December 2013

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Council approves additional building in Rodeo Palms

Tommy King retiring from AISD

Council authorizes acquisition of utility easement

AISD authorizes issuance of bonds

Pomona development one step closer

 

Council approves additional building in Rodeo Palms

December 3, 2013

 

Manvel city council retreated to a closed executive session at last week’s meeting to discuss the issuance of building permits for new home construction in the Rodeo Palms subdivision. The session resulted in council’s agreement to issue additional permits upon receipt from MUD 29’s engineer a report certifying that there is sufficient water capacity to meet the new construction without compromise to existing system users.

Council issued a moratorium on additional permits last June on property development within the boundaries of MUD 29, which services Rodeo Palms. The action was explained by city attorney Bobby Gervais: “Because there is not water capacity to service any more property development from MUD 29 at this time, we are preserving the status quo by not accepting applications for Certificates of Occupancy, development permits, or plats for land located within the boundaries of MUD 29 until such time that MUD 29’s Board of Directors can certify in writing that additional capacity is secured.” Council acted to keep the moratorium in place at its earlier November meeting. The suspension of permits became necessary when MUD 29 officials admitted the existing wells have not produced at the capacity they were designed for and that they were unable to increase water capacity to meet future needs. A new well currently under construction and expected on-line late in 2014 was described as sufficient to meet future water needs through the completion of the development.

Despite an admission in early November that water service is tenuous, the MUD’s attorney, Tim Austin, explained that testing of the well now supports additional capacity to accommodate another 32 connections. Currently the system services 823 single family connections. Council overcame its initial hesitancy as subsequent arguments by MUD representatives have persuaded it to grant the request. The city’s consulting civil engineer, Dan Johnson, reviewed auditing information from both operating wells over the last couple of years and mildly indicated that “they had some numbers behind those.” Member John Cox asked Johnson “if we were to even consider lifting the moratorium to allow more building, how would that affect the residents there now with the restrictions they already have?” Johnson wavered in his response and allowed the MUD’s engineer to answer the question.

The engineer explained the restrictions implemented in 2009 by a different and unrelated engineer was due to the well being pulled out of service as it was pumping water out of the well faster than it could recharge the system, an occurrence known as breaking suction, which essentially means it was pumping air through the system causing thrust bearings to go out. The filter screens at the time were also learned to be “full of bacteria” likely caused by the well not being operated while the permitting process was on-going and a subsequent failure to adequately clean the system before it was brought on-line.

Since repairs were completed, the engineer said “every year the ratio of what is pumping to what it is recharging has increased. So the well is actually performing much better.” In response to Cox’s question, the engineer said, “We are not providing any more connections to what TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) mandates and regulates.” If there is a drought that requires implementation of restrictions, he said it would be “no different than any district (MUD) on any size well.” He went on to say with some conviction “to me as an engineer and putting my seal on this, I am making this recommendation. I could not of sound mind authorize additional taps to what we can handle. Our water wells are capable of handling what we are requesting.”

The MUD’s attorney, Tim Austin, explained what he sees as the bigger issue, which is an on-going building program within the district. As the tax rate was raised on MUD 29 customers to pay for the new well, Austin believes residents would appreciate additional construction as a way to eventually lower the tax rate. He says “to get the tax rate back down to where it needs to be we have to build more houses. The worse thing that could happen would be for anybody to build houses and hook them up and then it causes the people out there not to have water. Nobody wants that to happen and the development would stop in the district for that reason.” He believes the district “has come up with a good engineering and operating solution to allow a few more connections.”

MUD 29 has secured a system interconnect with MUD 21, which services Savannah Lakes, as a backup water source to be used only in an emergency situation. Austin said that even if the interconnect were to fail for some reason, and the district was forced to resort to more severe restrictions, drinking water would still be available to residents. “They just don’t water their grass, or maybe water their grass on alternate days depending on the severity of the problem”, he said.

Austin feels the MUD is well capable of sufficient service saying the district “has now got two water wells, we’re about to have a third, we have an interconnect, and about to have another interconnect. This is becoming one of the most redundant systems I ever heard of. There are a lot of different places for us to get water.” He agrees the city is justified in their concerns but assured council that the MUD Board lives with it every day. “There is nobody in the district that does not worry everyday about the ability to provide good and plentiful water to the people who are out there.”

Austin feels “it’s the duty of the council and the Board of MUD 29 to maybe understand the issue a little better than somebody who just has a fear. The issue is to try and figure out what the facts are and the fact that somebody has a fear that may not be justified is not a reason to not go forward with something that does have a good basis and good engineering and good operating facts.” He believes if residents were made aware of all the things that have been done and will be done that the fear would be diminished. He went on to say “people out there are not just concerned about their water, they want their tax rates to be reasonable, and that simply is not going to happen without a construction program.”

He said the additional construction will serve to keep the building program going. “Builders don’t just show up. They come to places where they know they can get lots and water and building permits. If they can’t do that then they just go somewhere else. It takes a lot of effort to get them in. If we could get a few more connections and let everybody know that the well in late 2014 is going to be on-line and there will be more connections available then it just builds on itself.”

The 32 connections are an immediate issue and according to Austin MUD 29 has negotiated another connection with a private water company, Cold River Ranch. Their system has extra capacity and they have agreed to allow an interconnect at MUD 29’s expense that would provide water on an interim basis until the new well is completed. The additional water source is claimed sufficient to serve 100 new connections. Austin estimates the cost of the interconnect at $125,000 plus the cost of the water used. He said the additional connections would allow the building program to continue but explained the MUD would like some assurance from council that additional permits would be allowed before the financial outlay is committed to.

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Tommy King retiring from AISD

December 11, 2013

 

The Alvin Independent School District (AISD) will lose one of its top administrators to retirement at the end of the year. Longtime Assistant Superintendent Tommy King will be leaving after nearly 26 years. Board of Trustees President Tiffany Wennerstrom said, “Tommy King has done an incredible job for our District. As a community we have been blessed to have a man of his character oversee our schools and tax dollars. He will be greatly missed but he will always be a part of Alvin ISD.”

King grew up in Baytown and received his education at Baylor University. He has been a resident of Alvin since 1976. After working in private industry for a couple of years, King accepted a job with the Ft Bend school district as a payroll supervisor and eventually was part of multiple comptroller functions. He recalled Ft Bend as a “super growing district, much like we (AISD) are now, so it was a great training ground. We went from one High School when I started in 1977 to four High Schools when I left in 1988. And I learned how to add schools like nobody’s business.”

King began work at AISD in 1988. He knew the potential for growth was here but it was not yet occurring. Alvin’s enrollment had seen only slight increases while Manvel had little growth at all. The multiple developments on the west side of the district that have fueled the current growth were still years away. King said when he “first started driving to Ft Bend, Hwy 6 was a two-lane road and the only signals were in Alvin and one in Arcola. This area has just boomed, just impossible to anticipate from that kind of start.”

Economics and the challenges of school finance were prevalent then much as they are today. Under King’s watch the AISD budget has grown from $26 million to the current year’s $128 million. Campus facilities increased from 11 to the 22 in operation today. King recalled the early years as “really reeling from declining oil and gas revenue and receiving only minimal assistance from the state and having to make up for it with local tax revenue.” District property values were not even $1 billion when King began at AISD, requiring a “quite high” tax rate to fund the schools. King knew the district would have to change their ways quickly or they would end up not having enough money. “We started cutting, cutting, cutting and we had several years where we did not have salary increases and we had to continue that on into the early 90’s. The budget I inherited was extremely tight. We had about $100,000 for all our capital items including buses. You didn’t have any anticipated maintenance work that you were going to do. Even a repair on a roof was a huge decision to make. We were in some tough economic times back then.” It was the early 90’s when more state support became available that things began to improve. Then growth along the 288 corridor on the west side began to take off in the late 90’s presenting the best hope for increasing revenue for the district.

Looking forward King believes state revenue will continue to be the crucial piece in school financing as on-going lawsuits will maintain pressure on the state. “Depending on local tax values will continue to be a pressure point for school finance for many years,” he says. “There is a need to come up with another way but if there was an easy solution they would have already come up with it. Everyone knows a state income tax will never fly in the state of Texas. The hard thing is finding ways to replace the revenue from property taxes.” He goes on to posit: “The responsibility of the state to provide education and the restrictions that are in our state constitution are very difficult pieces for them to deal with. A statewide property tax would require a change in the constitution and I don’t know how they would get that through.”

He expects to see a continual movement toward school funding based on whether or not a student population is a high need for special ed and/or low income. He says there is a “direct correlation between the wealth of a particular area or even family and their general achievement in scores. It is a slow process to switch over because our system was so backward in that the people who had got more and the people who didn’t have got less. We have made good progress over the years in reversing that trend but you can’t go at it too fast because you don’t want to bring the top down you want to bring the bottom up.” King explained that campuses within AISD are funded in similar ways. Schools servicing students at a higher risk to fail will receive more funds than a school with a lower risk to fail.

King says the real problem with school financing is that schools are having to operate at a reduced 2005 level. “I can’t buy things at 2005 prices,” he says. He continues, “As the economy heats up it is going to get even more difficult for us to provide services at the level we are, and in fact most school districts are really struggling at that right now.” He claims it will becomes increasingly difficult to meet future needs, particularly as the labor market heats up and teachers start to go other places to make a living. “Salaries are still somewhat competitive with industry for teachers but we are feeling the strain right now with bus drivers and skilled maintenance staff. First it starts there and then it moves into the teaching field and then we start having a hard time getting people to come to teaching. We can’t just keep reducing our cost per student and anticipate the ability to get these kids ready to compete against the world market that they are dealing with.”

He describes the school financing challenges “as such a complex issue with different legislators struggling with trying to protect their constituency in their districts to not lose ground but then to continue to make progress for the ones that are servicing the lower socio-economic areas for the better overall benefit of the state. It is a tremendous back and forth struggle and will probably always be that way.”

Second to the financing issues King says the dynamics of dealing with the growth of the district from mostly rural to more urban has been the biggest change he has dealt with. He describes it as a challenge on how to share everything equitably? It puts a lot of strain on the system he says “but this district has done, in my opinion, a significantly good job of being as fair as you can in providing for the growth while at the same time keeping the older facilities up to standard.”

King says he is most proud of “the staff we have been able to bring in and establish.” In 1988 AISD administration consisted of a superintendent, three assistant superintendents and basically two or three directors. With the growth of the district King feels “we have put together a staff of tremendously capable people who are dedicated to the district.” He considers the staff on the support and business side as “second to none in the state.” King said the administration of the district remains very lean and still consumes just 1% of the total budget.

A career highlight King describes was developing an overall system to deal with the district’s growth. Bringing in developers that would benefit those efforts resulted in the TIRZ arrangement with Shadow Creek Ranch. “That was a real difficult concept and a difficult process to make happen.” He explained that cities and school districts could not put the burden of infrastructure development on their citizens “so we really were struggling in the 90’s to find a way to make the west side of the district along 288 to be a viable place for development.” He said the negotiation of the TIRZ development with the developer “was probably the single most important event that occurred in the last twenty five years.”

The district’s Board of Trustees is expected to discuss the process for securing a replacement for King at its December meeting. There will be a month or so with no one in the position but King says “the folks that are here are very capable.” King suspects that there will be a fair number of outside candidates applying for the position as he considers this “a very attractive district. But at the same time we have some real capable people here already. I would anticipate there would be some good candidates from within.”

King plans to remain in Alvin and “is looking at continuing to be a big part of the community; be a part of all the outside groups I already am involved in. Continuing to work with my church and look for things and opportunities to be involved in financially related type things. Not having to work anymore I can make myself available for a lot more community services type things than I have in the past.”

In honor of Tommy King’s service to Alvin ISD, there will be a special retirement reception on Wednesday, December 18, from 4:30 -6:30 p.m. at the Alvin High School LGI room. All community members are welcome to attend.

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Council authorizes acquisition of utility easement

December 18, 2013

 

In a light agenda, Manvel city council authorized the city’s controller to reallocate funds of $22,000 to allow the acquisition of a 25 foot utility easement to be utilized for the water/wastewater utilities planned for state highway 6 to state hwy 288.  Efforts have been on-going for months as Mayor Martin and city officials work to finalize the necessary easements that will allow the construction of the utilities to commence.  Manvel’s Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) agreed to underwrite the cost some time back but securing the easements have proven difficult to get done.  Money had been budgeted for the easement acquisitions so the funds will not be contributing to any budget pressures.

 

Dan Johnson, Manvel’s consulting civil engineer, told council the acquisition of the easement is preferable to acquiring it in fee due to the land remaining on city tax rolls.  Because the city does not own the land taxes will still be collected.  He explained that it will “work for both of us” as it will not impede the owner’s use of the property because it will maintain the requisite 25 foot setback required in city ordinances. 

 

Council also approved updates to the city’s Design Criteria Manual which was first adopted in 2008.  Mayor Delores Martin explained its origination as “critical to have to give to the developers when they came in.”  Dan Johnson stated it as a good way to “standardize everything.”  The manual contains subdivision improvement standards for all development within the city or its extra territorial jurisdiction.  According to Dan Johnson, it has undergone updates each year since its adoption.  This year he explained there were only about ten changes that were proposed and described them as “fairly minor.” 

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AISD authorizes issuance of bonds

December 18, 2013

 

Trustees of the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) unanimously authorized the issuance of $178.9 million in bonds which became obtainable after voters approved the bond proposal last November with a near 68% majority. The funds will finance the new High School planned for the Shadow Creek Ranch area of Pearland, the new Manvel Junior High School, and two elementary schools, one in Alvin and one in the west part of the district. Funds are expected to be made available as soon as February 2014 so that construction can begin quickly.

District advisors have suggested the issuance of a combination of debt instruments, some with fixed interest rates and some with adjustable interest rates. The peak tax rate to be realized by taxpayers is projected to not exceed 40.3 cents, which is consistent with pre-election assurances. Advisors claim the use of adjustable rates will save taxpayers about 3 cents on their overall tax rate.

Short term asset items included in the bond election, such as computers, band instruments, security upgrades, and buses, will be funded from the Maintenance and Operations Budget and not financed. The balance of bond funds approved by voters, $61.3 million, is expected to be issued in January 2015 and will be used for the acquisition of future school sites and the district athletic stadium, natatorium, and satellite transportation facility.

Subsequent to the bond authorization, Trustees approved a construction contract for the construction of the Manvel Junior High School that will be located on land just north of Manvel High School. The amount of the contract is $28,730,470. Construction is expected to commence early in 2014 and district officials plan to have the school ready for operation by August 2015 in time for the start of the 2015-2016 school year. The building will be of the same design as other recently constructed junior highs in the district and will be intended to accommodate 900 students.

The contract amount includes a construction alternate at the High School campus to build lab space to accommodate the master plan of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program which will expand programs for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and Construction Trades. The amount of the alternate is $660,501.

According to district officials, the permitting review by the City of Manvel is complete, which allows for construction to commence once the building permit is issued.

The Board of Trustees also acknowledged Assistant Superintendent Tommy King for his 26 years of service in presenting a resolution in his honor. Board President Tiffany Wennerstrom expressed appreciation for his loyal and dedicated service to the Alvin Independent School District saying he “made lasting contributions to Alvin ISD by leading the development and construction of district facilities during our transition to a fast growth school district.” She called him “a pillar in this community.” King worked under five Superintendents while at AISD and personally served as interim Superintendent before the appointment of current leader Fred Brent. Under his stewardship AISD has achieved 11 consecutive superior ratings on the financial integrity rating system of Texas. The Board is expected to take up a plan for his replacement at their January meeting.

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Pomona development one step closer

December 25, 2013

 

Developers of the Pomona master planned subdivision earned approval of preliminary plats that pave the way for the development to move forward. A spokesman for the developer explained the intention of making a formal announcement of the project with a ground breaking ceremony in the summer of 2014.

Manvel city council responded to developer requests and held a special meeting to deliberate the plats before the holiday break. The Planning, Development & Zoning Commission (PD&Z) forwarded the plats for consideration, all with favorable recommendations. Items approved include 5.8 acres of land to hold the recreation center. A wastewater treatment plant requiring 7.7 acres and street dedication demanding 17.3 acres. Four unique sections were approved: one of 19.1 acres will be used for the display of model homes and will hold 18 lots and four reserves; 31.8 acres will hold 99 lots and five reserves; 19.9 acres will hold 48 lots and two reserves; and 34.1 acres will contain 137 lots and five reserves. All told, this initial round of approvals will see 302 single family lots made available to home builders.

The project encompasses 1,006 acres in total. The development’s boundaries are generally from Hwy 288 on the east to County Road 48 on the west and from the American Canal on the north to County Road 58 on the south. According to Manvel City Manager Kyle Jung, there also are “several out lots that are not in the planned subdivision, but the developer is open to expanding the development to include other land in the future.” Primary access to the development will be from County Road 101 (Bailey Rd). The expansion of CR101 to the west of Hwy 288 will be known as Pomona Parkway. It will be a four lane road, two lanes in either direction, and separated by a landscaped median. The initial construction will see the new Pomona Parkway meandering generally along the bends of Mustang Bayou to Kirby. The three approved sections containing lots for sale will border the northern boundary, which is the American Canal.

Plans provide for an eventual 2,100 lots ranging in size from widths of 55 feet to 75 feet and price ranges appealing to homebuyers of varied income levels. Land is also set aside for multi-family and high-density residential as well as possible retail/mixed use developments. The master plan provides for a recreation center/pool area, trails throughout the development, a mixed use retail and commercial area; and a connection along Kirby Drive to the Southfork subdivision. The developer is wisely planning for needed schools and has talked with representatives from the Alvin Independent School District (AISD) about planned areas for an elementary school and a junior high school within the boundaries of the development. The project also sets aside land to the city for a future public safety site, such as a fire or EMS station, or possibly even a police substation.

The developer claims, if all goes to plan, that model homes should be available for viewing in early 2015 with completed homes available shortly thereafter.

 

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