By Kathleen Calame
Publisher, The Devine News
The Devine City Council on a split vote of 3/2 will “push this and allow the public to vote” on a $15 Million Dollar Bond Election”, to do 4 drainage projects on their wish list.
Voting to put the bond on the ballot so quickly were council members David Espinosa, Debbie Randall and Flipper Vega with encouragement from Mayor Cory Thompson to put it to a vote, who stated “If people don’t want this they can vote it down.”
Council members Josh Ritchey and Angela Pichardo didn’t find the same urgency in the push to a vote to the public yet since very few details had been given to the council over the two weeks until literally a minute or two before the meeting when maps were given to them all. A Ritchey-Pichardo motion to table the bond election failed (2-3) after 24 minutes of discussion. Then a Espinosa-Randall motion to approve it passed (3-2) after a couple of more minutes of discussion (Ritchey and Pichardo voting against).
The Bond Election will be on the same ballot as the regular election on May 6 for three positions that are expiring: Mayor, District #2 held by Pichardo, and District #4 held by Randall.
The meeting started late at 6:09 pm. Council waited in their seats for the meeting to start as Mayor Thompson, Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez, and Attorney Tom Cate met behind closed doors before the meeting.
The majority of the discussion ensued over the adopting of an ordinance actually calling for a $15 Million Dollar Bond election.
First to speak was Councilman John Ritchey who read the a letter from a concerned taxpayer, Butch Cook a former councilmember and business owner, who recently announced his candidacy for Mayor.
Butch Cook was the only citizen to address council with concerns at the meeting, via a letter read by Councilman Josh Ritchey on Cook’s behalf since he couldn’t be there in person. His letter is as follows:
“I am not able to attend tonight’s meeting because of a previous commitment but I would like to comment as part of the Citizens Forum.
“First and foremost, I agree with all of the points Mayor Thompson posted on his Facebook page which essentially was a negative view on this drainage project – including the raising of taxes, what it will do to our future budget and any future projects. Even though he says he is not sure how he feels about this project, he went on to close his post by “Let the voters have a say in how the money is spent!!”
“It goes without saying that anytime this kind of money is to be spent by the City, it needs to be approved by the voters but the following needs to be considered:
“If this proposal is to be seriously considered and for a better representation of voters, it should be delayed until the November election. Two council seats and Mayor are to be decided on May 6 and it needs to be noted that in the previous Mayoral election in May of 2021, ONLY 436 CITIZENS VOTED!!! Clearly we can’t allow for less than 500 people to decide to spend 15 million plus the considerable interest that comes with it; however, I’m quite sure that substantially more will show up to vote on this bond proposal and it will be soundly defeated! If this is truly 15 million+ of importance it will be that much harder to pass a second time.
“From what I have read in the Devine News and the Mayor’s post, the impression is given that Council just had to do something significant and spend a boatload of money for some reason, and then choose between several options on a wish list. The available information is vague and could be confusing to some and before asking the citizens to vote there needs to be a complete and informative proposal. If delayed and moved to November it will allow for considerable debate and planning, which allows time to educate the voters; then it might have a slim chance to pass, but I doubt it.
“I personally wouldn’t even consider voting for it, until the current problems we already have are resolved: our drinking water, the water pipe project that is awaiting funding, and the storage tank that was built in the 50’s to name a few. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Butch Cook, Former Councilman and Local Business Owner”
Mayor Thompson replied with “Ok, so we have one “no vote” if it goes to election. But for council you though, you have the stuff here… stuff that was given to you from JR with a breakdown of everything in maps (as he rifles through the papers). Again as I point out these are things here that have been on the list of things to do for years if not decades.”
Ritchey questioned, “Why did we have to wait til the last minute to get these diagrams and stuff?
Thompson looked at Richey and replied, “That wouldn’t be a question for me…that would be for someone else.”
Ritchey said, “Well, I’m going to make a motion that we table this until March. So we can actually look at this (places his hand on the stack of papers) and talk to our constituency about it, because we have not had appropriate information until just now to really go around and take a look at these things.”
“I also have concerns about the channelization there of Burnt Boot Creek,” said Ritchey, “That much concrete and extra water being drained into it reduces the friction, and with that amount of water in addition to the volume there, plus no soak-in, it puts a whole lot more downstream to District 4. I see we do some channelization down there, I see where that is to Howell, but that is something I’d like to look at more.”
“I don’t like the strategy of keeping stuff close to the chest until we have to make a vote on it,” Ritchey added.
Thompson replied, “Well, I don’t know if that is what was done, you will have to ask JR.”
“Well we just received this stuff today,” stated Ritchey.
Next, Angela Pichardo addressed the council with her concerns, including navigable waterways and potential safety issues.
“Do we, shouldn’t we, be contacting the US Army Corp of Engineers to assist us so that way the other areas of the city are not flooded out such as District 4? If we are going to change the natural flow, ebb and flow, of the creek that is something we really need to consider. I think we really do need to do more research before agreeing on any kind of bond money or asking the taxpayers for it. Because we need to make sure safety is a priority,” said Pichardo.
Randall asked, “Are you saying our city engineer doesn’t know to..?
“No I didn’t say that.”
“Yes you did!”
“No I said more research is needed!”, Pichardo said.
“Couldn’t he have figured that out? Why would he need more research if he has already got the design?”, asked Randall.
Pichardo asked the City Engineer Raul Garcia Jr, “Has the Corp of Engineers been consulted? And state and local protocals implemented?”
Randall chimed in, “Why would he need to do that Angela?”
Garcia responded, “We use a program that is designed by the US Corps of Engineers to determine the back flow. It is an analysis to do a study to see how the water elevations are changed along the creek bed. Then you insert your design into that and it recalculates your numbers to see where the water is based on your new design. We know the elevation.”
“If we are going to move a lot of water from an area all the way to another area/district, what assurance do we have that in District 4 it is not going to flood out all those homes and projected homes P(on the other side of Hwy 173)?” Pichardo asked.
“That is why we do our calculations. Concrete reduces friction, doesn’t increase friction. Now we are increasing the width of the channel too, so that way the water elevation is going to come down and we are channelizing before it gets to the TXDot bridge right of way (at Hwy 173). The whole intention of this project is to keep the 100 year flood plain inside the channel. Our proposal is to put box culverts and hand rails at streets like Faye, so people can cross if they are going to be walking,” he said.
“I just don’t see why we are going to move all that water from district 5 into district 4 and all through town and why we haven’t received any documentation sooner,” said Pichardo.
Garcia replied, “This research was done many, many, many, many years ago. This has been around for quite awhile.” (Garcia’s father Raul had worked on this years ago when he was the city’s engineer.)
Ritchey commented, “I appreciate the stuff. It does help make a little more of an informed decision. I just feel like we are being rushed to it.”
Rodriguez mentioned, “Denise just went to make the copies (right before the meeting) because he (Garcia) just brought it to us when he got here today.
Espinosa asked Garcia, “If we table this will anything change from here to November?”
“Nothing changes”, he replied.
The Mayor pointed out that Espinosa had been around for 20 years listening to the discussions, at least twice a year.
Ritchey commented, “JR said in the last meeting it would just fill with sand if we don’t do streets and curbs at the same time. I cannot get behind something that is going to put us two decades in the hole and might be defunct in 5 to 10 years.”
Ritchey suggested he could’ve been done this in segments rather than all together and the voters could have chosen what they want instead of all four or none.
See more on this meeting next week, and financing options.
Bottom line the voters will get to decide on May 6 if they want to fund these projects which will raise property tax bills, and max out the ability to go for further bonds for the next 20 years for street repairs or street construction and/or any needs or wants.
There will be public hearing with public forums coming up during the next few months. The council can learn about the projects at the same time as the citizens if details accompany the presentations.
Fred Morales was the only citizen present during the meeting other than the press, the council, city employees, city engineer, and the presenter from SAMCO Capital.
The meeting can be viewed under Live Council Meeting on City of Devine’s website.
By Kathleen Calame