September 2013

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Opinion - Time for leadership

Lakeland quietly produces

Council News

Voters to decide school bond election

AISD receives national attention

City council approves budgets

 

 

Time for leadership

September 4, 2013


Stories written in the past month were an effort to clear up misunderstandings regarding the new Junior High School proposed to be built behind Manvel High School. It was also intended to expose the inanity of the dysfunctional relationship that exists between Manvel and AISD, optimistically spurring introspection by city and district officials. There is much distrust and the on-going conduct from each side only allows the situation to fester. Both are culpable and both require someone to step up and lead a sincere effort to put the past behind; to move forward in doing what is in the best interest for the community and the children served by AISD schools.

Both sides could no doubt recite a litany of actions and words they would consider reasons for strained relations. Some would be justified while others would be little more than misplaced suspicion. Rather than dwell on past actions that have resulted in the mess that exists today, PD&Z and city council should focus on the future. It is clear that new schools need to be built. Lakeland will have over six hundred homes when complete. Pomona looks like it will be breaking ground in 2014 bringing upwards of 2000 homes. Sedona Lakes continues to build with more than 900 homes upon its completion. There will no doubt be other developments coming in the next few years.

Demographic data show that AISD has been growing by some 800 students each year for the past ten years. That is projected to continue into the foreseeable future. To perhaps more clearly demonstrate the need, an elementary school of current design accommodates 800 students; at current and projected growth the equivalent of one school will be required each year to accommodate the growth. In 2007 enrollment was just over 15,000 students. AISD this year is projecting an enrollment of more than 19,000 students and by 2018 they are projecting over 23,000 students.

Considered inquiry supports AISD’s contention that use of the current site at Lewis Lane will not work for various reasons. It also supports that substantial effort to finding other possible sites was exhausted. There is nothing to be gained at this point by harping on those disputes. The proposed site is the one that offers the greatest expediency in getting a new Junior High School open for the 2015-2016 school year. The site makes sense for several reasons. It is already owned by the district, saving taxpayer money in two ways. The land has already been paid for. And because it is now off the city tax rolls no additional dilution of the tax base will encumber the city. Sufficient drainage capacity exists for the new school and the site is totally self-contained as it relates to storm water retention. Utilities are readily available to the site either from an existing water well serving the high school or from the city.

Traffic remains the biggest impediment for Manvel officials to contend with. It is incumbent on AISD to explore every possibility to ensure more efficient traffic flow around the Hwy 6/McCoy intersection. Additional and/or dedicated traffic lanes could help as would better timing of the light at the intersection. Enhanced utilization of the western part of the campus through a dedicated bus or student drop off lane would allow some traffic to escape the intersection congestion. While any improvement to traffic would be good the fact remains hundreds or even thousands of kids being transported twice each day is going to create an inconvenience for commuters. Looking longer term, as development occurs additional thoroughfares will provide relief to Hwy 6 and attendance zones will shrink resulting in fewer buses and cars coming and going.

An objective and thoughtful analysis of AISD’s financial performance shows them to be relatively good stewards of taxpayer money. They do an above average job of educating kids and they have demonstrated through numerous recent examples an ability to construct an attractive quality school at a good price for taxpayers. By any unbiased measure their schools can be considered an asset to the community they serve. It is time for Manvel and AISD officials to put aside past animosity and exhibit leadership as expected from those managing the public interest.

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Lakeland quietly produces

September 4, 2013

 

The developer for the Lakeland project, Dan Rucker, was on hand at last week’s city council meeting as a proposal was considered that would allow the development to utilize a city-owned right-of-way (ROW) for proposed utilities and unrestricted offsite drainage. The ROW borders the northern property line and is essentially a 20 foot wide unimproved ditch. The request was made as plans for the start of Section 2 are in process. Section 1 is practically done within one year of its commencement. The new section will comprise an area to the west and a little north of Section 1 and will contain 116 lots divided between two unique sections. Charlotte will be extended farther west and will serve as the separator between the two sections.

Lakeland is unremarkably creating a successful subdivision that will add considerably to the city’s tax base. As Rucker describes it, “Lakeland is coming in under the radar and quietly producing and building the city out west.” He expects city leaders will one day realize that rooftops are what is needed to stimulate the commercial growth that he feels has been too great a focus from city planners. Indeed, many development proposals have come and gone over recent years and while some are percolating still Lakeland is the only project within the city limits that has gotten off the ground and realized success.

Rucker believes current retail locations at the Ft Bend Tollway, Pearland Town Center, and even downtown Alvin, adequately supports the areas retail demand: “the number of rooftops that are proximate to downtown Manvel are going to satisfy any huge retail demand for years to come unless Manvel gets up underneath rooftop developers and assists in getting those on the ground.” He goes on to say that he “thinks they (city leaders) continue to get inquired enough by these commercial components that it keeps getting them off track from concentrating on rooftops.” He also feels the city is perhaps misguided in their insistence on requiring minimum lot sizes, that the entry level home buyer must be accommodated. He does not support arbitrarily dictating a minimum lot size and specifying the kinds of features that are provided.

Rucker is not a fan of the city’s thoroughfare plan. Looking at the plan and how it overlays the Lakeland acreage, he explains you will see a disproportionate amount of red lines (indicating the city’s planned roads) that are drawn through the community, requiring it to carry the entire financial burden on its own while not having the benefit of additional acreage to help defray the cost. He feels Charlotte makes sense; that it will develop and will be the city’s first active in-town major collector street that will actually see the light of day and serve a useful purpose. He considers the McCoy expansion north as silly: “taking McCoy up to a dead-end of Dogwood and then looking and seeing it traipse through jurisdictional wetlands and floodplains and people’s homes and properties up north of there and its close proximity to 1128 is insane.” He does not see McCoy ever going past Dogwood and believes in his lifetime that he “will never see the reason for installing McCoy like we are building it.” He said he went along because he only had a certain way to get the plan approved.

Rucker explained the design of McCoy leading into the Lakeland development was constructed according to the development agreement. Just north of the high school the road provides one lane in each direction and is divided by a grassy median. He explained that design saying he did not see much additional traffic burden outside the immediate development and added the cost of roads and such can lead the project to financial unviability. He described Lakeland as a relatively small development and 120 feet of right-of-way out of one swath, and 80 feet from another swath, that has been set aside for regional purposes do not assist the sale of the community. And he explained that the roads come with no financing vehicles, no reimbursement agreements, and no assistance from the city or from neighboring land owners.

With the commencement of Lakeland Section 2, Rucker explained that Charlotte will be extended to the C-12 ditch “to where the development to the west will be coming up from 6 on another entry point and that would open another 500 to 800 acres that can be developed.” He says good circulation from 6 across Charlotte back down around McCoy will eventually lead the market to take care of the rest. He feels the City of Manvel “does not need to be too concerned with micromanaging traffic and determining where thoroughfares are going to go; all you need is to have access points that are comfortable so that whenever these properties develop they have the ability to design within their communities what works for their program. As long as the project is able to convey ingress and egress they could then look to areas the city may be looking for some assistance.”

He thinks the city could do away with a good part of their thoroughfare plan and go back to using currently platted in place roads and “improving those instead of having to interrupt people and their properties with proposing places that are going to go straight across a bunch of sensitive areas.” The many old oil fields in and around Manvel support his contention. With current technology he feels “all those fields in the Manvel area have a whole new recovery system that is getting ready to be explored. Looking for a subsequent use of an old producing oil field, which carries enough baggage on it anyway, and thinking that it is going to be taken out of production anytime soon, I think is maybe being short sighted. The motivation to do that has never been higher,” he said.

Rucker maintains the city has an “excellent opportunity to accommodate a potential windfall if they just do it right.”

Regarding the proposed junior high school that AISD wants to build that would border his development, Rucker says if he lived in Lakeland that he would prefer a quiet junior high rather than a regional stadium that would produce loud marching bands and glaring lights. He pointed out that a stadium would not be Manvel’s stadium but rather a district facility serving at least three high schools. He described it as “interlopers coming in and taking over your town for two teams playing that you don’t even have an interest in.” He would “rather back up to a junior high than have teams playing from who knows where and their band demonstrating their prowess about three times a week.”

On traffic concerns around the site, he answered rhetorically, “Do you want to grow? Do you want to justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for consultants and planners and having a comprehensive plan in place? What in the world are you engaged in it for in the first place?” He believes that as the schools in Manvel are attended more by a denser population of families, Shadow Creek Ranch and other outlying communities will no longer be transporting their kids to local schools. “The worst things is to have this outside traffic coming from miles around clogging up your collector systems because they don’t have a school closer to their home to attend. As things get built out that will switch off.” He elaborated, “Eventually the new junior high will be downtown Manvel, Lakeland, and the immediate adjacent communities so that pretty much all will be walking and riding bikes to those campus facilities. It would be a great convenience for the families. You get rid of that congestion and get more of just what is right there at home. That is how things work when planned right and when they function like they are supposed to.”

Ironically, council tabled the request for use of the ROW to give city staff time to investigate the ditch in an effort to determine how it might affect the city’s comprehensive plan. It is likely to be voted on at the September 9 council meeting.

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Council News

September 11, 2013

 

Council approves AISD rezoning request

Manvel city council unanimously approved a request from the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) to amend the city zoning ordinance from Open Single Family Residential to Light Commercial. The request was made in order for the school district to not have to apply for a Special Use Permit as they plan for the construction of the new junior high school on 115 acres behind the Manvel High School site. The amendment was favorably recommended by the city’s Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z). AISD will now present a plan for the new school for consideration to PD&Z and city council and anticipates the submission of permit applications in early October so that construction can commence in January. The school is on a fast-track as district officials plan to have the facility open in time for the 2015-2016 school year. The campus will mimic the design of other AISD junior high’s and will accommodate 1000 students.

Fireworks amendment rejected

In other news, council voted against a request put forth by member Melody Hanson to amend the fireworks ordinance to allow the discharge of fireworks within the city limits so long as it was on at least one acre of land and met other conditions. Hanson felt the proposed change well balanced what she called the “fun factor with the safety factor.” She reiterated her contention that “people that burn and have a respect for ordinances are fully capable to manage fireworks.” Mayor Martin rejected the amendment claiming the fire and police departments would be “kept busy.” Hanson said she has neighbors a few doors down from her property that are just outside the city limits that have discharged fireworks for years “and I have never felt unsafe, they have never abused the right, we’ve always had a good time.” Member Adrian Gaspar says he has neighbors on his street “that do it anyway so it doesn’t matter” whether there is an ordinance or not. All of council conceded that the current ban is not working but nevertheless the vote was 4-3 against. Joining Members Hanson and Gaspar in voting yes was John Cox. Members Maureen DelBello, Lew Shuffler, and Larry Akery joined Mayor Delores Martin in voting no.

Council did approve one change to the fireworks ordinance. In order to remain consistent with current state law, council adopted an amendment that does not allow confiscation of fireworks within the city limits so long as they are in a sealed container. The previous ordinance allowed city officials to confiscate any fireworks in a moving vehicle within the city limits. The new ordinance allows the confiscation only if the fireworks are not in a sealed container.

Automobile Lube facility to re-open

The automobile lube center that has been closed next to the O’Reilly Auto Parts on Hwy 6 is set to reopen soon under new ownership. Council approved the first of two readings that would change the zoning classification from Light Commercial to Light Commercial with a Special Use Permit that would allow the property to be used as an automotive oil change and lubrication shop. The process is a formality required to the previous operation having been pout of operation for more than one year.

Lakeland request on drainage Right-of-Way

Council again tabled a request by the Lakeland developer to approve a request for use of a city owned right-of-way (ROW) for utilities and unrestricted offsite drainage. City Manager Kyle Jung suggested the submission to council the process of abandoning the ROW as its originally designated purpose as a road does not fit in the city’s thoroughfare plan. The ROW is just 20 feet wide and it already is being used for drainage and feeds into the larger C-12 ditch. The city’s consulting civil engineer, Dan Johnson, told council that meeting the request would actually reduce the flow of sheet water runoff as the amount of land sloping toward the ditch would be reduced from as much as 200 feet to as little as 20 feet. The bulk of the sheet flow will be redirected to detention ponds within the Lakeland community once the new home sites are developed. A few on council expressed concern about setting a precedent of allowing a subdivision to flow storm water runoff outside their borders as ordinances require them to be totally self-contained in that regard. But City Attorney Bobby Gervais reminded council that each request for a land variance or exception should be considered on its own merits as each case is unique. Council is expected to consider the abandonment process at its next scheduled meeting on September 23.

City tax rate and 2014 budget

Two public hearings were held regarding the 2014 tax rate and budget that will be adopted by October 1. The first hearing clarified for citizens that the tax rate will remain constant as previous years at .587863. But due to higher property appraisals for many property owners, their effective tax paid will likely increase. The city estimates that its property tax revenue will increase this year overall by 1.64%. Individual taxes will vary depending on the change in the taxable value of a property in relation to the change in taxable value of all other property. Last year the average residence homestead in Manvel appraised at $143,377 resulting in tax paid of $842.86. This year the average residence homestead in Manvel appraised at $144,100, resulting in a tax owed of $847.11. Based on the average value, a taxpayer will see an increase of less than $5.

In another public hearing, council approved the first reading of the proposed annual budget that will raise more total property taxes than last year by $78,852 and the percentage of the increase is 3.64%. $54,731 of the increase is attributable to new property added to the tax roll this year.

Council will hold another public hearing on both matters at its September 23 council meeting and it is expected a bit more tweaking of the final budget will be made before its ultimate approval. Many on council have requested that less money be allocated to employee raises, some of which are contemplated at more than 10% and one at more than 20%. City Manager Kyle Jung desires to bring city employees to the average pay of like cities in the area. While council seems unanimous in wanting to raise employee compensation, it is felt that it should be done in a more gradual manner and with consideration of the current budget challenges the city faces as it holds the line on a tax increase and waits for additional revenue to become available from completed properties in Lakeland and other developments.

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Voters to decide school bond election

September 18, 2013

 

Alvin Independent School District (AISD) Superintendent Dr. Fred Brent addressed members of the Alvin-Manvel Chamber of Commerce last week at their monthly networking luncheon.  The primary focus of the presentation was an explanation of the bond referendum that was authorized by the district’s Board of Trustees at a specially convened meeting in August.

On Tuesday, November 5, voters will decide the $212,445,000 bond referendum.  An additional $40,155,000 will be contributed from previously approved bond funds, district cash reserves, and the current budget.  Total spending upon completion will be $252,600,000, as determined by a Citizens Committee that considered current facilities, educational program needs, campus safety, the rapid growth of the district, and community survey data.  The committee comprised a diverse mixture of tax payers, parents, teachers, and administrators.  Eight committee meetings were held with numerous sub-committee meetings between December 2012 and June 2013.

Based on an enrollment forecast and projections report prepared by the Templeton Demographics firm, AISD’s growth for the period 2007 through 2012 averaged 4.3% or 712 students each year for a total increase of 3,560 students.  Between 2012 and 2017, AISD is projecting a total increase in student enrollment of 4,455 students, or an average increase of 891 students each year.   If the projections prove to be correct AISD will see a total enrollment of more than 23,000 students by the start of the 2017 school year. 

Brent described the revenue sources of the district, explaining that AISD draws on two funds to conduct its task of public education.  The M&O (maintenance and operations) fund is used to pay the regular costs of school operations only, including items such as teacher pay, administrative costs, utilities, and the like.  District payroll and benefit costs accounts for more than 80% of its nearly $160 million annual budget.  By law, the district must fund their operations from local taxes at a rate not to exceed $1.04 per $100 valuation.  The district receives approximately 30% of its total annual operating funds from local property taxes with the balance coming primarily from the state and to a lesser extent the federal government.

The I&S (interest and sinking) fund is used to pay for non-operating items, such as school construction, capital improvements, buses, and technology.  I&S funds must be approved by a majority vote of district taxpayers.  Bond funds are in the I&S category.  The district can accumulate however large an I&S fund its taxpayers care to endure.  AISD’s current I&S tax rate is $0.28 per $100 valuation, ranking it the second lowest among area school districts.  The combined tax rate is $1.3291.  Brent said passing the bond would necessitate a tax increase on its citizens in order to service the bond debt.  AISD administrators anticipate an increase of 11.39 cents per $100 valuation, which would be an annual rise of $134.64 on the average AISD home value of $118,222.  Seniors over 64 should see no tax impact with appropriate exemptions.

A large portion of the bond proceeds, $104.5 million, will fund a new high school in Shadow Creek Ranch just west of the Pearland Town Center.  With Manvel High School already above capacity, the district will expedite this project for the 2016-2017 school year.  The school will accommodate 2,500 students and its completion would provide relief for Manvel’s enrollment burden and help mitigate traffic concerns as those students in the north western part of the district would no longer need to commute to the school.  Other high school related projects include $1.2 million for the design and related costs of a new career and technical education facility that likely would occupy the site of the old Manvel Junior High; $4.5 million for a new Ag facility providing a district show arena; and $8.6 million for land, design, and related costs for a district athletic stadium, natatorium, and satellite transportation facility.

Junior high allocations include $35.2 million for a new campus to be constructed on 115 acres just north of Manvel High School.  AISD is already in the planning stages of that project and it is expected that the new school would be ready for students beginning the 2015-2016 school year.  Other junior high projects include $21.1 million for the renovation and expansion of Alvin Junior High, and $4 million for related costs and land for a future junior high facility.  Elementary allocations include $21.5 million for a replacement of Longfellow in Alvin; $22.9 million for a future elementary, its site not yet acquired; and $5.1 million for land, design, and related costs for still two more elementary schools.

Other items to be funded from bond proceeds include $3.1 million for campus safety and security projects; $5 million for additional school buses; $8.4 million for technology, including infrastructure upgrades and new equipment; and $5.5 million for Building system upgrades and other facility improvements.

Detailed information about the bond election is available on the AISD website (www.alvinisd.net).  The registration deadline in order to vote in the election is October 7.  Early voting will begin on October 21 and run through November 1.  The general election will be held on Tuesday, November 5.

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AISD receives national attention

September 18, 2013

 

The Alvin Independent School District (AISD) received attention from the national news media last week after some parents complained of an assignment given a 7th grade social studies class at Fairview Junior High. The assignment asked students to write a letter as if they were in the twin towers just before the planes hit. An AISD news release described the assignment’s purpose as providing an opportunity to reflect on their personal emotions as a victim of the 9/11 tragedies.
 

AISD conceded that some parents and students found this activity to be troubling in light of the age and maturity of 7th graders: “We sincerely apologize to any of our families that found this activity to be insensitive. As educators, we strive to meet the individual needs of our students both instructionally and emotionally while maintaining a high level of sensitivity.” The news release went on to say that “September 11 is a day that deserves the utmost respect while we, as a school district, stop to reflect on the events that so tragically impacted our nation. During this time of remembrance, we feel that our students should be provided the opportunity to learn, understand, and express their thoughts in a supportive learning environment. We encourage parents to speak with their children about the events that took place on September 11, 2001.”
 

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City council approves budgets

September 25, 2013

 

Manvel city council approved a fiscal year budget that maintains the current city tax rate at .587863 per $100 valuation. The initial budget presented by the city manager called for a higher rate but council was unanimous in its direction to city staff to hold the line on any tax increase. The current budget will realize additional revenue, which effectively raises the tax rate by 1.64%, but is due to a larger tax base and increased property values in the city. Most every city employee will see a raise from the budget as city manager Kyle Jung strives to bring city compensation to a more competitive level with other like cities in the area. Next year’s revenue should see a fairly significant increase as new homes from Lakeland will be added to the tax rolls.

Council also approved a budget for the Manvel Economic Development Corporation that saw an increase in its projected sales tax revenue from last years $150,000 to this years proposed $240,000. The expense side shows little change from last year with orientation and training up from $1,500 to $3,000. City Secretary Tammy Bell explained to council that the increased amount will allow the MEDC chairman to attend various seminars and training programs this fiscal year while maintaining funds for other Board members to also attend some training or seminars that may become available. Accounting fees also increased from $1,500 to $5,000. Bell explained that purpose as providing for additional reporting requirements from a CPA should a big project or bond issue be forthcoming. The projects category increased from $112,000 to $197,500. The funds remaining from last year went to this category in order to show a balanced budget for the year. If a project comes forward, it must be brought before council to earn approval before any funds can be disbursed.

Bell told council of a new website for MEDC that will contain a blog section allowing for “all kinds of daily updates, different council things, and kind of like a Facebook account.” The site is currently under development but is expected to be up and running soon. The MEDC is presently fully manned with Bradley Gardner serving as its Chair, Karen Kinlaw as Vice-chair, and council member Melody Hanson as secretary.

Economic Development Corporations for a city are generally established to improve the economic base and enhance its business environment. Programs are designed to attract, retain, and assist new and existing businesses and jobs through a variety of activities including grants, loans, and the provision of information. At a recent meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, council member Melody Hanson described the Corporation as “kind of a silent partner with the city” and explained that “for many years there wasn’t really a project or sufficient funds available, so members were conservative in just holding the money and letting it accrue which has allowed the opportunity to do a major project.”

MEDC is currently funding and/or coordinating the installation of water and sewer infrastructure to service future development along Hwy 6 to Hwy 288. Planning and engineering is in process while securing the needed easements to allow the project to move forward is ongoing. Past projects moved by the group include the installation of a water/sewer line to service the ProBuild Lumber facility on the south side of Hwy 6 from FM 1128, water and sewer lines servicing the eastern portion of Hwy 6 from FM 1128 to roughly the Burger barn location, and a water line along 1128 to service a dance studio.

Voters’ approval of a change in sales tax allocations in 2010 resulted in lower funding for MEDC as a portion was dedicated to road improvements. Hanson expressed hope that prior funding levels will be restored at some point while conceding the benefit of the increased money put toward roads and bridges. “In the long run, spending money like we are on projects such as the water/sewer installation down Hwy 6 will be far better for the city,” Hanson believes.

In other council news, AISD Superintendent Dr. Fred Brent addressed council on the upcoming bond referendum that voters will decide in November. Brent expressed the plan of getting the new junior high in Manvel opened for the 2015-2016 school year and the funding of design and planning for a career and technical high school that very likely would be located on the site of the old Manvel Junior High on Lewis Lane. Some programs are already underway at the campus through the annex building and Brent claimed them to be very successful. While plans are yet to be drawn, the redevelopment of the site is expected to nicely accommodate the new facility as ball fields and such will not be required in a facility of the type envisioned. He also told council of a new 2,500 student high school to be built in the Shadow Creek Ranch area of Pearland if the bond receives voter approval. The school would be open in time for the 2016-2017 school year and should provide considerable relief to Manvel High School which is already at capacity. A new stadium and competitive natatorium complex is planned as well and Brent indicated it should be placed in a neutral location as it is likely as many as five high schools will eventually be using the facility. While not specifying Manvel as a probable site, due to its central location between Alvin and Pearland the city would be a logical choice for its construction. The bond issue would only fund the acquisition of land and the design of such a facility as any construction costs would be required from a future bond referendum.

Council retired into an executive session to consult with their attorney the economic development negotiations between the City of Manvel and Municipal Utility District (MUD) 42 that would service the planned commercial development on the northwest side of the intersections of State highways 288 and 6. The plan calls for a development of nearly 270 acres and envisions high end retail and big box stores much as is located north on FM 518 in Pearland. Developer agreements require construction to begin within five years but the developer is optimistic that it could begin in as soon as two or three years.

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