August 2013

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AISD vs Manvel: A new Junior High?

New Manvel Junior High to come?

Council holds the line on taxes

Rodeo Palms to see higher MUD tax

Council puts off fireworks ordinance

 

AISD vs Manvel: A new Junior High?

August 7, 2013

 

A joint workshop was held recently with members of Manvel City Council and the city’s Planning, Development & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) to hear from the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) on the progress and planning of the proposed Manvel Junior High School (JH). The current plan is to construct the JH campus behind the current Manvel High School. The AISD team met multiple times with the Mayor, City Manager, and city consultants prior to the presentation. “There was nothing brought up the other night that was not discussed previously,” according to Jeff Couvillion, AISD’s Director of Building Programs.

Mayor Delores Martin characterized the meeting as “productive in that the council was able to voice their concerns on areas to be addressed.” AISD characterized it differently, expressing a feeling of being “ambushed”. AISD’s Executive Director of Support Services, Pat Miller, characterized it as a “set-up.” He said they “asked us to have a two-way positive conversation and let the PD&Z and the Council simultaneous hear what we were proposing to do. It started with Mayor Martin’s first question when we were talking about building a Junior High and she wants to know if we pulled the stadium out from underneath them.” Miller felt the “caustic” manner of the question set the tone for the meeting and created a “feeding frenzy.” Mayor Martin, in response to Miller’s assertion, said “dialogue and clarification are healthy.”

AISD and the City of Manvel have endured strained relations for years. Requests for specifics on why are hard to come by from city officials. Some imply the District acts as an arrogant bully; that they are uncooperative in dealing with city requests and honoring city regulations. One instance in 2010 displays the disparate views the two entities can have over the same issue. In November of that year city council refused to take action on a request from AISD that would have granted a variance from city ordinances in an effort to meet an aggressive construction schedule for the Rodeo Palms Junior High School. Former council member Buddy Williams, a vocal opponent of the request, expressed angst that AISD was not at all cooperative with the city’s efforts to acquire an easement for a water line to service the new EMS facility behind Manvel Junior High School. AISD explained the tiff on the easement from their point of view, claiming three options were suggested for the city to consider and that the city did not respond. They explained the district as unable to commit funds without a related project and that district owned land is not able to be deeded away. Council remained unmoved by the explanation and Buddy Williams characterized his feelings on the dispute saying they “talked to us like we were a bunch of dirt farmers”.

According to Pat Miller of AISD, “one of our intentions is to always have positive relationships with the parties having jurisdiction of the areas we serve and we want that in a bad way with the City of Manvel. We try to be upfront; to share our information and our intentions with the cities before and at the early stage of physical facilities beginning to be developed so that there are no surprises, so that they can be a partner on the development, so that we do it by code and consistent with the preference of the people we serve,” he said. Miller expressed frustration that the District enjoys a good reputation and shares positive collaborative relationships with other jurisdictions and entities but can’t seem to establish any traction with the City of Manvel. “We are anxiously hoping to get there with the City of Manvel,” he said.

In 2010 the District began exploring Manvel JH to see what opportunity it had to accommodate additional seats and infrastructure. Pat Miller says the District was and is sensitive to the historical significance of the location directly across from the original Manvel school site, but claims the site is too small to host an equitable Junior High consistent with current District standards. He went on to explain that they began to explore the possibility of closing Lewis Lane, thereby combining the additional ten acres to the south of the facility. The combined acreage would have potentially allowed the building of a new JH site. Miller explained the effort met with a “significant number of obstacles including on-site detention requirements, widening of a drainage ditch, and TxDOT and city requirements of additional width on streets and right-of-ways.” Meeting the various requirements eventually swallowed acreage enough to render the site unworkable. Miller added that the City of Manvel “was not supportive and not really willing to assist with abandoning or re-routing Lewis Lane at that location and no subsequent communication from Manvel has indicated a reconsideration of the Lewis Lane limitations.” While AISD did maintain the option to petition for the abandoning of the thoroughfare through procedures spelled out in city ordinances, that option was considered onerous and unlikely to meet with success given the city’s history of rejecting such petitions and the city’s established opposition to the idea.

Some in Manvel express a preference to rebuild the old JH even at the cost of sacrificing amenities and programs enjoyed at other District JH’s. Miller explained that a uniquely designed building could not be made to work on the current site. He says the site was dismissed because as it currently sets it would require too much property to meet drainage and transportation requirements demanded by the various entities involved. In addition, he continued, “there are some unimproved right-of-ways that we would have to barter or purchase from the City of Manvel; Manvel has a small operating water well that encroaches out into the middle of the site; there are large great oak trees that would have to come down; and so we ended up dismissing the site for a number of reasons.” Mayor Martin responded that “Manvel has worked very hard in setting up zoning, ordinances and design criteria to promote economic growth and a city we can all be proud of. We are hesitant in modifying these requirements.”

Miller explained further “that it is not viable financially (to maintain Manvel JH) as it would cost as much to operate a small school as it does a large school due to the fixed amount of overhead required for personnel and some infrastructure. Larger schools provide an economy of scale that offers greater value to students and ultimately the taxpayer. Miller explained that school survey results show consistently that Manvel residents favor a new JH by 66% and thinks “we would be doing many people an injustice if we didn’t provide the same amenities” as our other JH’s offer. Council Member Maureen DelBello agrees, saying, “I would not favor a renovation to the old Manvel JH if it meant fewer student programs and amenities than is available at the usual AISD JH campus because I want my children, as well as other children of Manvel, to have the same opportunities as other AISD students.” AISD’s Director of Communication, Daniel Combs, added that “equity across our schools is a substantial priority of the District.”

Miller says the current JH site provides opportunities for other District instructional space. He explained that a verbalized commitment has been made that intends to use the decommissioned site as a Career and Technical Education Center (CTE). “The building is being explored to see what and how much of any of it is salvageable. The portion of that building that was built in the 70’s has moved and settled quite a bit so a study will determine if any portions of it can be reused.” It is likely funding for that CTE Center would be part of a bond election that School Board Trustees are expected to decide at its August meeting.

With the Manvel JH site dismissed as a feasible location, AISD began surveying for other potential sites. Many were dismissed due to being in a flood plain, having insufficient utilities available, and/or inadequate storm water retention capabilities. All along the process, according to Miller, “we were sharing these potential sites with the city and we narrowed it down to two.” But these sites presented obstacles as well. Miller explained the city “was asking us to build significant infrastructure and roads that were sometimes a mile away from the sites; they would add substantially to the project budget by requiring AISD pay for off-site amenities.” Additionally, many of the road improvements asked by the city were of a temporary nature that would have allowed future infrastructure to “catch up” and would not have produced long-term benefit to AISD or the city. Those improvements would have required AISD to request variances from the city’s current design ordinances, which as Jeff Couvillion indicated, “We do not have a good track record of receiving variances.”

Miller explained that once it was determined “the hurdles were too difficult and unreasonable to try and overcome, we went back to introduce the use of the land north of Manvel HS and met with great overwhelming favor in the meetings with the mayor and city manager.” He felt good that “we have found a place where everybody’s happy, so the other night the caustic tone and content of the questioning that started from the beginning was completely off guard from what we had been shown or insinuated as being the acceptability of those folks we had met with. We thought this was a win-win.”

AISD will next present their plan to PD&Z for consideration and referral to city council. Working together to move forward would allow Manvel to enjoy a new Junior High School in time for the 2015-2016 school year. AISD taxpayers would save millions of dollars as needed infrastructure already exists and the land already had. And the city would see long-term financial benefit as the property is already off the tax rolls. Acreage acquired elsewhere would fail to produce future tax revenue as AISD is exempt from local property taxes. Mayor Martin admits “we have had some bumpy roads in the past, but we should all be adults and do what is best for our community. We all need to work together.”

Next week’s follow-up story will present the concerns of traffic, drainage, and other issues to be addressed as Manvel and AISD officials move forward with the process.

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New Manvel Junior High to come?

August 14, 2013

 

Alvin ISD is preparing a proposal to build a new Junior High campus for presentation to PD&Z for consideration and referral to Manvel city council. The new facility would be built on land already owned by the District immediately north of Manvel High School. Redevelopment of the old Junior High on Lewis Lane proved unworkable and other potential sites presented obstacles “too difficult and unreasonable to try and overcome”.

AISD’s Executive Director of Support Services, Pat Miller, explained the current proposal “met with great overwhelming favor in meetings with the mayor and city manager.” He felt good that “we have found a place where everybody’s happy.” At a subsequent joint workshop between AISD and members of Manvel city council and PD&Z, however, Miller and the AISD team were caught off guard by what they described as the “caustic tone and content of the questioning.” He felt it completely contrary to “what we had been shown or insinuated as being the acceptability of those folks we had met with.”

Miller sought to clarify things he considers erroneously insinuated by some in Manvel. Regarding the apparent expectation that a District stadium was to be placed on the site currently contemplated for the JH, Miller said, “the truth of the record is, in 2001 when we were buying land for Manvel HS we explored a number of sites and on that particular site we were able to buy an additional 75 acres on the back end for a really great price.” Board members at that time authorized the additional land be purchased in the event more wanted to be done there, including potentially a District stadium. “It was never an agenda item or taken up by a Citizens Advisory Committee for any of the bond referendums subsequent to the land purchase. That was just one of the options that could have been done there,” he clarified. AISD’s position on a District stadium is that it would better serve all the schools if it were at a central and neutral site.

AISD claims that civil engineers have verified through Drainage District 3 that adequate drainage capacity exists for the site and that no “adverse impact” will result. Responding to a question on the open ditch on the north end of the property, AISD’s Director of Building Programs, Jeff Couvillion, explained “the ditch does not currently receive storm water from the north, west, or east of the site. The ditch collects “sheet flow” from rain events, directing it to an on-site drainage detention pond. The new plan calls for the water to be captured in underground pipes before being directed to the on-site detention. Couvillion clarified that the site “does not accept any water from McCoy (or Lakeland) and we don’t contribute any water to McCoy (or Lakeland). All the water flows west to the detention pond.” He explained the current detention capacity on the site as sufficient to meet the increased need borne by the new campus.

Traffic is perhaps the most voiced concern. AISD’s traffic consultant explained that the “peak intensity of each school will be offset by about 45 minutes and you won’t typically get as many trips by car generated by a Junior High as you will a High School because the students aren’t driving.” The traffic studies assumed the first three phases of Lakeland being complete when the school would open in June 2015. The study did not project into the future beyond that. The plan as it existed at the time of the presentation included the installation of two left-turn lanes on McCoy to separate traffic, particularly busses, from congesting other through-traffic. AISD indicated the civil design would ensure sufficient radius for turning busses.

Council was not satisfied with the traffic plans. Member Adrian Gaspar described the current traffic as “gridlock.” Mayor Martin foresees “bumper-to-bumper traffic no matter what you do between probably 6:30 and 9 AM with both schools and the eventual 640 homes in the Lakeland subdivision all accessing McCoy Road.” Member Melody Hanson thinks “the problem you have now is that the High School traffic is not being managed. If we are going to run it like the High School, then it is not going to run well, and maybe worse.” AISD’s traffic consultant conceded issues exist and Couvillion indicated that if improvements are needed at the Hw6/McCoy Rd intersection that we should “partner together to speak with TxDOT about it.” Hanson countered that it is not a city problem but an AISD problem “because it is not an issue when school is not in session.” Couvillion maintains the District does not “turn a blind eye to it” and is willing to make improvements “where we can.” He sees the possibility “that we can sit down and continue to work with city staff, maybe bring TxDOT into it, and let’s see if we can make improvements.” Subsequent to the meeting, Couvillion said he met with TxDOT and learned that the traffic signal at McCoy has not been adjusted since February 2006. He said “TxDOT is more than willing to work with us,” adding that there is sufficient right-of-way along McCoy to add another lane possibly and hopes the city does not “use McCoy and that intersection as a road block.”

AISD finds it irksome that Lakeland was not required to submit a traffic impact study, but “now it has come up with our High School and it seems like we are being accountable for anything we do and anything that comes from the numbers from Lakeland.” Miller says the city “did not require a traffic impact analysis (from Lakeland), which we thought was part of any development out there.” A formal traffic analysis determines an industry standard rating from A to F, with A representing minimal volumes and F representing high volumes. Couvillion claims their results show the influx of JH traffic along McCoy “barely tipped into a service level C.” Miller added that many of the traffic dynamics will change as future development to the north and west of the site evolves. Much of the traffic that now funnels south on McCoy to Hwy 6 will instead head north and west on planned routes that will eventually feed directly onto 288. Correspondingly, as population density increases in the Manvel High School attendance zone, fewer buses will be required to service the school.

Miller explained the dynamics of the traffic situation as he sees it: “The truth is when 2500 students show up at a single location you have a lot of people trying to get to a small space. There are certain dynamics when that many people show up for one event at a very short time window. It wouldn’t matter if you had a six-lane road there; you can only turn left or right one at a time.”

The likelihood of portable buildings was raised as a concern as well. Couvillion explained that the District is proactive and “plans ahead of time for portable buildings as part of the master plan. In the event that you did have to accommodate portable buildings in order to tide you over for growth, the needed infrastructure” will already be in place. The planned locations do not compromise practice fields or any other useable space.

Paying for the new school, estimated at more than $35 million, would be dependent on bond funds of which voters will decide this November. Couvillion indicated the School Board could look to fund it “via other means” if the bond election fails. There are funds remaining from the 2009 bond that could be used.

Miller points out that AISD is the single largest employer in Manvel with more than 250 workers generating a significant amount of sales tax revenue for the city. He considers AISD schools and facilities as helping to build the community and describes Manvel High School as a landmark serving as a significant source of civic pride as it is advertised and applauded by the city. Miller expects the City of Manvel to soon be issuing more than 160 single-family building permits each year and says historically the homes provide one student per household. He says they (City of Manvel) “are contributing to the numbers, I just ask them to help contribute to the solution. We need to be working in collaboration with one another.”

Several city officials expressed a willingness to work with AISD in a positive way though requests for explanations and comments regarding this story have generally been disregarded. AISD intends to apply for permitting in early October with the goal of construction commencing in December or January. If their timeline is realized, the new Manvel Junior High will be complete in time for the 2015-2016 school year. It is not clear what option exists should AISD’s plans be disapproved by city council.

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Council holds the line on taxes

August 21, 2013

 

Manvel City Manager Kyle Jung presented a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2014 to council at a recent meeting. The budget would have required a tax hike of just under 3 cents but council was swift and unanimous in its decision to hold the line on taxes for Manvel citizens. Mayor Martin said she is “not in favor of a tax increase, I think with Lakeland coming on it’s going to bring more revenue in and Sedona Lake is starting another section. We’ve gone through hard times before and had to tighten our belts, and I know people (employees) need more money but you can’t make money that isn’t there.” Member John Cox expressed his feeling that “we will create a nightmare in this town if we try to raise taxes.” Member Melody Hanson said “I think we are in a rough time right now but I think we can weather the storm; I don’t want to set the precedent of a tax increase because I don’t think that down the road we will have to sustain that level.”

Jung told council that the appraised value of property in Manvel is a little over $383 million, up $25 to $30 million from last year. What goes in to that amount is value on the ground as of December 31st of the year before. As there were very few houses that were completed in Lakeland on that date, it will be next year’s budget that will realize that added revenue. Jung explained that revenue (about $75,000) and expenditures from Rodeo Palms has been taken out of the budget, “we don’t know when they will get started again,” he said, referring to the moratorium in place on any new construction while additional water capacity is secured for the development.

City Controller Phyllis Herbst explained the reason for the recommended increase saying “this year we have hit a point where we need the city services, we need to do things for the city but yet we didn’t have value on the ground. Lakeland values will not be realized until the 2015 budget, so for 2014, if you wanted to maintain city services and not cut anything, a small increase to get through 2014 would be needed. In 2015, hopefully you will have enough value on the ground to where you could bring that back down, or even it out. This is just an odd year.” Member John Cox said he has “never seen a tax that went up then come down.”

The current tax rate is .58763. The rollback rate, which is a maximum rate allowable without the need for a rollback election to be called, is .646991. The proposed tax rate submitted by the City Manager would have been .614786, or just under 3 cents per $100 assessed property value. Herbst explained that proposed rate would provide for the same level of services for the maintenance and operations portion as the previous budget while the increased amount would go to paying off the increased debt incurred by the city since last year.

Jung explained that if the current tax rate is maintained, “the amount that is going to come out for debt service is going to increase, which means the amount for maintenance and operations is going to go down. The cost to cities of doing business are not going down, but what we are going to do is cut things out of the budget by whatever amount that increase in debt service is, if that is what council wants us to do.” Hanson considers that to “be an important exercise.”

The budget does provide for salary increases for most all city employees, the percentage of which depends on the position. Herbst said “the biggest change in this year’s budget are pretty much the basic services for every department. For years our staff has gone without raises, either no raise at all or very small. And they are hired on at a very low pay. We are starting to have turnover. We are starting to have employees needing to go somewhere else in this economy. We have a good staff and to see them walk, and the turnover, is just amazing to see some good people leave.”

Member Adrian Gaspar accused Herbst of playing “mind games” with council. He said “it is not fair the way you say it because we are representing them and we are representing the taxpayer. It’s not that we don’t want to give them a pay raise.” Gaspar feels with the increase in revenue expected next year it is not necessary to raise taxes this year. “I don’t want to raise taxes and if we bring all these businesses in that bring in more taxes then I shouldn’t have to raise people’s taxes.”

Jung explained that the need for planned capital item replacement in future years. Capital items include things such as police cars, public works trucks and equipment. “The city does not have the ability to buy these things per year, you have to start putting away money every year so that when a police car needs to be replaced, or when the road grader has to be replaced, you would have the money to do that. This is a seven year plan in order to get enough money to replace the things on the list. I went through with the department heads to try and identify which vehicles over $25,000 that are going to have to be replaced. And in the first year, unless we can get the HGAC grant for three police cars, we are going to need $360,000 to start replacing these things. The next year is $200,000, and then $173,000. So, as you see, the amount of money that the city is going to need to budget to replace these capital items requires will have significant budgetary implications. This is the kind of thing the city is going to have to put together in the budget, and it’s going to take a lot more money than simply just holding the line on trying not to raise taxes and hoping that utilities and the development is going to come.”

In response, Mayor Martin said “sometimes you make do with what you have until times get better.” Regarding police cars budgeted at $30,000 a piece, Member Gaspar said “I don’t think you guys are looking at your options. We can buy furnished ones for $15,000. For the price of one we could get two furnished police cars. They would keep us going until other revenue becomes available.” Leasing vehicles was another option discussed as a way to reduce the large capital expenditures.

Before a final budget is approved, council members will have an opportunity for input through participation in workshops. The public will also have an opportunity to comment on the process through two public hearings on the proposed budget and tax rate that will be announced before a formal vote is taken. Council will adopt the final budget on mid-September in time for the start of the 2014 fiscal year which is October 1.

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Rodeo Palms to see higher MUD tax

August 28, 2013

 

Residents of the Rodeo Palms subdivision received official confirmation this week that their Municipal Utility District 29 (MUD) tax rate will be increased. The higher rate has been expected for more than a year after a local news station aired a story in August 2012 of threatened fines to Rodeo Palms homeowners for violating its water restriction rules. The story helped bring to light the insufficiency of the water service provided to the community.

Former council member Mack Ivy expressed concern for expected declining property values and the likelihood that additional bonds would need issued to fund a new water well. Last year Rodeo Palms residents paid .80 cents per $100 valuation in tax to their MUD in addition to the standard rate to Manvel citizens of .58 cents. The new tax rate was established at .94 cents as determined by MUD 29’s financial advisor.

MUD 29’s legal representative, Alia Vinson, claimed last year that the MUD “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.”

In May of this year, an attorney for the MUD explained that a new well would be needed, describing “a tight situation with regard to water.” The new well, he said, “should take care of all the water needs throughout the complete build-out of the development.” The MUD has an agreement with neighboring MUD 21, which services Savannah Lakes, to interconnect the two systems to provide additional water supply to Rodeo Palms in case of an emergency need.

The City of Manvel instituted a moratorium on any building permits for the development effectively halting any new construction until the new well is operational. Previous estimates called for about one year to complete the new well, which would put it on line early next summer if the time estimate proves correct.

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Council puts off fireworks ordinance

August 28, 2013

 

Manvel city council tabled a possible amendment to the city’s fireworks ordinance to give city staff additional time to draft the modifications. Member Melody Hanson requested a discussion on amending the ordinance that currently bans any use of fireworks within the city at a meeting last month. She believes residents that meet certain requirements should be allowed to discharge fireworks within the city limits. Brazoria County currently allows the discharge of fireworks and she feels the safeguards in effect for burning can apply to fireworks as well. She would require the site be subject to periodic inspections by the city’s Fire Marshal and would impose specific time restrictions, such as from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., and only on two annual holidays, July 4 and January 31. Member Adrian Gaspar sides with Hanson while members Maureen DelBello, Lew Shuffler, and Mayor Martin appear disinclined to support the amendment. Members John Cox and Larry Akery will apparently decide the outcome of the vote which should be part of the September 9 council meeting.

Council tabled action on an amendment to the development agreement with the developers of the proposed Pomona master planned community and the two MUD’s that will provide water and sewer services. Pomona encompasses more than 1000 acres and will be located in the city Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) just south of County Road 58 and west of state Hwy 288. It is expected that more than 2000 single family residences will be constructed as well as approximately 500 apartment units. Land is being set aside for both an elementary school and a junior high school and numerous green spaces, parks, and public amenities are part of the plan. A spokesman for the developer told council that once all approvals from the city are acquired planning and pre-construction work will commence. He expressed the possibility of a groundbreaking in early 2014.

Council also tabled a request from the Lakeland development for the granting of a city owned right-of-way (ROW) for proposed utilities and unrestricted offsite drainage at the northern property line between Pollard and the C-12 ditch. The developer will not be altering the function of the ROW in question as it currently serves to receive storm water runoff. The ditch is twenty feet wide and currently houses a major utility pole. Mayor Delores Martin proposed the tabling of the matter to allow city staff to more closely investigate the ROW in an effort to determine if it might serve some city function in the future.

Council tabled yet another agenda item dealing with a request by member John Cox to review and update the City Charter. Cox participated in the long process of drafting the original document and feels there are significant loopholes that need to be closed and tweaked. Cox explained that much of the verbiage was rushed along in order to meet the election date requirement and that it was expected that a review would be performed to fix the shortcomings. A mandatory review is called for at least every five years but Cox indicated that a provision was included that a review could be done after two years because it was expected to be required.

Council voted a while back to put off any review and once a proposal is voted down by council it must wait at least ninety days before it can be revisited. City staff will investigate the timing of the prior rejection and will return it to the agenda once the required time has passed.

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