June 2012

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Rodeo Palms Water Supply In Question - Part 2

City Council Considers Police Manpower

Manvel City Council Adopts Capital Improvements Program

Council discusses consultant fees and PD&Z issues

Kyle Jung to assume higher profile

 

Rodeo Palms Water Supply In Question

June 6, 2012

This is part 2 of a 2 part news story.

Last week’s Part 1 article presented former city council member Mack Ivy’s raising of the water service issues affecting the Rodeo Palms subdivision.  He is concerned that water supplies may be strained with the opening of the new Junior High School this summer.  There also is concern that the new school will meet current code requirements for water pressure and volume from nearby hydrants.

MUD 29’s legal representative, Alia Vinson, claims the MUD “has an adequate supply of water for the current connections, including the AISD school site, and some additional moderate growth.”  She went on to say “the District is providing water meeting capacity, quality, and pressure requirements of the TCEQ for retail water providers.”  Notwithstanding those claims, however, she also admitted that “the District is undertaking significant efforts to expand its water supply sources, including the design and construction of an emergency interconnect water line to a nearby water supply system and the design of a third water well.”

Mayor Delores Martin claims that water deficiency in the subdivision has been known for a long time and did not just occur.  Vinson explained that its water well no. 2 was “taken down for repairs when weather conditions permitted it to do so responsibly.”  She explains that the well’s pump capacity is currently operating at a reduced level as a precautionary measure saying the volume “was decreased to reduce drawdown from the aquifer, thus allowing the well to produce efficiently for a longer period of time.”  If necessary, she goes on, “due to an urgent need for additional water, the pump capacity could be increased.”

Minutes obtained from the MUD Board’s March meeting showed previously tried methods to clear blockages and silt on the back side of the well screens for water well no. 2 were ineffective and it was concluded that the “well may never regain its full capacity.”  A consultant suggested that “the loss of well capacity and threat to the District’s water supply is an emergency condition.”  The Board agreed with that assessment and added that it “may create a serious health hazard and requires immediate corrective action.”  In response, the Board authorized a contract to complete the repair work.  Vinson was asked if repairs to the well had restored its full capacity and replied that it is “now capable of producing water at its original levels.”  She elaborated on the decision to maintain voluntary rationing saying the District “has concluded that it is appropriate to operate the well in a conservative manner.”

As a non-taxable entity, AISD paid a one-time tap fee to the MUD of $428,261.  Vinson explains the fee saying it represents “the cost to the MUD for all facilities that are necessary or will be necessary to serve the non-taxable entity.”  She also said that “the fee reimbursed the MUD and its taxpayers for capital costs required to serve the school.”  According to Vinson, the District “intends to use the tap fee for capital projects related to the water or wastewater systems.”  In consideration of the tap fee, the District has agreed to reserve water supply capacity for the school in the amount of 12,800 gallons per day.  Despite the reserved capacity, Vinson explained that the school would be subject to any water restriction that may be in effect as would homeowners.   

Yet Ivy recalled a time during last summer’s drought when the school was watering its new football field while he was not able to even spray off his porch, let alone run a sprinkler in his yard.  The former council member strongly supports the new Junior High school, but he wonders about the fairness of the school using water seemingly at will while he and other homeowners in the subdivision remain anxious of continual rationing and higher fees and tax rates required to pay the bill.   

As a non-taxable entity, the School District will pay no taxes to the MUD and will pay a rate subject to the “non-taxable water and sewer rates”; one of several categories of customers the MUD services.  The school will pay a flat monthly fee of $20 per single family equivalent and $1.00 per 1,000 gallons up to 30,000 gallons.  Sewer usage is charged at a rate of $1.50 per 1,000 gallons.  By comparison, the residential rate requires a monthly minimum of $34.50, which includes 5,000 gallons each of water and sewer usage. The residential rate increases incrementally based on usage with the rate going to $2.70 per 1,000 gallons between 5,000 and 10,000 gallons, $3 for the next 10,000 gallons, and up to a maximum of $3.60 for usage over 75,000 gallons.  The sewer rate for residential customers is $2.25 per 1,000 gallons.

Ivy questioned the practicality of the city continuing to issue building permits if they are not able to “take care of the homes that already are there.”  Mayor Martin conceded that an attorney representing the MUD admitted that they may need to restrict permits and building homes until the issue is addressed.  Vinson responded that “development within the District is proceeding at a very modest pace’ and that “the District is coordinating with the developers regarding future growth to ensure demand does not outpace capacity.”

Requests for comments from the project’s developer, Skymark Development Company, were initially responded to with a suggestion to contact the MUD.  Additional attempts for comments went unanswered.

Both Mack Ivy and Alia Vinson requested clarification on points presented in Part 1 of this story.  Ivy wanted to make clear that MUD 29 residents do not pay just the current 80 cent MUD tax but also pay the 58 cent city water tax.  The story did not accurately reflect that fact.

Ivy also wished to clarify that his comment regarding Rodeo Palms residents requirement to pay an initial fee to the MUD in addition to the high tax rate did not intend to suggest that “one side of town should get something better than the other side of town.”  That attitude, he says, is “the opposite of what I have been working for.”

Vinson, the MUD attorney, asked to clarify comments attributed to a Board Member regarding the threat of the Fire Department possibly collapsing the system and pulling “the pipes right out of the ground” due to poor pressure.  She claims the comment was presented out of context and that the statement was made while Water Well No 2 was under repair.  She elaborated, “the director requested that the District’s engineer notify the City of Manvel of the repair and associated pressure, so they would have the information needed in order for the fire trucks to adjust their settings appropriately and thus avoid any damage to the water supply system”.

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City Council Considers Police Manpower

June 13, 2012

Manvel City Manager Kyle Jung reported to council at a recent meeting on the possibility of hiring two new police patrol officers.  Jung explained that one patrol officer costs the city approximately $48,000 per year in salary, benefits, uniform, and equipment.  To add the officers immediately council would need to re-allocate approximately $32,000 from the current year budget.  Two options were presented: one would call for the city to take money from the city’s reserve funds and add it to the Police Department line item, the second would call for a re-allocation of money currently in the police budget and supplement it from the reserve funds.  Jung suggested the possibility of eliminating the captain position from the department which would free up approximately $19,000 this year.

Mayor Martin expressed her feeling that the department is currently top-heavy and feels more patrol officers on the street are needed.  Currently the department has six patrol officers, a sergeant, a captain, and a chief.  New council member Adrian Gaspar disagreed with the mayor that the department is top-heavy saying that management is necessary and that someone with decision making authority should be in the station every shift.  Gaspar went on to say that community safety should always be a priority and criticized decisions by previous councils to cut patrol positions from the police budget.  

Gaspar, who is a long-time police officer with the City of Houston, believes the city should have three officers per shift.  He also noted that cars, radios, and equipment would need to be added for the additional officers as well.  Currently, Chief Ralph Garcia explained, there are one or two officers are on the street depending on the shift.  He explained that supervisors are important for each shift saying “you can’t put a rookie officer out there and expect him to know everything.” 

Council member Melody Hanson agreed with the mayor in expressing her contention that things are not as they should be if there are more officers in the station than are patrolling the streets.  She claims citizens have told her that they are not even aware that there is a captain on the force.  She further claims that many citizens do not know the chief or the captain because they are not seen in squad cars, which leads them to question what they are doing.  Hanson went on to say that she infrequently sees the Manvel Police in her area of town and sees more county sheriffs than city police cars.  She does favor looking at the department with an eye on making adjustments to increase the presence in the community.

Chief Garcia is not in favor at all of eliminating the captain’s position and feels one additional patrol position would be sufficient.  He also elaborated that he does not see the need to add the officer immediately and would like to see it addressed in budget negotiations for the coming year.  He considers the discussion to be a “knee-jerk reaction” to the recent concerns with speeders through the neighborhood bordering the high school and the incident of the child recently hit by a vehicle.  The chief explained that there was ample coverage in that area with as many as four Manvel marked patrol cars along with officers from AISD and the DPS.

Council ultimately agreed with the chief and decided to take no action on the matter and renew the discussion when budget negotiations begin for the next fiscal year.

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Manvel City Council Adopts Capital Improvements Program

June 20, 2012

Manvel city council heard a report from the city’s consulting civil engineer Dan Johnson on a Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for the city.  Johnson explained that the city will always negotiate with developers to help in the cost sharing of new roads, water lines, treatment plants, and similar types of infrastructure improvements in new developments but in the older parts of town where no new development is occurring, the city must pay for improvements without assistance. 

The new city charter provides for a CIP that would show projects to be accomplished within the coming five years.  It also provided for an annual update so that it will have a “rolling five-year window” as Johnson explained it.  Anything over $20,000 will be considered a capital improvement.  Because discussions will begin soon for next year’s budget, Johnson said this is a good time to present the CIP plan to council.  The CIP represents the first time that the City has undergone an extensive, prioritized project inventory for future development. 

Paraphrasing the report, the goal of the CIP is to help maintain a high quality of life for Manvel citizens through the timely anticipation of the city’s needs and the planning and funding of improvement projects as the community grows.  According to the United States Census Bureau, the population of Manvel increased 70% from 2000 (3,046) to 2010 (5,179).  All parameters indicate that the city will continue to grow exponentially over the next several years.  According to the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the build-out population of Manvel is anticipated to be 155,136 people.  It follows that population growth continues to be a primary driving factor in the CIP process and Johnson told council that the city must “anticipate the growth and not be surprised by it later on.”

Johnson sat down with each city department head, the mayor, and then interim city manager Ron Cox, beginning in November 2011 to prepare an inventory of Plans, Projects, and Facilities that pertained to their areas of responsibility.  The list included such things as drainage, streets, water, sanitation, and even facilities and parks.  Thirty-nine projects made the initial list from which department heads were asked to determine those that truly should be considered a capital improvement and which were realistically plausible to accomplish within the next five years.  That process resulted in a remaining twenty-two projects from which each department ranked them in order of importance.  The results were compiled and sorted based on the cumulative total score.

The current year CIP provides a brief description of each of the twenty-two projects that are separated into five categories: planning projects (7), water projects (6), facilities projects (5), wastewater projects (3), and street projects (1).  None of the projects yet have a preliminary engineering report and the descriptions include a general scope and justification as well as a cost estimate.

Funding sources for the improvements will include the city’s annual operating budget, bonds, city reserve funds, grants, impact fees, and MEDC allocations.  As the city’s budget grows along with development, additional monies will be available through the annual budgeting process.  Because it is difficult to anticipate a realized growth rate, the CIP proposes to utilize alternative funding sources whenever possible.  Of the twenty-two projects on the current five-year plan, four are identified as potential MEDC candidates, another four are potential grant candidates, and one would be paid from city reserve funds.  Two of the items, a regional detention pond and a library, would likely require a bond in order to complete.  The remaining eleven projects total an estimated $850,000 which could be completed as part of the city’s annual budget, equating to approximately $170,000 each year over the five-year period.

In addition to the twenty-two “short-term” items in the five-year plan, nine projects were identified as “long-term” to be looked at after the year 2016.  The nine projects are expected to exceed $10 million in total and are listed as a “potential developer participation” should a large tract developer move forward in this timeframe.  The long-term projects, not in any priority, include an animal control facility, new city hall, an elevated water storage tank, a hwy 6 regional detention pond, a municipal court structure, a new police department building, Masters Road improvements, a wastewater treatment plant upgrade, and a new public works facility.

City council unanimously approved the adoption of the Capital Improvement Program.

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Council discusses consultant fees and PD&Z issues

June 27, 2012

Recently elected council member Adrian Gaspar requested council discuss the city’s use of consultants and the resultant high cost borne by taxpayers.  Specifically, Gaspar raised the recent proposal submitted by planning consultant Kent Marsh for $60,000 to review the city’s Comprehensive Plan that was put in place in 2007.  He agrees that a review is called for and minor changes need to be implemented, but he considers the amount outrageous for a document that has already been written. 

Member Melody Hanson agreed with Gaspar commenting she thought the $60,000 fee was “staggering.”  But many of the consultant fees she backed as necessary, such as for inspections, legal services, accounting, and engineering.  She went on to express her feeling that much of the money paid to consultants is well spent as it can save the city from making costly mistakes.  “In the past when we haven’t had proper guidance, mistakes were made that aren’t going away,” she said.

Council took no specific action on consultant obligations but members appeared generally in agreement with Gaspar’s recommendation that City Manager Kyle Jung take the responsibility of reviewing the Comprehensive Plan and rely on Marsh only as specifically needed.

The discussion on consultants led to issues Gaspar has with the city’s Planning, Development, and Zoning Board (PD&Z).  He feel’s council sometimes does not receive an accurate presentation of the group’s recommendations and would like to see the city manager, Kyle Jung, assume a liaison role between council and PD&Z so that council receives issues acted on by the group more precisely.  Gaspar expressed trust in Jung believing he would accurately present PD&Z issues and would be able to bring to council a more true interpretation of what was deliberated by the group.

The rejection by council at its previous meeting of the proposed Building Façade Ordinance served as the impetus for Gaspar to express his concern.  He described the presenter, planning consultant Kent Marsh, as inflexible and having a “one track mind” on some issues.  Gaspar explained that he served on PD&Z when the Building Façade Ordinance was discussed and claims the presentation by Marsh at the recent public hearing did not correctly reflect the views put forth by PD&Z.  He said “the man did what he wanted to do and did not do what PD&Z wanted him to”.  Gaspar’s claim was corroborated by a current PD&Z member who was in the council audience.

Hanson agrees that Marsh can bring an agenda with his efforts and feels it important that consultants should remain impartial; that they should give council the information needed and allow the group to formulate their own decision.  Regarding Marsh, she said “you often know how he feels about something, strongly”.  She explained that the city “hires consultants, not a decision maker”.

Hanson expressed her feeling that the group should be “citizen driven and feels the PD&Z members should be the ones to do the decision making”.  Having the city manager in some type of oversight role could compromise the objectivity of the group, she feels and commented “if a paid city employee comes into the process we may be tainting the way it was developed anyway”.

Jung said that he attends the meetings anyway “so that he can stay informed on what they are working on and to be available should they have questions or require background on the information that they need to do their work”.  He said the group approved at a recent meeting that a volunteer would attend council meetings when a recommendation is presented to be available to answer questions.  This would help ensure council “that the information they are receiving is what was agreed to in the PD&Z recommendation.”

Council ultimately agreed to appoint Jung as council’s liaison so that he can relate information from PD&Z.

In other council news, Mayor Delores martin announced that TxDOT has approved and authorized the installation of u-turn lanes in both directions of the state highway 288 access road at state highway 6 as well as constructing raised medians along Hwy 6 on either side of the intersection with Hwy 288.  It was not announced when the work would commence.

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Kyle Jung to assume higher profile

June 27, 2012

Adrian Gaspar presented to council for discussion and action a proposal that would have the mayor and the city manager exchange offices in city hall.  In making his case, Gaspar suggested that the city manager, Kyle Jung, could better conduct business with the larger office.  “He needs a place that when contractors come in or investors come in, he can bring them into an office where he will have privacy to conduct business”.  He also expressed his feeling that “staff meetings should not be out here with people walking around paying tickets, or getting permits with everything out in the open”.

Gaspar feels the city manager’s current office does not have enough room to adequately conduct city business and feels the larger office will provide him the tools to properly work for the city.  He presented his observation that the mayor has some influence on the city manager’s decision making and that Jung should be the ultimate person responsible for city actions.  He said “it is not like the days before the charter”.  He claims the mayor has the same powers as council members and none of them have an office.

Member Melody Hanson took care to respect Mayor Martin’s contributions and commitment to the city and while admitting moving her to the smaller office may seem like a “demotion” she feels “Kyle could work more efficiently if he had a larger office” and that it would more clearly show the proper hierarchy of the city’s administration.  She feels now that the new charter is in place and most of the city’s business will be conducted in the city manager’s office that “he would be more effective if in the larger room.”

Member John Cox also agreed that the larger office would better serve the city managers needs explaining that Kyle “needs to have the room to work with laid out blueprints, to be able to sit down and make decisions.”  He went on to say “we hired him to do a job and he needs to be able to do that job.”

For his part, Jung said the matter “is a policy decision of the council, I am not going to get involved.”  He went on to say the “staff will work wherever and however we need to.”

Martin commented that she has always followed the city charter and that she “has not violated one thing on it”.  She also said that she would “certainly vacate the office and give it to Kyle if that is his wish”.  She claims to “not be the decision maker and never pretended to be”.  The mayor considers herself the city’s ambassador and says she promotes the city because she is proud of Manvel.

The proposal was approved by council.

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