February 2015

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City lacking in wastewater capacity

Council considers sales tax provision

Police Chief discusses traffic stop data and needed communication upgrades

Council weighs infrastructure needs and tax rates

Council considers a change to procurement policy

Sign delays infrastructure work

Dr Lenarduzzi recognized by Mayor

Voters will determine MEDC potential

New face at Manvel barber shop

 

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City lacking in wastewater capacity

February 4, 2015

 

As Manvel sees a steady increase in residential development its ability to service the wastewater needs become ever more strained. With commercial development on the near horizon, the demand for capacity will only grow more. Despite the current MEDC funded project to provide water and sewer infrastructure down Hwy 6 that will allow for that commercial development, insufficient capacity currently exists to provide wastewater capacity. The reality is that even if a big grocery store wanted to build in the city, as things are today they would be unable to do so due to the lack of wastewater capacity.

The issue has been percolating for some time but came to a head at a recent council workshop when developers of the Lakeland project were able to present the dilemma they face as Section 3 of their project is about to get underway. Current capacity is insufficient to service the new homes. According to the city’s consulting civil engineer, Dan Johnson, current capacity would provide for 78 connections while 130 will be required.

The development agreement in place with Lakeland allows the city to participate in an expansion of capacity if desired with cost being shared on a pro-rata basis. If the city is unable or unwilling to participate in an expansion plan, the MUD servicing the development can proceed on its own to build a plant of sufficient size to satisfy the development’s remaining needs. Revenue collected by the city from water bills would be used to pay for that new or expanded facility but would require no initial capital contribution. MUD 61 expects to require $1.283 million to provide its needs if it were to provide its own plant exclusive of city contribution. That amount of money would be contributed pro-rata to any investment the city may decide to make on increasing its wastewater capacity.

Four options were presented to council for consideration. Option 1 would provide that MUD 61, which services Lakeland, to build a dedicated plant at a regional site to provide 150,000 gallons of capacity per day. This option would allow the development to meet its immediate needs and would require no investment from the city. The city would realize temporarily the reserve capacity of 202 connection that currently is dedicated to Lakeland but would be required to return those connections upon the commencement of Section 5 of the development. The city would bear the responsibility to maintain the new plant. This option would require 6 to 8 months to complete and would allow the development to proceed uninterrupted.

Option 2 would provide additional capacity of 250,000 gallons per day by essentially doubling the capacity of the current city facility. The projection of cost is $824,405 to the city. This option would result in 318 additional connections to the city and would require the city to maintain just one plant. As with Option 1 about 6 to 8 months would be required to complete the expansion. Dan Johnson explained the cons to this option as the city realizing a net gain of just 116 connections for the capital investment, which breaks down to $7000 per connection. Johnson describes Option 2 as not providing “a lot of bang for the buck.”

Option 3 is similar to Option 1 but will provide capacity of 550,000 gallons per day at a regional site and would provide not only for the developments immediate needs but would also provide a larger capacity for the city to make available to new customers. Estimated cost to the city for this option is $2,392,553. Johnson explained that overall capacity from the city among the two plants would be 800,000 gallons per day which would be 1200 additional connections the city could provide new users. Cost per connection in this option would be $2200. Construction time would be slightly longer at just under one year but would still meet the immediate needs of Lakeland. Both treatment plants would require maintenance from the city.

Option 4 would provide 1 million gallons per day capacity at a totally new regional plant. It would allow the city to consider decommissioning its current plant, which Johnson describes as “not in optimal condition.” The cost of this option would be $8,448,240. If the city kept the current plant in operation total capacity would be 1,250,000 gallons per day which would equate to 2700 new connections for future needs. The cost would be about $3300 per connection. Construction time for this option would approximate two years. Johnson told council that development is currently insufficient to warrant that large an expansion and would result in an inefficient plant.

Johnson explained that Options 1 and 3 would be designed to accommodate future expansion while meeting current needs. He suggests maintaining about 1000 extra connections to provide for the expected commercial development along Hwy 6. Johnson also explained that Lakeland should be able to maintain their customary pace of construction of about 8 homes per month without experiencing interruption in services if council acts in a timely manner.

Council favored Option 3 as the most attractive plan. At its next meeting council will hear from financial professionals to explore financing options and city staff will draft an amendment to the MUD 61 Development Agreement that will allow for Section 3 to go into the city’s current plant.

 

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Council considers sales tax provision

February 4, 2015

 

In 2010 Manvel city council authorized a ballot proposition, which voters subsequently approved, that siphoned half the sales tax allocation that had been devoted to the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to be dedicated instead to street maintenance. At that time the poor condition of city roads was a recurring complaint heard by council members. City coffers were hard-pressed to meet basic city services and road maintenance often faced postponement.

Today city roads are in a far better state and the funds budgeted to their maintenance are greater in amount and more secure in availability than ever before. With new development contributing to city tax rolls, recent budgets are significantly less strained than previous years. Some MEDC members cite those better conditions to support their desire to reclaim the full ¼ of one cent sales tax allocation that was in place since the group’s inception.

At a recent city council meeting members considered options on how best to direct staff on calling the election that is required regardless of whether or not the funds will revert to MEDC. Without voter approval the 1/8 share would simply go away and the city would have to go through a process to reclaim the percentage and risk losing it permanently should another taxing entity somehow make a claim. City Manager Kyle Jung told council that the amount in question in the current budget approximates $275,000. As city sales tax revenues increase in coming years that amount will go up correspondingly.

The city’s Director of Public Works, Jay White, not surprisingly told council that he would prefer the money remain in the road budget. He did concede that his department is in much better shape than in previous years and benefited from the city’s authorization last May to spend $355,360 on road building equipment. Additionally, the road department has benefited from a council action in 2007 that allowed unspent funds in the budget year to be rolled into a dedicated road fund that could only be used for that purpose. Those funds had accumulated to approximately $370,000 which paid for the new road equipment.

Members of MEDC in 2010 were divided and council member Melody Hanson, who was a member of the Board then as she remains so today, said the group lost their chairman as a result of the council action. Hanson herself was opposed to the idea then and would like to see the prior funding level restored. She feels the city spending money on economic development initiatives, such as the current water and sewer project under construction on Hwy 6, would be far better for the city in the long run.

MEDC funds can be used for many things other than infrastructure improvements. As this city grows and companies want to come here they will be asking for things that MEDC’s in other cities typically provide as incentives. Members voicing support feel it is time for the city to start thinking longer term. The city does maintain glaring needs in infrastructure development but as it begins to catch up with growth MEDC could look at other ways to improve the economic base and enhance the local business environment through programs designed to attract, retain, and assist new and existing businesses.

Some members on council fear the citizens rejecting the ballot language simply because it will necessarily include the word tax even though it would not implement a new tax at all but rather change the manner in which current tax receipts are allocated. Hanson says the words used to explain the ballot measure are critical so that voters properly understand what they would be voting for or against. Manvel’s new full-time city attorney, Bobby Gervais, said the ballot language is mandated by state law. He was directed to present various options and ballot language at the next council meeting for members to consider.

 

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Police Chief discusses traffic stop data and needed communication upgrades

February 11, 2015

 

Manvel police chief Keith Traylor delivered to city council an annual report on racial profiling that is mandated by state law. At the end of every year the data must be compiled and reported to the state agency that governs police agencies. The department is considered a Tier Two category which partially exempts it from some reporting details due to its vehicles being equipped with audio/visual equipment and that maintains those recordings for at least ninety days. The report is comprised from data that is compiled from traffic stops where citations were issued or when persons have been arrested and subsequent charges have been filed.

Manvel data is presented for 2014 with 2013 data shown immediately following in parentheses. The data show a total of 1,436 citations and arrests resulting from traffic stops in 2014. The officer was unaware of the races or ethnicities prior to the stop in 1,088 (1,253) of those. The breakdown of the race/ethnicity follow: 39.27% or 564 (546) Caucasian, 35.02% or 503 (373) Hispanic, 20.05% or 288 (274) African-American, and 81 (60) of other race or ethnicity. A total of 28 (153) searches were conducted during the stops with 10 (113) of those consented to and 18 (38) not consented to.

Some 40,000 vehicles travel through Manvel every day along Hwy 6. Other area of the city are patrolled as well. The statistics indicate the department is operating within acceptable numbers and indicate no bias toward racial profiling.

In other police related news, Chief Traylor informed council of a submission of a grant application for a communication and radio equipment upgrade for the department. According to Traylor the department’s communications equipment is past due for a modernization as the current equipment is more than ten years old and during those years little to no updates or on-going maintenance has been performed. By December 2016 all police agencies are mandated to convert to a new digital communication system. The new vehicles the department has acquired in recent years are equipped with the new radios but additional personal radios are required and the biggest expense will be the main communication console and computers at the department.

In addition to the equipment upgrade the Chief explained a secondary dispatch position will be added. He said a redundant backup position is needed in case of a natural disaster or emergency to help handle the increased communication needs not only for the Manvel police but also for the fire department, Iowa Colony police, and AISD police. Manvel dispatch also handles those other department’s communications.

Currently the city’s communications infrastructure is unable to communicate with either Pearland or Alvin as they already have realized the digital upgrade. The ability to communicate inter-departmentally is important in cases of multi-jurisdictional issues such as traffic chases and outlying neighborhood patrols.

The chief told council the grant application is considered a high-priority with the Houston Galveston Area Council (HGAC), which is handling the application process, and that the final submission should be delivered within a couple of weeks.

 

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Council weighs infrastructure needs and tax rates

February 11, 2015

 

Manvel city council received a report from the city’s bond council regarding the financing options for a regional wastewater treatment plant as discussed at a previous meeting. Council agreed at that time to promote the construction of a plant in conjunction with the Lakeland developers and MUD 61 which provides services to the Lakeland development. The total cost to the city is estimated at little more than $2 million. The financing of the project is contemplated by the issuance of certificates of obligation that do not require voter approval. The additional $2 million plus of debt would increase the city’s debt portion of its budget from approximately seven cents to approximately fifteen cents. While the debt portion of the budget is far smaller than the operations and maintenance component the increased obligation would likely require an increase in next year’s property tax rate.

Council remains loathe to increase the tax rate on citizens but the bond council explained that Manvel would remain at a “very low level of debt” and expressed his belief that a growing city should “go forward and do the things that are best for the city and the future and the people yet to come.”

The option under consideration would provide capacity of 550,000 gallons per day at a regional site and would provide for the immediate needs of the Lakeland development while also providing a larger capacity for the city to make available to new customers. The overall capacity from the city would increase to 800,000 gallons per day. That translates to 1200 additional connections the city could provide new users. The cost per connection would be $2200. Construction time would be just under one year.

Ultimately council authorized staff to determine more concrete numbers on the tax rate effect before taking action on the item. The need for an expansion of the city’s wastewater capacity is clear. And the need is immediate. Residential development will continue to increase and all on council favor the potential of commercial/retail development in the city. Alternatives to taking on debt to provide the needed infrastructure are essentially non-existent. Council members will be called on to look forward in consideration of the best interest of the city’s future.

 

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Council considers a change to procurement policy

February 11, 2015

 

Council member Adrian Gaspar requested a discussion and possible action item on the procurement policy currently in place for Manvel. Gaspar told his fellow members that most of them responded to a request from the recently disbanded charter commission that they were concerned with the policy used by city staff to spend money. Current state law allows the city manager to spend up to $50,000 with no requirement of city council notification of approval. Gaspar feels the city is too small for that amount and would like to see it decreased to $25,000. Fellow member Melody Hanson agreed saying the city budget has “quite a few” line items that fall under the $25,000 amount.

Current state law provides expenditures up to $500 without competing bids being required. Anything from $500 to $3,000 requires a minimum of three bids and anything from $3,000 to $50,000 requires three bids, two of which must be from historically underutilized businesses if they are available. City attorney Bobby Gervais told council that the current legislature as considering upping the threshold amount to $75,000 as some feel the current amount isn’t enough.” He said that some MUD’s already have been approved at the $75,000 level. But Hanson responded that larger towns with greater budgets may be better suited for the higher amount but feels Manvel’s budget remains relatively small and suggested the lower amount of $25,000 be implemented for a while so that “we have a little more understanding of what some of the expenditures are.” She concedes the expenditures are budgeted and is not questioning the justification of the expenditures but she would like council to have a better understanding of what is happening with city funds and how and why they are being spent.

City staff was directed to prepare a revision to the procurement policy implementing the $25,000 threshold amount to be reviewed and possibly approved at the next scheduled council meeting on February 23.

 

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Sign delays infrastructure work

February 18, 2015

 

A plan to run water and sewer infrastructure along the south side of Hwy 6 is facing a delay as the city negotiates with Clear Channel Communications regarding a large billboard sign that sets in the direct path of the installation. Negotiations have resulted in a preliminary agreement to have the sign removed but two points remain to be settled. In order to expedite an agreement, Clear Channel is pressing the city to amend its sign ordinance so that digital signs would be allowed within the city limits. City council is opposed to that. Clear Channel also proposes that inaction on the sign ordinance within one year would mandate “just compensation” be paid to them. City Manager Kyle Jung says city staff is working on “what that number is. Once we get that we can bring it back for your (council’s) consideration.”

Mayor Delores Martin told council that “it is extremely important that we address this ASAP because it is holding up MEDC’s project on the south side.” She said promises were made to landowners along the path of the water and sewer lines that in exchange for easements on their property the installation would be completed in a timely manner. “They understand there is an issue but they want us to resolve it ASAP so we can go forward,” she said.

Infrastructure improvements on the south side of Hwy 6 will be paid by the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The estimated cost of the project is $229,000. The south project was considered and agreed to subsequent to the larger water and sewer installation currently in progress on the north side of Hwy 6 that will provide utility capacity to accommodate commercial/retail development. MEDC agreed to fund $1,600,000 toward that project with $1 million funded in cash and the remaining $600,000 to be paid in annual payments beginning in December 2015. The obligation will be repaid by December 2022.

According to the city’s consulting civil engineer, Dan Johnson, the sewer lines are installed on the north side and are undergoing testing. The water line installation, which will run parallel to the sewer line, is expected to start this week. Johnson says the project is anticipated to complete within the contract terms despite a large number of rain days the contractor has been faced with. It is expected the work will be done by early March.

It was hoped that work on the south side could commence upon completion of the north side as the contractor already has in place the equipment and materials to easily move across the road. If the installation is delayed the contractor will need to pull off that equipment and then restage once all the easement issues are resolved, adding time and expense to the project.

It appears doubtful that an agreement will be forthcoming soon enough to allow the contractor to continue the work uninterrupted. Clear Channel is holding a tough stance on the digital sign allowance while city council seems equally set to not allow such signs. Unless a reasonable dollar settlement can be negotiated, the city would likely look at condemning the sign through imminent domain. City attorney Bobby Gervais explained an imminent domain proceeding would require about 60 to 90-days.

Infrastructure improvements on the south side had originally seemed to be unattainable, at least in the near term, as a couple of landowners were steadfast in their opposition to negotiating with the city on the required easements that would enable the project to move forward. Perseverance on the part of the mayor and city staff eventually won out, however, which enabled the project to move forward with funding from the MEDC.

MEDC is charged with the promotion of economic development and attracting, retaining, and expanding businesses in Manvel. That effort can be achieved through various mechanisms, including direct investments in financing support and other economic incentives, and through contributions to transportation, utility, and other public infrastructure projects.

MEDC is currently funded through collection of 1/8 of 1% of local sales taxes. That is half the amount reserved upon its creation. In 2010 Manvel voters approved changing the allocation so that a greater percentage of the city’s sales tax revenues would be put toward road improvements. Most MEDC members were opposed to the change at that time with a general consensus that the funds would be better utilized with a longer term outlook. City council, however, felt the immediate need of road work was more in keeping with the mood of the populace at that time and authorized a re-allocation that voters ultimately approved.

As state law requires the allocation to be re-affirmed by voters on a regular basis, city council will decide at its next council meeting whether to seek a reinstatement of the full 1/4 of 1% to MEDC or to maintain the current allocation of 1/8 to MEDC and 1/8 to the road fund. The sales tax allocation toward roads is in addition to the regular budgeted amounts that is receives. MEDC members suggest the city is in far better financial condition today than it was in 2010 when city revenues struggled to meet basic needs. Just last year the road department was able to acquire its own road building equipment at a cost of over $300,000. New developments are adding to the city’s property tax rolls each year and the city is in a far better financial position to maintain its roads to acceptable levels.

MEDC members are urging council to reinstate the full sales tax allocation and stress that funds can be used to promote long term economic development that citizens will get direct benefit from. The current water and sewer projects, when complete, will allow for commercial development that would not be possible without MEDC participation. Significant infrastructure needs remain for Manvel to be in position to attract the kinds of development it desires, such as a large grocery store. With full funding of the sales tax allocation restored, MEDC will be able to better contribute to those needs thereby easing the tax burden on city residents. Projects funded through MEDC allow the city to forego taking on debt that would in the end be repaid primarily through property tax collections.

Property taxes are a direct cost to property owners, while sales taxes are indirect as they are collected only on what is purchased within the city. Not only do city residents fund the sales tax but anyone from outside the community that spends money will contribute as well. Should council agree with MEDC and authorize an election that voters ultimately approve, the reinstatement of the full sales tax allocation would not result in a tax increase to citizens and the city would see no additional revenue. The vote would only change how the revenue is allocated once it is received.

 

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Dr Lenarduzzi recognized by Mayor

February 18, 2015

 

Manvel Mayor Delores Martin recognized long-time Manvel veterinarian Dr.
Roland Lenarduzzi at last week's city council meeting. Dr. Lenarduzzi established the Manvel Animal Clinic in 1973 and has practiced there to this day. He is an active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA), local VMAs and the Texas Academy of Veterinary Practice. According to the clinic's website, Dr. Lenarduzzi treats both large and small animals. His interests include:
dermatology, internal medicine, surgery - both soft tissue and orthopedic, ophthalmology and dentistry. The clinic is located at 6315 FM 1128 in Manvel.

 

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Voters will determine MEDC potential

February 25, 2015

 

Members of Manvel city council authorized a special election to be held on May 9 for the purpose of submitting to qualified city voters a proposition related to the local sales and use tax. The proposition relates to the repeal of the ¼ cent sales tax that provides revenue for maintenance and repair of municipal streets that was approved by voters in 2011. The repeal would then allow the portion to be returned to the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to promote positive development opportunities for the city.

In 2011 when the measure was approved by voters, the city was challenged with stressed budgets and citizen demands that repairs be made to the many road problems in the city. In response council approved a ballot proposition that would siphon ½ of the sales tax dedicated to the MEDC and pledged it instead to the road fund. MEDC board members were generally unsupportive at that time making the argument that the funds could be better invested in longer term benefits to the city. Now that state law requires the allocation be put before voters again, the current MEDC board is unanimous in their urging city council to restore the full funding of ½ cent. The decision comes at a critical time for the city as three significant home communities will be delivering many rooftops within the city’s limits and extra-territorial jurisdiction in the coming years. With those rooftops comes the need for increased infrastructure improvements and retail/commercial developments to service those many homes.

In making their case before council, the benefits of the MEDC were explained as maintaining and improving the quality of life for Manvel residents. MEDC last year committed $1.6 million toward the water/sewer infrastructure improvements currently in progress along Hwy 6. That infrastructure is vital to the city’s ability to land a large grocery store or other big box retail establishment. For years prospective commercial developments were turned away due the city’s inability to fund the construction of the needed utility services.

MEDC also funded the installation of water/sewer infrastructure that allowed the ProBuild facility to locate in the city. For many years, when city budgets were strained, sales tax revenue generated by that business were essential to the city’s budgetary needs.

Projects funded through MEDC produce real benefits to tax payers that go well beyond the physical improvements, such as a grocery store, that citizens would enjoy for many years. The tax burden on residents is diminished as the city does not have to fund the project through bonds or debt obligations that usually result in an increase in the local property tax rate. And because MEDC is funded by sales taxes, a significant portion of their projects would be funded by non-citizens. A portion of every sales tax dollar earned in the city will go toward economic development endeavors and as sales tax revenues increase still more improvements to the local economy can be realized. Another benefit to a healthy and adequately funded MEDC is that it can typically act on projects more quickly and with less bureaucracy and administrative requirements than is typical for the city administration.

MEDC members see infrastructure development continuing to be its primary focus in the near term. Currently city council is grappling with paying for a new wastewater treatment plant to service the Lakeland development and possible retail/commercial development along Hwy 6. The city’s current treatment plant is nearing its capacity so while the new water/sewer lines will soon be complete, the reality is that insufficient capacity exists for a prospective business to take advantage of it. Council members generally are loathe to raise taxes for any reason and while MEDC members encourage a proactive approach to impending development, this need well displays the type of improvement a well-funded MEDC would likely participate in.

Staying ahead of development is essential if Manvel wants to avoid some of the challenges its neighboring city to the north is struggling with. A city works from a significant disadvantage when it is constantly having to react to development. Proactive planning allows for greater consideration of decisions that will affect city residents for decades.

As Manvel’s growth continues MEDC should be in position to play a key role in the city’s development. City staff will become increasingly stressed to meet the marketing and administrative needs of prospective development and at some point a full-time position to direct economic development should be considered by council. The position could be funded by MEDC. Alvin, Angleton, Lake Jackson, and Pearland all have paid positions that recruit new businesses and serve as an initial contact to provide information and follow-up. Coordinating local efforts with other incentives through city, county, and/or state programs could lead to a positive business establishment, and easing the administrative demands of a new business coming to or expanding in Manvel can be an important function.

MEDC can be a valuable asset to help meet Manvel’s needs as growth continues and expands. But money is required and a re-instatement of the full ½ cent sales tax to MEDC would be significant to the city’s future development. The road department will make up its lost revenue through increased city property tax collections in future years. The road department has done an excellent job on roads in recent years and they are no longer in the neglected condition of four years ago. While some prefer Manvel remain a small country town, evidence and current happenings make clear that development is coming. Council exercised a vision in leading Manvel to a proactive, thoughtful, and planned expansion. Now voters will have their say on May 9 on whether a measured and considered approach is what they want. The alternative is to kick the can down the road and leave it to future councils to scramble to meet the needs of a city’s growth run amok. One need only look north a few miles to see how that bears out.

 

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New face at Manvel barber shop

February 25, 2014

 

After taking ownership of the Manvel Barber Shop late last year, John Cox was putting in more time than he cared to in taking care of his customers. After his long-time partner, Steve Moore, passed away in August, Cox assumed sole ownership of the business. After giving the shop a new look he started the search for another barber to help meet the demand for haircuts. As Cox describes it, he was putting in grueling hours covering the load two used to meet together. He would start to drag in the afternoon, he said, and elaborated that he is no longer 30 years-old. On an average day when two of them worked they would cut about fifteen or twenty customers a day. His average was upward of 35 or 40 before he finally hired Flo France last November.

Flo is no stranger to the area. She began her barber career in South Houston 36 years ago but worked in Alvin for more than 15 years before moving to Surfside and Oyster Creek where she worked for another ten years before retiring. Saying she just needed a break from barbering after so many years she took on the role of caregiver for several acquaintances. After several years she renewed her interest in barbering and answered the ad placed by John in local papers.

Flo brings an easy going attitude and a pleasing disposition to the shop. Her business cards read “go with the Flo.” She is single and says good naturedly that “I get all the conversation with men I need at the shop.” She described hers and John’s style as “close to the same” and the Manvel barber shop as the type of place she is used to – “the old fashioned feel. We don’t foo foo, we are just plain old every day barbers. There are so few of us ‘old barbers’ left,” she says of her and John.

Shop customers have welcomed her. John estimates 80% of his customers are fine with either one cutting their hair. For his part, John, who has barbered for 48 years, says things have worked out great so far. Both are working at a level they are comfortable with and the business continues to see new customers and even some former customers who have returned to the shop. Not caring to work the hours she used to, Flo works four days and generally comes in a bit after opening time. John is ok with that, though he does sometimes tease her about it. Laughing at his comment, Flo says John tells her she acts like Steve and even looks like him.

Though the shop atmosphere has changed aesthetically and in personalities, Flo has fit in well and regulars appear happy. Long-time customers can feel confident their old-time barber shop is in good hands.

 

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