Mayor Cook asks council for their priorities during Devine Budget Workshop

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.

Budget Talk

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.