By Anton Riecher
Lytle City Administrator Matthew Dear notified the city council Monday that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has served notice of two violations after a July inspection of the municipal collection system and the sewer service.
“The public works director informed us that TCEQ did inspect our sewer plant and there were some findings of things we need to correct,” Dear said.
Beyond the violations involving requirements to properly operate and maintain the system, Dear informed the council on several other issues that, if unaddressed, could risk the city losing its state permit due to expire in July 2025.
At one wastewater lift station that moves wastewater from a lower to higher elevation one of several clarifier units has been out of service since May, Dear told the council. Clarifiers are settling tanks built with mechanical means of continuous removal of solids deposited by sedimentation.
The unit required a new gear box, Dear said. However, it still requires a replacement blade that is still on order.
Sludge levels in the clarifier could not be sampled during the recent TCEQ inspection because the sludge measuring device had recently broken, Dear said. A replacement has been purchased but has not yet been installed.
Dear reported that the priority for public works during the summer has been to deal with almost constant water main breaks, particularly important since the city remains under Stage 4 water restrictions.
“The sewer plant is doing its job,” Dear said, regardless of the plague of mechanical breakdowns.
By comparison, the TCEQ violations involve relatively minor testing issues. A lift station alarm system could not be tested during the recent inspection, Dear said.
It was later tested and was operational, but was not working through the auto dialer, a software tool that automatically dials telephone numbers from a list.
The second violation involved failure to properly analyze chlorine residual for all the required components, Dear said.
Dear’s report brought a shocked response from several of the Lytle council members.
“Do we not have check lists for periodic maintenance, inspection and testing?” asked District 3 Alderman David Emery.
District 4 Alderman Michael Rodriguez questioned why the council was not immediately notified of the TCEQ violations after the July inspection.
“It sounds to me like we’re falling apart,” Rodriguez said, asking Dear when he was first notified of the problems.
“I have been made light of some of these issues before and have always been told we are working on them,” Dear said.
District 5 Alderman Charles Cate noted that a letter from the TCEQ gives a compliance deadline of Oct. 9.
“That’s two weeks from today,” Cate said. “Is that going to happen?”
Dear replied that making that deadline will mean prioritizing the sewer plant over other city projects. It also means renting special machinery needed to make the repairs.
“We are going to have to work really hard at it,” Dear said.
Among the equipment needed is a long-arm excavator to clear an overgrowth of vegetation from a holding pond to better protect its liner, Dear said. The excavator will also be used to clear out sludge “to put the system 100 percent back on line,” he said.
Mayor Ruben Gonzalez said that keeping the council abreast of such state violations has been a priority of his administration.
“When I walked into this position I realized that a lot of council was never made aware when we had violations,” he said.
The sewer plant “is operational right now and it is doing what it’s supposed to be doing but there are things that need to be fixed,” Gonzalez said.
Tax Rate adopted
In other action, the council approved adopting a 2023 tax rate of $.3883 per $100 valuation, a 1.315825 percent increase in the tax rate. The council also approved amendments to the city budget for the fiscal year 2023-2024.
City Budget reorganized
Mayor Gonzalez said it has been a lengthy struggle to reorganize the city budget.
“We finally got caught up this last year,” he said. “We’ve had to keep things the way that they were before even though they weren’t aligned as best as possible.”
Both the tax rate and the city budget passed on a 4-1 vote with Alderman Cate in opposition to both.
Group hired at $5,500+ monthly for grand fund development
Cate also voted against the hiring of EMC Strategy Group, a consulting firm specializing in grant fund development. The council voted 4-1 to put the firm on a $5,500 monthly retainer.
Grant writing is one of the highest priorities the council has set for the city staff, Dear said.
“You’ve told us you are interested in grants,” he said. “We do not have a grant writer on staff. We are not paying grant writers nor do we have the time to spend wholeheartedly researching grant applications.”
EMC, who also represents Pleasanton and Castroville, would also receive five percent from any grant obtained as an administrative fee, Dear said.
“What they would do is every time a report is due or money has to be tracked they would work with us to make sure we have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s,” he said.
Ernie Gonzalez, Jr., president and CEO of EMC, formerly served as a senior legislative aide in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I have training through the U.S. Congress, specifically the Congressional Research Service,” Gonzalez said. “In a previous career, I was also the development director for the Boy Scouts of America.”
Emery made the motion to approve the hiring of EMC provided concerns by City Attorney Jesse Lopez that an option for the city to terminate without cause be addressed.
Bank contact to bid out
The council did vote unanimously to table action on a depository contract with Lytle State Bank for the fiscal year 2023-2024. Although Lytle State Bank has served as the city’s bank for at least several decades, council members expressed concern that the contract should be bid to allow other banks a chance to serve.
PH Oct 10 Voluntary Annexation
Council members also voted to hold a public meeting Oct. 10 on an application by San Antonio LD, LLC, to voluntary annexation of a four-acre portion of Saddle Ridge subdivision not previously annexed by the city.