Water meter tampering fee, police vehicle purchase approved by Natalia City Council

The Natalia City Council approved a $250 fine for tampering with water meters and authorized Chief Valerie Neff to purchase a police vehicle during the Council meeting on Monday, September 20.
Water meter tampering fee
City Secretary Rene Hinojosa said the City was having problems with residents tampering with their water meters.
“We have no way to charge them on the utility side,” Hinojosa said. “So at worst, we can file a report with the police. This will allow us to say, okay, the meter’s been tampered with, there is a fine that we’ll put on that bill and charge them for having tampered with the meter, because they shouldn’t be tampering with meters.”
Hinojosa said the proposed $250 fee was based on policies of surrounding cities.
Councilman Darin Frazier pointed out that theft of service charges could also be filed, which may come with an additional fine.
“You’re more likely to get $250 than you are $2,000,” Councilman Sam Smith said.
A motion by Smith and Councilman Sam “Chip” Bluemel, Jr., to approve the $250 penalty passed 5-0 with support from Frazier, Councilman Mike Fernandez, and Councilwoman Selica Vera.
Police vehicle purchase
Chief Valerie Naff, who took over the police department last month, said that the department’s vehicles are old and in a state of disrepair.
“it doesn’t necessarily have to be new, I just don’t want to keep putting money into what we have because we’re just throwing money into a pit,” Naff said.
The vehicles include a 2009 Chevy Tahoe, a 2013 Ford Explorer with 131,000 miles, and a 2017 Explorer with 57,000 miles that Naff said needs work.
“We get it out of the shop and then it’s got to go right back,” Naff said. “It’s just a waste of money.”
Naff said that the department will qualify for a Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) that can be used for purchasing a vehicle, though the next round of funding doesn’t open until March 2022.
Municipal Court Clerk Nikki Bermea said that the police department spent nearly $10,000 on the repair and maintenance of vehicles during the current 2020-2021 fiscal year, which is almost $5,000 over what was budgeted. However, the department as a whole has a budget surplus thanks to employee turnover.
“So the plan kind of was to at least get one [vehicle] under the belt now, buy it outright because we have that surplus of funds, and that hold us over until [Naff] can apply for the JAG grant and then do the matching funds to buy two more at a time,” Bermea said.
The computer chip shortage and supply chain bottlenecks related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is an additional complication.
“I had someone search for police vehicles in South Texas and there’s one [police] Tahoe in South Texas,” Naff said. “There’s no Tahoes, there’s no Fords, because of the [chip] shortage.”
Naff said the Tahoe that was available was $47,000 without lights, and $52,000 with lights installed.
After additional discussion, A Vera-Fernandez motion to allow Naff to purchase the Tahoe if she’s able to passed 5-0.
Other business
In other action, Council approved a mental health leave policy for police officers and a paid quarantine leave policy for municipal employees in order to comply with Senate Bill 1359 and SB 2073, respectively, that were recently passed by the state Legislature.
Holidays for municipal employees were approved with the addition of a floating holiday that employees can take at their leisure.
Council also approved a Resolution joining the state and other political subdivisions as a party in the Texas Opioid Settlement. Hinojosa said the City’s settlement is $625.
The Devine News was selected as the City’s official newspaper for all City publications for the upcoming fiscal year.
In addition, Hinojosa said that ePay and eBill should be up and running on the City website by the next utility billing cycle, which will allow residents to not only pay their bills online, but also receive their bills electronically rather than through the mail, as well as look up their billing history.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer