Lytle discusses water woes, votes 3-1 to adopt tax rate

In Lytle, Precinct 5 Alderman Charles Cate votes via Internet against a proposal to adopt a 2022-2023 tax rate of $.3643 per $100 valuation to support a $16.7 million city budget for the same period. The proposal was approved 3-1. Cate, a reservist, is deployed to an undisclosed location and participates in council meetings via Internet connection. Photo by Anton Riecher

By Anton Riecher
The Lytle City Council voted 3-1 Monday to adopt a proposed 2022-2023 tax rate of $.3643 per $100 valuation to support a $16.7 million city budget for the same period.
Precinct 5 Alderman Charles Cate, a reservist currently deployed to an unspecified location, voted against the tax rate and budget via Internet connection during the meeting. Precinct 1 Alderman Joseph Morrow was absent.
Cate said he was concerned about using money from the recent sale of $8.5 million in certificates of obligation to cover approximately $700,000 in annual debt in the near term. That large of a boost in property taxes revenue in the next four or five years is unlikely, he said.
“My concern is future years,” Cate said. “Where is that increase going to come from?”
City Administrator Matthew Dear said that incremental increases in utility rates will bring them in line with what is paid in surrounding communities and would create some of that income.
However, Cate speculated that further investment in infrastructure would also be needed. The $8.5 million bond sale is largely going to water and sewer improvements.
“As we are aware, these aren’t the last projects the city is going to need,” Cate said.
The $.3643 tax rate is expected to produce a 10.6 percent increase in revenue due to higher property valuations. The rate for the current tax year is $.3905. The new rate proposal was approved on a motion by Precinct 3 Alderman David Emery seconded by Precinct 2 Alderman Sam Cortez.
A call for speakers at a public hearing on the proposed 2022-2023 city budget of $16.6 million drew no response from the audience for the council meeting. The meeting was closed after one minute.
Another public hearing on the budget will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11 before final approval, Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said.
Lytle public works director James McGrath gave the council a detailed report on a water outage Sept. 18 that resulted in a notice to boil all drinking water through Sept. 20.
The initial problem that led to the breakdown was a contractor who broke a three-inch water line, he said. One day prior to the break, public works was called to the scene to locate several lines in the area.
“It was hard to locate,” McGrath said. “We located one line by about 5 p.m. and promised to locate the other first thing in the morning.”
Unfortunately, the contractor arrived at the work site before the public works department returned.
“He told his crew to lay one more joint of pipe and busted a three-inch,” McGrath said. “We lost water pressure.”
However, in the course of making the repair to the three-inch line, a 12-inch valve “broke loose” several miles upstream. Replacing it and another valve required draining the water system, so work was scheduled for late Sunday evening.
“We turned off the water at 10 o’clock,” McGrath said. “There was no water above ground in any of the overhead storage tanks. Anyway, you wouldn’t believe it but it took until 3 o’clock before the water stopped draining at the creek.”
The crew got the two 12-inch valves installed and repaired the broken three-inch line before daylight, he said. But rescinding the boil notice required the approval of the Texas Department of Environmental Quality.
“We couldn’t get an answer until about 10:30 a.m.,” McGrath said. “They told us where to take our samples. We got them into town about noon.”
It was 11 a.m. the next day, Sept. 20, before TDEQ gave permission to rescind the boil notice.
City officials were forced to post a notice requiring residents to boil their tap water. Water in the area was still safe to shower and clean with according to the issued release, but residents in Lytle could not use the water for consumption.
“To ensure destruction of all harmful bacteria and other microbes, water for drinking, cooking, and ice making should be boiled and cooled prior to use for drinking water or human consumption purposes,” the release added. “The water should be brought to a vigorous rolling boil and then boiled for two minutes.”
On a motion by Emery, seconded by Cortez, the council approved a $440,000 advance funding agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to build more than 11,000 linear feet of sidewalk near local schools.
The project involves 1,600 linear feet of 6-foot-wide sidewalk on both sides of Prairie Street from Cottage Street to Laredo Street, including the front of the primary school. On Cottage Street, the project covers 2,650 linear feet of sidewalk on both sides of the roadway from FM2790 to Prairie Street.
On FM2790, 2,200 linear feet of 12-foot-wide shared path will be built on the west side of the roadway from Blume Drive to Lytle High School. Also included is 1,200 linear feet of six-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of the roadway from Cottage to Laredo.
Seventy-five linear feet of sidewalk from the southeast corner of FM 2790 and Laredo to directly connect with Lytle Elementary is also included in the project. The project also covers assorted detectable warning surfaces, crosswalks and signage, city administrator Matthew Dear told the council.
“It’s going to give our kids someplace to walk safely on either side of that road (Cottage Street),” Dear said. “It’s quite scary already with kids walking in a bar ditch with the drainage and mud. Or you get up on the roadway and take a chance on getting hit.”
Cortez said he considered the project a necessity “especially right there when it rains pretty hard and gets flooded.”
The TxDOT Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program provides funding for a variety of alternative transportation projects. TxDOT’s Public Transportation Division administers TASA funding for population areas of 200,000 or less.
Funds for the project will come from the sale of $8.5 million in certificates of obligation approved by the council earlier this month, the majority of which will be used to finance water and sewer improvements.
On a motion by Cortez, seconded by Emery, the council approved an annual contract for municipal brush pickup. Hector Barrera & Son, the company currently handling brush pickup, was the only bidder, asking for $5,225 per month.
On a motion by Emery, seconded by Precinct 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez, the council approved a $1,000 a month increase in the amount it pays the non-profit Lytle Volunteer Fire Department to provide fire protection for the city.
Dear said the added money will allow the department to increase its budget for paid personnel.
“The department went from two paid personnel 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to three paid personnel 24/7,” Dear said.
The department also received an increase from the other entities it contracts with – Medina County Emergency Service District No. 5, Atascosa County ESD No. 1 and Bexar County ESD No. 5.
In the wake of complaints about the potential for flooding in the Lakeshore Estates development, Dear recommended that the council have an engineer review the entire drainage situation and come up with an overall fix.
“The problem is if we throw a band-aid on one thing what is the effect on others downstream,” Dear said.