Devine City Council votes to take pool back from Morales

The Devine City Council voted to take Fred Morales up on his offer to take back the pool.

The Devine City Council voted 4-0 to follow the Parks Board’s split recommendation to accept Fred Morales’s offer to return the pool to the City in a meeting last Tuesday, Jan. 30.
The Council chambers were full of residents, most seemingly in favor of the pool, when District 4 Councilwoman Kathy Wilkins made the motion to accept Morales’s offer. District 5 Councilman Cory Thompson provided a second, and District 3’s David Espinosa and District 2’s Steve Lopez also voted for the motion.
District 1 Councilman David Valdez missed the meeting due to illness.
Prior to Council’s vote, Herring expressed concern that not enough residents were aware of the possibility of reclaiming the pool, or the financial ramifications.
In 2017, a petition for the City to take back the pool was turned into City Hall with 210 signatures. Of those, Herring said only 177 are registered voters.
According to Herring, there are 2,644 Devine residents registered to vote, meaning that fewer than 10 percent of registered voters signed the petition.
“This is not a qualified representation of Devine,” Herring said. “We did not publicize this enough.”
Herring recommended holding a Public Hearing on the issue, just as was done when the City sold the gas system to West Texas Gas.
“We need to have all parts of the City of Devine represented,” Herring said.
Herring also raised the issue of the City’s pending replacement of old asbestos concrete water pipes, which is estimated to cost $6.5 million, and will likely require an increase in either utility rates, the property tax rate, or both.
After hearing from City residents Mary Jane Balderrama and Faye Murdock, and county resident Sandy Lawler, who were all in favor of taking back the pool, Council decided against a Public Hearing and elected for an immediate vote.
A contract transferring the pool and property from Morales’s Devine Swim Club, Inc. and the City must be drawn up and signed before the deal is official and the City is able to start the reconstruction process.
The initial recommendation to take back the pool originated from the Parks Board meeting on Monday, Jan. 29, when the Board voted 3-1, with one abstaining, in favor of the pool.
District 3 representative Mary Allison, District 4 rep Jennifer Schott, and District 5 rep Debra Randall all voted for the City to take the pool, while District 2 rep Linda Gunn, who was City Administrator when the City still owned the pool, voted against it.
District 1 rep Albert Garza abstained from voting, saying he needed more information on the projected costs.
Aquatic engineer C.T. Brannon of the C.T. Brannon Corporation inspected the pool and the surrounding structures on Nov. 1, 2017.
In a letter dated Nov. 2, 2017, Brannon estimated the cost to bring the pool up to code and make it ADA compliant at between $145,000 and $185,000.
At a Parks Board meeting on Jan. 15, City Engineer Raul Garcia of Garcia & Wright pointed out that Brannon had not been able to assess the pool’s pipes, and that the parking lot at sidewalk into the facility also needed to be made ADA compliant, which would increase the cost of Brannon’s estimate.
Additionally, Brannon estimated that the pool’s operating costs would run between $80,000 and $90,000 annually, and that, “Based on the lack of amenities the pool offers, the lack of food and beverage offerings, location, and other factors, I estimate your revenues would probably not exceed $15,000.”
Brannon concluded his letter by saying, “Based then on these facts, I cannot in good conscience recommend the city take on the operations of the swimming pool even if repairs were offered by the seller.”
Morales initially offered to return the pool to the City during the summer of 2017. In response, City Council formed the Parks Board in Aug. 2017, and the issue had been under their consideration since then.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer