiar with the city, in preparation to accept the job the following night (Tuesday), Cook said. The mayor stressed that Shaver’s visit was his own choice and not at the insistence of the city. “I asked him that since he came to Devine Monday if there were any red flags or something at all with our particular operation, or the city building, anything we did,” Cook said. “He was very sincere. He said absolutely not.” Prior to the July 25 telephone exchange, Cook had last spoken to Shaver on July 19, the day following the council decision in executive session to offer him the job. “He was surprised and very excited and happy at our offer.” the mayor said. District 2 Council Member Michael Hernandez said he was impressed with Shaver as a city administrator candidate.“He was a remarkable guy,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know if he saw our budget and got scared.” Cook rejected the idea, saying that Shaver had reviewed the budget online prior to accepting the job. District 5 Council Member Debbie Randall asked if Shaver was due any compensation for the time he spent at city hall. Cook and City Attorney Thomas Cate emphasized that Shaver visited at his own choice in advance of accepting a contract. The council voted 5-0 to offer him compensation for the day anyway. (Shaver refused the compensation). Devine City Council Meeting continued on page 8 Golf Group looking towards another exhaust fan to see if it would help first In other business, the council heard a report from Devine Golf Group representatives Brian Navarro and Ron Richards regarding plans to deal install a large exhaust fan in the attic of the golf course clubhouse to deal with the uncomfortable temperatures indoors. The council approved the purchase and installation of the $2,250 fan for the clubhouse leased from the city by the golf course group. The exhaust fan was approved as an alternative to a new $9,000 air conditioning unit. Navarro asked the council for more time to obtain estimates on purchase and installation of a smaller exhaust fan in a storage room behind the bar where ice machines operate. Ritchey asked about the financial condition of the golf group if purchase of the air conditioning unit proves to be necessary. The golf group has rejected any attempt by the city to split the bill for a new unit. Navarro said the golf group is paying its bills and its employees. The big issue in the future will be upgrading and improving the course, he said. “That’s what our members want,” Navarro said. “They want improvement on the course. Financially, a year and three months into this, no, we’re not at that point yet where we can upgrade.” Asked by Ritchey if the group anticipated needing support from the city Navarro said the biggest concern on the course is several aging water pumps that would cost an estimated $40,000 to replace. Navarro described the buildings sheltering the pumps as quite dilapidated.
By Anton Riecher & Kathleen Calame The search for the history behind the million dollar airport hangar purchases, as well as why and what to do with the hangers now, were topics of discussion at the July 12 meeting of the City of Devine’s Airport Advisory Board, who is also seeking advice from TxDOT Aviation on planning. The former Mayor Cory Thompson and the prior Devine City Council decided to go ahead and declare imminent domain last year forcing the tenant to sell so the city could buy the airport hangars. The settlement was reached in February 2023 at a cost of $885,000. Overall Certificate of Deposits for $1 Million were obtained to buy several hangars with. New Mayor Butch Cook, elected two months ago and the new city council now has to decide what is the best use for the large vacant hangars and what to charge for them. In the quest for the who, what, where, why, when, and what do we do now–Cook insisted the council seek the opinion of Devine’s Airport Advisory Board members and TxDOT Aviation before taking action on leasing the hangars or making any changes. To his surprise the City of Devine’s own airport advisory board’s opinion or advice had NOT been sought before the city’s decision to purchase the hangars which gave the city total control of the airport by moving out a tenant that was not in compliance. Going forward, Mayor Cook wanted to involve the city’s airport advisory board, seeking out their knowledge and expertise in the industry, knowing all have used the airport and/or owned hangars there. Most board members have served on this board for many years. So the July 12, 2023 meeting was planned with the Devine Airport Advisory Board and TxDOT Aviation officials and with city officials present. Hap Squires opened the meeting at 2:02 pm then offered citizen comments, and no one was signed up to speak. Next, he then requested changes to the minutes of the prior month’s June 12, 2023 meeting. “I have one minor change on the second page where it says ‘Squire says it seems to me that to develop long range plans for the city we need to have long-range plans for the city.’ …” That should read to develop long-range plans for the “airport” we need to have long-range plans for the city. It’s a minor change,” Squires requested. Another Airport Advisory member Chris Yanta requested another change. “On the fourth page the minutes talk about interim city administrator and board, I mean the Texas Aviation, wanted us to make sure that we were all in line with the grants. During this time a comment was made that all of the airports in Texas are owned by the city, it’s all the property on the airports. Then in the next paragraph it says Airport Manager Humphrey discussed that in most of the airports in the state, the hangars are owned by the city. I’ve got it on recording the way that actually went down. I can play it for the members here if I need to,” said Chris Yanta, Devine Airport Advisory Board Member. “It was stated by the interim city administrator that the cities owned all of the airports,” he said. “They then asked Vicki what are the amount of airports that have the deal?.. In Vicki’s response, she said about 50% of the airports in the state are private and have private hangers on them,” said Yanta. “So I move that that be changed to read what was accurately said.” The minutes were approved unanimously with the changes mentioned on a Bill Bain/ Greg Coyne motion. Oath of Offices Mayor Butch Cook administered the oath of offices to the entire Airport Advisory Board of The City of Devine: Brian Crosey, Chris Yanta, Vicki Pumphrey, Hap Squires, Bill Bain and Greg Coyne. History Devine Airport Advisory Board President Hap Squires welcomed the two TxDOT representatives to the meeting. “I want to welcome Daniel Benson and Jim Hailey from TxDOT who at our request have graciously put together a presentation giving us ideas on how we can best utilize our airport and how TxDOT can assist us,” said Hap Squires. “Before I turn it over to them I would like to give a brief history so everybody’s on the same page. Five years ago we had 100 % of the hangars were privately owned. We had a sleepy little airport that is well maintained. It was not self sufficient, the cost to the city was minimal I believe the net cost was $20,000 a year. In addressing the shortfall the city was in the process of raising the rental rate since the leases became due. This all changed in November of 2018. Our airport manager received a letter from TxDot stating that we have issues at the airport thus threatening our current and future grants about the same time we received a phone call from TxDOT stating (if) the situation is not fixed TxDOT will suspend all of our current grants. And our current Grant is $600,000, not only make us payback our current grants but our past one as well. Over the next few years in numerous meetings the city council decided that the best approach to getting control of the airport would be to own it in its entirety. This was also the suggestion of TxDOT. Today the city owns all but three of the hangers, but we’re a million dollars in debt and our cash flow is significantly higher than our income,” Squires explained. “I know we can’t undo history and hopefully Mr. Benson and Mr. Haley can let us know if we’re still in jeopardy of losing our funds and what suggestion we can offer to achieve self- sufficiency. With that ball I throw it at you guys,” said Squires. TxDOT representatives Daniel Benson the Airport Planner with the Texas Department of Transportation introduced himself. “I’m an airport planner and I cover the South Region of Texas. I have 47 airports assigned to my program.” Next Jim Halley with Director of Airport Planning and program introduced himself. “I’m over all the planners as well as our compliance, environmental, the state aviation system, planning the Strategic Plan for the entire system, so 271 airports in our program. We had a beautiful program we were going to show you but we’re in the wrong building for being able to show that so we can speak off the cuff. So it sounds like compliance and grant obligations in paying the main flavor of the day for everyone,” said Halley. “No I really just kind of wanted to present everybody here and citizens our history and what led us to where we are now. I am personally very interested in your presentation and what we can do,” said Squires. “We can’t undo history. But first I think it is important to know first off is, are we are in compliance? Is there something we still need to do to get in compliance? But more importantly is where do we go from here? I mean you know we can’t get our million dollars back,” said Squires. “If you talk to Mike you are going to know more about the compliance and things. Let me say I’ve just joined TxDOT Aviation in January after a 5 year hiatus. I spent 15 years in the aviation division prior to 2017 and have come back in to this new role of planner. So I don’t know the history of what transpired. My understanding from the previous planner Micheal Van Fleet, who is now with the FAA, in a conversation with him, he indicated there was some issue with one of the hangars that led to that person leaving the airport after the lease expired. So I am not sure what the history is and with the million dollars. How often do they ask for money back The Mayor then asked a few questions. “I am Butch Cook the Mayor of Devine. I was elected back in May so I’m glad you mentioned about the policy of being in compliance and so forth and so on. So what do you do if the tenant refuses to cooperate? I’ll give you a back story on that. You mentioned about the hangars. Our legal advice was to use imminent domain and buy the hangars from them. Now we own three hangars, and we spent a million dollars because they said we had to. The way it all came across was that we were going to have to pay back a previous grant, current grants, etc and not get any more down the road. So, we had to spend a million dollars plus interest of taxpayers’ dollars. Does that happen very often?” asked Mayor Cook of the supposed threat of losing grants. “Not very often,” Benson answered. “In a situation like that you have three tools a city or county that owns an airport that they have at their disposal to entice tenants or lessees to be compliant. One is building in language inside the lease.” The other two tools involve legal action and documentation in good faith to get the leasee into compliance and Benson went on to explain more about those processes. Leases and threats Bad lease agreements for hangar space have left many community airports across Texas with no recourse in dealing with problem tenants, a top TxDOT aviation executive told the Devine Airport Board during a July 12 meeting. “We have situations where airports 20 years ago entered into really, really bad leases with pretty bad language,” Halley said. “And they have absolutely no cause of action with their tenants. They can run wild.” Prompting the comment was a review of the airport history leading to the city’s decision to purchase all the privately owned hangar space. That decision came in the wake of a threat from TxDOT officials in 2018 to suspend all current and future airport funding grants due to how some tenants were using hangar space. Benson said the Federal Aviation Administration had an issue with “non aeronautical use” of one of the hangars leading to that tenant leaving the airport after their lease expired. With regard to future self-sufficency, Benson said that general aviation airports generally have only two revenue streams available to them – ground leases and fuel sales. “I have recently visited the airport for the first time and notice that you have a brand new fuel system and new lighting system,” Benson said. “So you are on the way to managing part of that revenue stream.” As for leasing hangar space, TxDOT is available to consult on leases with regard to the rules and regulations that apply. Halley said that a bad lease can leave a community trapped in decades of non compliance with aviation requirements. “We see that across the state where a sponsor will enter into an agreement and it’s a non compliant agreement but they’ve executed it,” Halley said. “The private party has no legal incentive to get out of the agreement.” Halley said that the situation that Devine found itself in is not common. Most communities protect themselves with language in the lease that requires the tenant to comply with all regulations that might jeopardize the airport’s compliance. The next step is to carefully document the tenant’s activities that might violate the lease. TxDOT can issue the tenant a letter warning of possible violations but, as such, the state has no legal authority to force compliance. That problem falls to the airport owner, Halley said. As long as the owner is making a good faith effort to move forward on compliance its grant standing should be safe, he said. Money available for Devine On the positive side, Halley said that TxDOT has $14,390 available for the airport. “Devine, being a federally obligated, federally eligible airport, is allotted, for lack of a better word, an allowance under three different COVID relief bills,” he said. That money is available to cover normal expenses at the airport such as salaries and fuel purchases. Any equipment purchased must comply with the FAA’s “Buy American” standards, Halley said. Benson said the airport is also eligible for a $150,000 “non primary entitlement” or allowance annually. Airports typically roll three or four years of this funding together for a one-time use project. Halley said the airport also has a second allowance option for $113,000 through an airport improvement allocation under the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act subject to 10 percent in local matching funds. The airport is also eligible for a competitive grant averaging $104,000 per airport, Halley said. That is based on a state apportionment of $19 million spread between 182 federally eligible airports in Texas. Squires asked the TxDOT executives for guidance in developing an updated airport layout plan regarding best use of space available for hangars, taxi ways and parking, both aircraft and vehicle. Benson said the current plan in use is nearly 15 years old. As for the economic future of the airport, Halley said to remember that Devine is in competition with other airports in terms of fuel, lease rate and convenience. “The trip doesn’t stop at the airport,” Halley said. “Most people who want to do business in Devine are going to need to go into town, do their business, then get back in the plane and fly somewhere else.” He suggested the addition of facilities such as a pilot’s lounge were travelers can shelter from the rain and heat and take a bathroom break. Cook asked for suggestions regarding the 17,000 square-foot hangar recently acquired by the city. Halley suggested operating the space as a shared hangar maintained by a homeowner association-type group. Also, the space might be used for aircraft storage for travelers staying in the area overnight during hunting seasons and such. Munoz recalls interest Dora Rodriguez, interim city administrator, told the board that Joe Munoz, owner of M C Aircraft Refinishers, is no longer interested in leasing Hangar 10, the largest at airport, for his business. Munoz had offered between $1,000 to $1,500 a month for the property. Cook told the board that the going rate for a hangar that size should be at least $7,000 a month. Airport Manager position In other business, board member Chris Yanta confronted District 5 Council Member Debbie Randall about remarks made with regard to board member Vickie Pumphrey qualification to continue to serve as airport manager. During the June 20 council meeting Randall asked to have Pumphrey’s name removed from the airport board with the intention of hiring a new manager. City Attorney Thomas Cate advised the council that the agenda item referred solely to the advisory board and Pumphrey was sworn in. Randall said she thought that since the various city boards were on the agenda that night it would be appropriate to discuss the airport manager. “I’ve been asked not to bring it back up again until we have a city administrator,” Randall said. View the meeting You can view the entire meeting online on YouTube. It is titled Devine Airport Board July 12, 2023. Lost emails Officials stated there are two emails involving the threats of having to pay back grants if not compliant, but a copy of only one of the emails was available. The other email was not available to view at the meeting due to the loss of all city emails during a crash. It was thought to be from 2021, and Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez is now trying to track down the email. Hap Squires had a copy of the 2018 email at the meeting. Rodriguez explained there was a second TxDot email which is the one the city lost when its email storage on Rackspace crashed. From the files…Settlement reached At the February 21, 2023 Devine City Council Meeting- In resolution of a long standing airport issue the council approved an $885,000 settlement agreement to acquire more than 21,800 square feet of hangar space. Three hangers (17,090 sq feet, 2,482 sq feet and one 2,284 sq feet) all currently owned by David Ehlinger, President of Aviation Fuels, Inc. Cate told the council that based on advice from an outside firm hired by the city “this is the best course of action.” “We were told by (Texas Department of Transportation) Aviation that we need to get control of the airport, we need to stop allowing people to have non-aviation activities there,” Cate said. “This is part of it.” Devine sent Aviation Fuels an offer to purchase the hangers for $845,000 on November 2, 2022. Aviation Fuels agreed to Devine’s offer on November 4. Aviation Fuels had to vacate the hangars and relocate to another location by February 28, 2023, the relocation deadline. Devine had signed a lease with Aviation Fuels on January 1, 2010 regarding the hangars. The final settlement also includes nearly $40,000 in relocation funds for Aviation Fuels, Inc. Money to fund the purchase is from certificates of obligation issued in September 2021. The council approved the agreement on a motion by Randall, seconded by Espinosa. Cate also reported that two other hangars at the airport are up for sale.
In regards to an article titled “Water violations for City of Devine cite ‘failure to test,’” we have learned new information. The violations applying to the LC Martin well have been “rejected” since the TECQ has learned the well has been offline since the last big snowstorm in Devine. The following is a response from TECQ after another inquiry: “As of July 10, 2023, and based on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Water Supply Division compliance data, the City is in compliance with the Revised Total Coliform Rule, Groundwater Rule, the Lead and Copper Rule, and all primary and secondary chemical drinking water standards. The City received two monitoring and reporting violations for failure to monitor nitrate and volatile organic compound samples at one entry point during calendar year 2022. “Upon further review, the applicable entry point was inactivated as the plant was offline and the associated monitoring and reporting violations were rejected. The City’s three other active entry points were monitored during calendar year 2022 and sample results were reported as required. “The City received a violation for failure to conduct triggered source monitoring under the Groundwater Rule during October 2022. This violation was rejected as the corresponding well, associated to the entry point in question, was not online. “Both the two monitoring and reporting violations and the triggered source monitoring violation were rejected by TCEQ and are no longer valid. The annual consumer confidence report (CCR) requires systems to only include valid violations for notification to customers. Rejected violations are not required to be included in the annual CCR.”
By Anton Riecher The Devine City Council voted unanimously on June 20th to allow SAGO Internet to place an antenna on the Devine Ingram water town near the golf course. The motion by Ritchey, seconded by Vega, calls for a $200 a month charge during the four-year contract. Company owner Rodney Hitzfelder told the council that SAGO is a three-year old Internet service provider that benefited from a $700,000 grant issued through the county to expand available local Internet to national standards. “Since then we’ve gotten eight towers up,” he said. “We’re growing very rapidly. A lot of our requests are in Devine, Natalia and Lytle.” In the Devine area, SAGO already operates a monopole tower on Rossville Road, he said. However, because the system he offers requires line-of-sight between the tower and the client “we found a bit of an issue getting from our 100-foot tower to the other side of town.” Hitzfelder assured the council that the five gigahertz (5G) bandwidth used by the new water tower antenna will not interfere with police communications or other remote equipment used to monitor the water level in the tower. Short of a direct lightning strike, the SAGO antenna will not require continuing maintenance, he said. The company does not require routine access to the water tower. “We don’t generally go to these sites once we get them up and running unless there is some type of issue,” Hitzfelder said. In other matters, the council did take action to end paid quarantine leave for Devine employees contracting COVID. However, that action was with the exception of law enforcement personnel still under the protection of state law. The motion by Ritchey was seconded by District 3 Council Member Stacy Pyron and adopted unanimously. New action was taken on filling the long vacant city administrator position currently occupied by interim city administrator Dora Rodriguez. Following a closed executive session, the council voted unanimously to schedule appointments with city administrator applicants. Ritchey, who made the motion, said that multiple applications for the opening have been received to date. Council renews Airport mowing contract $19,200 a year on split vote
By Anton Riecher The council also approved a contract with Joe Munoz, owner of M C Aircraft Refinishers, for mowing at the Devine Municipal Airport. Councilman Josh Ritchey was the lone opponent to renewing the annual contract which increased to $19,200 per year. Munoz testified that the 65-acre airport sometimes requires mowing as often as five or six times a month. Of his seven employees, one is dedicated almost full time to mowing. A monthly $100 increase requested by Munoz is to cover additional area to mow behind Hangar 10. Munoz provides his own equipment, fuel and chemicals for the airport lawn care. Councilman Josh Ritchey asked if the contract, in place since 2018, had ever been put out for bids to guarantee a competitive rate. Ritchey made a motion to go out for bids on mowing, but it died for lack of a second. Debbie Randall made the motion to continue with Munoz, stating that the constant attention required by the airport grass made it impossible for city public works to keep up with, with support from Rufino Vega, Stacy Pyron, and Michael Hernandez with Ritchey voting against the action. Instead Ritchey had suggested amending the agreement to paying for each time mowed. With regard to Munoz’ previous request in May to lease the 17,500 square-foot Hangar 10 for his business at a monthly rate of between $1,000 and $1,500 Airport Advisory Board chairman Hap Squires suggested to the council that the Texas Department of Transportation be consulted. “What we are hoping for from them is a look at the whole airport and how best do we utilize it now that the city owns the majority of the hangars,” Squires said. A meeting with TxDOT’s aviation division is scheduled for July 12, he said. Mayor Cook made a presentation based on further discussion with the airport advisory board. In a sale finalized March 9 the city purchased Hangar 10, the largest hangar at the airport, for $609,000. By comparison, the purchase of hangars 8 and 8A amounted to only $165,000. Based on the appraisal that established the sale price, Hangar 10 should be leased at 40 cents per square foot for a return of approximately $7,000 a month to the city, Cook said. “We have a pretty large investment there and we need to proceed accordingly to get the best return possible for our investment,” Cook said. He said it might take another month to arrive at a decision on the Munoz offer. No action on the mattter was taken at the council meeting. Food truck debate Renewed effort to suspend an ordinance more closely regulating food trucks and other mobile food units in favor of existing state and county statutes proved unsuccessful during the June 20 regular session of the Devine City Council. A motion by District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey to repeal the city’s ordinance regulating these food vendors failed for lack of a second. “I don’t like diverting resources to this when there are two other government agencies that do this,” Ritchey said. Filling in the background, Mayor Butch Cook said the controversy revolved around a business who has objected to the city requiring him to obtain a permit to sell from a mobile food unit. Ritchey said the recently enacted city ordinance managed to put city staff “in a tough spot.” “Now we are essentially requiring extra certifications for our folks to go check ‘Is this safe?’” Ritchey said. “Did we make it clear enough that the state already has requirements? If we didn’t have this ordinance we could simply refer to the state and say ‘Hey, please enforce your policy.’” District 5 Council Member Debbie Randall countered that all the city ordinance requires is for the vendor to show copies of their state or county health certificates. “We don’t ask for anything additional to the state or county requirements but we need to see it and make sure it’s good to go,” Randall said. “Otherwise, Mr. Policeman will go and tell them to shut down.” Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez reported that the city currently has nine permits for mobile food units issued. Cook stated that the fee is $10 a day or $50 for a year. “So it’s a very reasonable fee,” he said. Jerry Stevens, owner of Charlie’s Daughter restaurant, said the city ordinance provides accountability for people doing business in Devine. Local restaurants are required to obtain “certain permits, licenses, the things we have to have to be able to run a business and sell to the public,” Stevens said. “If you have a vendor that comes in that may or may not have the proper permits I would be concerned about what they are selling out of their trailer,” he said. “Maybe it isn’t up to the standard it should be.” Stevens said that he would support the need for the ordinance even if he did not have food business of his own. Cook also said the city ordinance is important with regard to sales tax enforcement. “Without a permit no one would know if they are charging the required tax,” he said.
By Anton Riecher By a vote of 4-0, the Devine City Council approved an ordinance to freeze property tax rates for residents over the age of 65, mirroring previous measures taken by the county and school district. “I couldn’t be more in favor of it personally,” Mayor Butch Cook told the audience for the June 20 regular session. On a motion by District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey, seconded by District 2 Council Member Michael Hernandez, the council approved the ordinance stating that no Devine property owner will pay more in city property taxes than the year of their 65th birthday. Effective beginning the 2022 tax year, the tax relief ordinance also applies to permanently disabled citizens unable to work. District 5 council member Debbie Randall chose to abstain from the vote. Johnette Dixon, chief appraiser for Medina County, described how the county tax freeze works. “Whatever they would pay in 2022, anyone who is over 65 right now would pay whatever 2022 taxes were from here on out,” Dixon said. “The rate can come down but can never go above it.” Former District 4 County Commissioner Jerry Beck spoke in support of the action, saying it meant relief from “skyrocketing appraisals.” Devine resident Bill Montgomery also spoke in support of the ordinance. “The city isn’t going to be out any major amount of money,” he said. “The value of my property is still going to go up.” Mayor Cook initially wanted to table the ordinance until a draft could be prepared. However, Dixon warned that it would have to be in place before the appraisal district’s tax certification scheduled for July 20. Otherwise, the tax relief would not apply until the 2023 tax year. City Attorney Thomas Cate recommended proceeding with a vote on the ordinance to assure making the deadline. Dixon earlier addressed the council regarding the proposed 2024 budget for the Medina County Appraisal District approved by its board of directors. “Our 2024 preliminary budget proposal is $1,585,200,” Dixon said. “Our final budget last year was $1,559,155, which is an increase of $26,000.” Part of the increase is the number of protest hearings scheduled by taxpayers, she said. At present, the district has nearly 4,500 protest hearings scheduled, almost 500 more than last year. For the entire county, the 2023 preliminary taxable value issued by the appraisal district in late April totaled $309.3 million, a $32.3 million increase in value from the previous year. From that increase, the appraisal district generated an additional $159,000 in revenue. Devine’s pro rata share of that taxable value in 2024 is $22,801, an increase of $963 from 2023 “So, of that $159,000, we are asking for $936 more dollars” from Devine to fund the appraisal district in the coming year, Dixon said. Ritchey used the opportunity to criticize the appraisal district process. “From what I understand, the entire appraisal process is very opaque and any disagreement with the board is met with some rather subjective opinions and response. How can we drive through this process more transparency and more objective standards in the appraisal of properties?” Dixon said the best way to challenge any appraisal is by using comparisons with other property nearby. “If you can find comps in your neighborhood that’s what we do,” Dixon said. “We first look in the neighborhood. If we find comps we use those. We try to get as close to the subject as possible. From that point, if there aren’t any in that subdivision directly then we can expand out to the school district and we’ll try to find something as much like the property as possible.” On a motion by Ritchey, seconded by Pyron, the council passed the budget increase for the appraisal district. Aside from the property tax ordinance, Ritchey placed two other items on the council agenda – consider upgraded software for governmental budgeting and review options to ease bureaucratic challenges to local building contractors. Both items were tabled. Under software, Ritchey asked the city staff to review a possible transition to ClearGov software designed to streamline the annual budgeting process by improving the collection, creation and communication of their budgets. The item was tabled because the city is currently taking applications for a new city administrator. Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez advised that the applicants may have their own opinion on which software is best for the job. On Ritchey’s request to make challenges to contractors easier he said that a “multitude” of contractors he has talked to refuse to work in Devine. “Their explicit feedback is the city is too difficult to work with, requiring a lot of documentation and additional inspections over what they would expect in other places,” Ritchey said. Mayor Cook also reported similar complaints from contractors he has dealt with. However, Ritchey nor Cook were ready with what Pyron referred to as “concrete examples.” “We need some concrete examples rather than complaints like ‘I’m just annoyed that I have to fill out this paperwork,” Pyron said. Rodriguez said the main reason contractors are required to fill out fresh paperwork about themselves for each project is to make sure their required licensing has not expired. It was noted by Randall that the city has not had a code compliance officer for nearly two years. Ritchey countered that he did not necessarily want to bring immediate action before the council. “I just want to start a conversation,” he said.