Economic development and how best to bring it to Devine were issues that the City Council wrestled with during the Special meeting held on August 27.
Mayor Cory Thompson informed Council that he and Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez had begun working on a five-year plan for the City that included expanding the City limits to the other side of IH-35, but had been stymied by a recent change in State law.
House Bill 347 put an end to cities’ involuntary annexation of areas within their extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).. With few exceptions, HB 347 requires the consent of landowners or area voters before annexation can occur.
Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 347 into law on May 24.
“Because of those changes in the law, the five-year plan is not off the table, but definitely won’t be the same thing,” Thompson said. “Because basically, we are having to scrap the entire plan because of the changes in state laws. Financially it means that we’re losing a lot of money because we can’t go to the other side of the highway. So millions, actually, because of potential growth that would happen on the other side of 35.”
District 4 Councilwoman Jennifer Schott said that she had previously asked City Attorney Tom Cate about the issue, and that he said Devine wasn’t ready for it.
“I think that my response was more towards the people that we would be trying to annex,” Cate said. “That they’re not ready to be annexed. I have not gone out and talked to those people, but I don’t know that they would voluntarily be annexed.”
Thompson said that the new law was broadly written, and that he didn’t think it would last long given the Texas Municipal League’s (TML) unhappiness with it, as well as the precedent it overturned.
“Hopefully we learned our lesson moving forward, because the truth is if we would have done that [annexation] years ago like it should have been done, we probably wouldn’t be having a conversation about if we can have a golf course or not,” Schott said. “It would be a no-brainer, it would be doable.”
A number of Devine residents were at the meeting, including Ernest Munoz, who asked if the five-year plan included an economic vision.
“We’ve got to have some kind of engagement, proactiveness to say okay, this is what we want to target, and you have to go get it,” Munoz said. “Go present it, sell it.”
Schott asked if the City had a person like that, and Rodriguez asked Cate to explain to Council what Lytle has done to court growth.
Cate is also Lytle’s City Attorney.
“The mayor sent out 90 letters to different businesses throughout the country, and maybe 10 of them responded,” Cate said. “And the 10 that responded said, ‘Thank you, but Lytle’s not in our business plan right now.’ So I think these people, they’re going to come because they want to, they’ve done their marketing, like Walmart. I think that they did their market analysis and decided that it was a viable business here. Same thing with HEB in Lytle.”
“Where does that leave us if what you’re saying is that we just sit here and twiddle our thumbs and wait till something happens?” Schott asked.
“I think that this is a good time to discuss that if you want to spend money for a director of economic development,” Cate said. “This is a good time to budget that.”
Munoz said the City needed to go to trade shows and conventions and associations.
“Kind of like Go Medina?” Cate asked.
Go Medina is a countywide economic development group that includes, Devine, Hondo, Castroville, Natalia, Lytle, and LaCoste, as well as Medina County itself and a number of local businesses. It aims to attract new business and promote economic growth in the county.
District 2 Councilman Steve Lopez questioned Go Medina’s benefit to the City.
“How come everything’s been happening on the other side of the creek?” Lopez asked. “What happened over here? We pay the money the same as everybody else, but yet there’s nothing here.”
A city’s membership fee for Go Medina is one dollar per resident each year, or $4,350 in Devine’s case.
Munoz said that families are moving into Devine, but said the City needed something to significantly improve the tax base.
“What do we do about that?” Schott asked. “What is the plan of action?”
“To get businesses?” Rodriguez asked.
“To all of that,” Schott said. “Do we need a person? Do we need to hire? Is it you, is it Cory?”
Rodriguez pointed out that she is the Interim City Administrator.
“I’ve told y’all, and I’m telling y’all again. If y’all want to hire a City Administrator, you’re not going to hurt my feelings,” Rodriguez said.
Security Bank President and Devine ISD school board member Phillip Fitch said he was the only person from Devine at the last Go Medina meeting.
“It’s a good group, but the City and other businesses have to be proactive to assist Go Medina. They’re not going to do it alone,” Fitch said. “The City has to create some kind of economic development group, whether it’s volunteerism, or y’all appoint a committee to kind of represent the City, and then they can look out and find sources to help.
“But Devine is not going to get economically grown by not doing anything, even with Go Medina. Go Medina’s just another tool. Devine has to create their own tool to be able to expand. There’s no plan here.”
District 3 Councilman David Espinosa suggested budgeting for a City Administrator to help the City in that effort.
“I understand it would be an expense, but if we’re going to start somewhere, I’m suggesting maybe that’s where we start,” Espinosa said.
Thompson asked when he wanted that to take place, and Espinosa suggested by the beginning of the year.
“Are we prepared to pay $200,000?” Lopez asked.
“Are we prepared to lose more than that?” Espinosa replied.
Thompson said that Council needed to come up with a list of things for a prospective City Administrator to accomplish for the City.
“I was not here when the last process took place, so I don’t know exactly how it runs, but I know that we have to task them with something,” Thompson said. “That is Council’s job, because that person is working on behalf of the people at this table to do what we are asking him or her, they, to do.”
Rodriguez noted that any advertisement for a City Administrator needed to specify a background in municipal government.
“Because if not, that’s what’s going to get the City in trouble,” Rodriguez said.
“And we need to make sure our contract’s a little better this time so we’re not paying them for two years worth of salary for six months worth of work,” Thompson said.
Rodriguez took over as Interim City Administrator in June 2016, when former City Administrator Joe Ramos was fired after six months at the helm. Because Ramos was terminated with more than a year remaining on his two-year contract, the City was responsible for paying a full year of his $93,000 salary.
Thompson added that TML would provide the City with a fair market pay scale for the future City Administrator’s salary.
By Marly Davis