March 2016

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City accused of double standard

City policies stifling business development (Commentary)

DelBello tries to regain council position

Sifuentes contesting DelBello for Council Place 4

City policies stifling business development - Part 2 (Commentary)

Lew Shuffler seeking third term

Council receives petition from local business

City's economic development debated

Manvel to see fiber optic installation

City receives good financial report

 

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City accused of double standard

March 2, 2016

 

Mayor Delores Martin conceded the well-known saying "what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” when agreeing with a comment from member John Cox that the city is implementing an unfair double-standard in its abandonment of a city right-of-way (ROW).   The ROW in question runs between the city hall property and the neighboring Stripes facility at the northeast corner of SH 6 and FM 1128.  The facility is currently under construction and will replace the former Chevron that served that location for years.  As explained by the city manager, Kyle Jung, the approvals, among other things, will allow the abandonment of a ROW thereby providing shared detention capacity.  Should the city expand its property in the future it will require detention installation.  Sharing that need with the neighboring Stripes will demand less land for each property.  The city also sees benefit in that Stripes will bear the burden of its maintenance. 

 

Cox made the case that the city must be careful in the precedent being set as he recalled several instances in recent years when city council rejected similar requests by area businesses.  “Now that the city can benefit it is all for abandoning.  I don’t think it is right.”  Member Melody Hanson said she agreed with Cox but described her view that this situation is different in that “it is close to a major intersection that would never be a road.  That is the only reason I am considering it.”  Cox countered that the same argument was made about the other requests but was disallowed nonetheless.  He cited Manvel Mattress as one of the affected businesses and claimed the 20-year institution was forced to relocate a good part of their business elsewhere as a result of the city’s rejection.  Other businesses were likewise forced to forego their desire for expansion, he said.  Mayor Martin concurred in the sentiment saying it “is not good to say you can’t do it but I can do it.  If we don’t have some kind of conformity how can you expect your citizens to want to work with you?  We need to pride ourselves in being fair and not saying it is good for us but it is not good for you.  That certainly is not working with the citizens.”  Member Adrian Gaspar also expressed agreement with Cox and admitted “a lot of friction between the city and the business people and we need to quit that.  We need to help business out and bring business to Manvel.”

 

Member Lew Shuffler attempted to qualify Cox’s contention that the previous requests were rejected outright and said “there was an opportunity there.”  He recalled the city offering to undergo an appraisal process that could have moved the action forward but the requestors chose to not pay the price demanded.  Cox countered that the process commanded by the city offered “very little opportunity.”  Gaspar chimed in that city ROW’s that will never develop should be given to them (property owners) “because you will get the tax revenue off of it; that is better than zero.”  Shuffler confessed that “I think we all agree that we’ve got to start focusing as a council to look at some of these situations that have these businesses that want to expand, there’s a lot we heard tonight and we’ve got to see how we can work together with these businesses.  It’s going to be challenging, you’ve got the expense of what has to be done, we have a tax base that hasn’t raised taxes for so many years but a lot of these things have to be paid for so we are going to have to sit down and make some hard decisions and we should do it sooner than later.”

 

The end of the debate saw Cox the only member voting against the actions.  Member Lorraine Hehn was not present and did not vote.

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City policies stifling business development (Commentary)

March 2, 2016

 

The city’s current course of action which demands private enterprise fund public infrastructure places an inequitable and far too great a financial burden on prospective commerce and serves ultimately to discourage business development in Manvel.

 

Consider two projects currently under consideration by the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).  The Specific Use Permit (SUP) for the Shu-Chem improvements and expansion mandates a water line be installed at a cost of $650,000.  The company does not need nor even want the water.  No other potential user along SH 6 is clamoring for its installation either.  Shu-Chem is now part of a multi-national corporation and can afford the cost with or without MEDC assistance.  But is it fair or equitable to require they pay for infrastructure that many others will ultimately benefit from?  And consider what benefits the MEDC could return if it dedicated that $650,000 on real and immediate needs rather than a water line that would very likely remain unused for years.

 

The Manvel Seafood Restaurant presents another example.  It wants to relocate across the street from City Hall.  To do so the city requires they pay for public water and sewer and a public road.  Projected costs for the new restaurant is just under $1 million.  City demands burden half again that amount to the cost of the project.  A half a million dollars, 50% of the cost added on!  How many businesses are able to afford that level of financial encumbrance?  While the restaurant will benefit from the water/sewer capacity, is it in any way fair that they bear the cost alone when subsequent users will ultimately benefit from the installation as well?  And the required road literally does lead to nowhere.  It merely extends Rogers from ending at Palmetto to instead end one block west at Pine and to empty lots.  The restaurant will receive zero benefit from that road.  And a good case can be made that no one else will see benefit from that road for a long time.  The result of all this is that the restaurant will very likely forego the expansion in Manvel and look elsewhere.  That would be an unfortunate lost opportunity for the city and leads one to wonder how many other lost opportunities remain unknown?

 

Infrastructure installation is critical if Manvel is to realize business development.  Sound city management should strive to have that growth pay its own way.  But current city policy is the wrong approach.  If greater success is being realized in running potential business away than it is of getting them in, perhaps a lesson is there to learn.  If this council is serious about desiring increased commerce it must become more flexible and ease its rigid negotiating posture of it being the city’s way or the highway.  The city is being repressed by too many burdensome requirements, too many expensive demands, and a slow, unresponsive, and uncooperative stance toward business development.  It cannot be that way if this city council really does want business to locate in this community.

 

These issues are ultimately controlled by city council.  It approved the SUP that mandates a water line that nobody needs.  It approved the ordinance that requires a restaurant pay for a road that leads to nowhere.  City council can fix this.  Hopefully they have the will to do so.  And the sooner the better.

 

Raymond Ruiz

Manvel EDC

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DelBello tries to regain council position

March 2, 2016

 

Maureen DelBello has filed for the Place 4 council position that will be vacated by current member Melody Hanson.  Hanson was the senior member on city council and served as the Mayor Pro-tem for the last several years.  Her decision to not seek re-election came as a surprise to most, and a disappointment to some.  Mayor Delores Martin is the only current member of council with a longer tenure of service.  In comments regarding Hanson’s decision, she said, “My heart is heavy that Melody Hanson has chosen not to rerun for the Manvel City Council.  She always added a breath of sunshine to the meetings and was always prepared with her research to discuss the issues.  She will be sorely missed.”

 

DelBello was previously on council until last May when she was defeated in an election by current member Lorraine Hehn.  After the defeat she maintained involvement with city politics when she was appointed to serve on the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).  In announcing her candidacy for council, she said, “I've decided to run for city council because I feel my years of experience on council and my knowledge of the operations of the city will benefit the citizens of Manvel.”  She continued, “Manvel is in the middle of a growth stage.  We must maintain good stable growth for our city and work together to do what is best for the citizens.”  She feels her prior experience on council and the MEDC gives her valuable knowledge about the city in things like the comprehensive plan, drainage study, the city charter, and ordinances.  “I feel I am strong in this area with my previous history.”    In addition to her service on council and MEDC, DelBello has also served on the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments, the TIRZ 3 board, and as a member on the Alvin ISD citizen’s advisory committee.

 

 

DelBello went on to say that “Manvel offers excellent schools, churches, country living, as well as our ever growing subdivision areas.  All these area's need representation that I can offer.  I would like to hear from the citizens.  I feel they need to speak up and voice their opinion on how they want our city to grow and look.”  She considers parks and green spaces as very important to people with children and says “we are now on the verge of planning city parks that we all can utilize and be proud of.  The newly formed parks board will help guide council on the direction the city needs to be going.”  She appreciates the hard work that many volunteers give to the city through the Planning, Development and Zoning commission (PD&Z), the MEDC, and other boards, describing them as “truly caring about the citizens and the city of Manvel.”  She encourages other citizens to become involved in saying, “They meet monthly if you would like to attend their meetings.”

 

 

DelBello closed her remarks: “Together I feel we can all work towards making Manvel a well-diversified city that everyone is happy to live in.  I believe in integrity, honesty and experience.  I will be the leader who will listen to your concerns.  I take pride in our city and I hope to be able to serve the citizens of Manvel as a council member, for it is OUR Community and OUR Future.”

 

DelBello will be contested by a new face to the city’s political scene in Melissa Sifuentes.  Election Day is Saturday, May 7.  Early voting begins April 25 and runs through May 3.  District voters can now vote in any county precinct location, both during the early voting period and on Election Day.

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Sifuentes contesting DelBello for Council Place 4

March 9, 2016

 

Melissa Sifuentes has resided in Manvel for nine years.  She will be contesting Maureen DelBello for the Place 4 council seat that will be vacated by Melody Hanson.  Admittedly having no prior experience in government she feels her active participation with community groups and ministries “have given me a drive for city and community relations with insight on citizen’s perspectives towards evolvement.”  She has volunteered with the Habitat for Humanity, Shelters, Donations, and Shipments to U.S. military overseas.  She provides assistance and donations to underprivileged families and is a current sponsor for World Vision Ministries.  She has assisted with implementing the Parent - Teacher Organization for Rodeo Palms Junior High and currently serves as the groups Vice-President.  She is a 12 year member of Lakewood Church and describes herself as “a Proud Christian Woman with good faith values.” 

 

Sifuentes explains her decision to run: “I have had the opportunity to watch Manvel develop and am excited about the future as this is the place my family and I call home.  If elected, I will be dedicated to serving our community and will work hard for what our city deserves.  I am looking forward to being a voice for the citizens of Manvel and a new face on the council.  I believe that a balanced citizen representation on the Council is necessary to meet the needs of our future here in Manvel.”  She explains the city's greatest strength as coming from the citizens of Manvel.  “Manvel is a diverse and vibrant community where families have resided for years and more recently, the city has acquired an increase in population, for more reasons than one.  With the economic growth, advanced neighborhood developments, and park projects up and coming, the Manvel community is still able to maintain the rural hometown, friendly feel that it is well-known for.”  She hopes to be a voice for Manvel citizens and feels “confident to represent the community as a whole, while it flourishes to new heights.”  If elected, she would like her “primary accomplishments to reinforce that the City of Manvel is about the people who currently reside here, the people that will soon make Manvel their city to live in, the businesses that are established, and the businesses that are developing.  I would strive to listen and respond with compassion to the needs and concerns from our community, to reach their goals.  I will allow myself to always be accessible to the citizen's suggestions, ideas, and interests on how to make this city preeminent, while working with the Council to maintain an award-winning, balanced city budget, and supporting fair decisions for economic funding.”

 

She embraces Manvel’s rapid growth and “supports city development that will benefit the city of Manvel as a whole.”  She would like to encourage development within the city to “expand as necessary with fair and equitable city mandates.”  She realizes the “need for proper drainage, water infrastructures, and maintenance of water quality, in order to support the city as new developments continue to establish.  She favors “large lot sizes and single family residences and the need for bikes and trails within those communities to promote healthy lifestyles.”  She also supports “the need for city roads and bridge requirements to encourage transportation benefits, master-planned parks and recreation with the need to preserve natural green space and add modern park equipment to create a more inviting environment for families, and a proper trail building design and plan for equestrian use that will offer the city increased character as Manvel evolves.”

 

Sifuentes is a native Houstonian, is married with two children and holds a degree and state license in Allied Health.  She has served the health profession field for 12 years.  In closing she says, “If elected, my responsibility to the citizens of Manvel require my diligence and dedication to listen and address your wants and needs in the community.  My plan is to be your voice and deliver results.  Although I support growth, I realize it should be a vibrant and paced growth that takes in consideration the unique makeup and character of this city.  So, I will preserve the integrity and character that has made Manvel what it is today for all citizens, young and old.  Trust that I have yours and my best interest in mind as citizens of Manvel, and will do everything I need to in order to  promote YOUR voice for our city that is vastly growing.  I believe my energy and interpersonal skills will allow me to effectively work with our Mayor and Staff, City Council members, as well as businesses and developers to further move Manvel in the right direction with your help.  I hope to gain your assurance and confidence, and determine that the People of Manvel are first.  We Are In This Together!”

 

Election Day is Saturday, May 7.  Early voting begins April 25 and runs through May 3.  District voters can now vote in any county precinct location, both during the early voting period and on Election Day.

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City policies stifling business development - Part 2 (Commentary)

March 9, 2016

 

Manvel’s city logo boasts it is a city on the rise.  With much discussion of late on business development in Manvel, the unpleasant fact is that driving the city’s primary thoroughfares yields so few additions to the city’s commercial tax base over the past decade that they can be easily counted on one hand.

 

It is increasingly evident for those who care to see that city policies and attitudes stifle business activity.  Citizens suffer in having to drive farther distances to acquire their needs.  City finances are unduly stressed with the lack of a commercial tax base requiring a greater property tax burden be put on homeowners.  Significant amounts of sales tax revenue that could be staying in Manvel is instead going to Pearland and Alvin.  While Manvel expends zero effort in promoting commerce to its community, neighboring cities aggressively and successfully pursue business development, much of which could just as easily locate in Manvel.  Prospects calling on their own generally encounter an unreceptive business environment that threatens difficulty and expense.

 

The recent intent expressed by the Manvel Town Center to establish a major grocery store at their site on SH 288 at SH 6 well exposes the challenge commercial/retail development faces in Manvel.  Last October a plan was submitted before city council by a ready, willing, and eager developer that essentially called for construction to begin as soon as this summer that would have allowed the store to open in 2017.  The city was asked to facilitate temporary utility capacity.  The Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) authorized funding of $465,000 to improve the city’s ability to provide water and MUD 61 (Lakeland) expressed willingness to provide wastewater capacity.  It appeared all was in place for the project to move forward.  Finally, after years of clamoring, the city would realize a “real” grocery store.

 

But alas, no.  Seemingly this project like so many before appears quashed, or at least suspended.  For how long, who knows?  Yet another lost opportunity for Manvel.  With an apparent economic decline in the offing it may be years before the project advances.  Citizens are again left to do without.  Sizeable tax revenue will remain uncollected.  Subsequent development of ancillary businesses will be unrealized.  It is difficult to see anything but loss for Manvel residents and taxpayers who once again, indefensibly, are left with nothing.

 

“A city on the rise” portends progress and growth.  But the unfortunate truth is that they are only meaningless words in a catchy slogan as history concedes mostly stagnation, hindrance, and failure.  It is well past time for this council, and by extension the city staff, to get out of the way of business development in Manvel.

 

Raymond Ruiz

Manvel EDC

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Lew Shuffler seeking third term

March 16, 2016

 

Manvel council member Lew Shuffler is seeking his third term for council place 6.  Including his time in service to the Planning, Development, & Zoning Commission (PD&Z), Shuffler has contributed seven years of voluntary time to Manvel city government.  Shuffler is being contested by current PD&Z member Jerome Hudson.  Should he win the election, Shuffler will be the senior member on council after Mayor Delores Martin.  Shuffler says he has “truly enjoyed my time on council and hope to continue to use my knowledge and experience to contribute over the next three years.”  He considers Manvel as “the last undeveloped area in the Houston market, on the cusp of rapid growth.  If you have land owners willing to sell and developers willing to buy, growth will happen.  The thought of possible triple digit growth over the next 15-20 years is both scary and exciting.”

 

Shuffler credits the efforts made by many volunteer citizens in preparation for the coming growth.  He says, “The MEDC, PD&Z and the newly formed Parks and Recreation Board work diligently to bring forward their carefully considered recommendations to council for review.”  He believes the years spent developing the City Charter and Master Plan have laid a solid foundation from which city council can decide when and how to implement the recommendations that will best benefit our city.

 

Saying the city has thousands of new homes in various phases of development, as well as evident business development and expansion, it is clear where the city is heading.  “We have a major retail development planned at the northwest corner of 288 and state highway 6.  Current businesses are expanding: both the international chemical company Haltermann-Carless and our own local Manvel Seafood Company.  Sedona Lakes and Rodeo Palms are continuing to grow.  Since the last election, building in Lakeland began....and we have seen tremendous growth in that subdivision. Pomona and Meridiana have now begun development.  In the last ten years we have our first high school, a new junior high school in Rodeo Palms.  Now we have a second junior high that opened this school year and a second high school opening next school year.”

 

He explained that many important decisions remain and in particular as they pertain to the development of our sub-divisions.  He concedes “working with developers has been difficult at times,” and makes clear his aim to look out for the best interests of Manvel over the interests of developers.   He believes “maintaining standards outlined in our city codes is extremely important.”  He elaborated: “Although we have development agreements in place, council is often asked to grant variances or changes in the original agreement.  Some recent issues had to do with new home lot sizes.  The council and PD&Z put a great deal of thought into this detail and after much debate set the minimum standard at a 60 foot width (As comparison, this is much smaller than the lots in Lakeland).  Within months, developers came requesting approval for 50 and 55 ft lots.  If we cave to that, then someone else will be asking for 45 and 40.  Of course, smaller lots allows the developers to pack more houses into less area and means more money for them.  It also means more people and more traffic for the city.  I feel this is a reasonable standard and we should stick to our decision.  Another issue has been the development of apartments. Council has allowed some apartments to be built in older developer agreements and as part of the Pomona agreement.  I feel we have allowed enough apartments and don’t see any benefit to the city to allow more.  So the council has said no to some developers on issues such as these.  Developers don’t like being told no.”

 

Shuffler also touched on the challenge of Manvel’s limited infrastructure.  “The recent addition of water and sewer lines along highway 6 is our first big foray into this area. Thanks to the foresight and planning by MEDC the funds were in place for this project and a raise in taxes was not necessary.  But continued placement of water and sewer will be necessary for the growth of businesses and addition of homes and people.  The Comprehensive Plan calls for additional (roads) which are designed to mitigate traffic congestion as businesses and subdivisions develop.  This is an effort to avoid having only highway 6 and 1128 as throughways through the city, and a lesson in traffic jams learned from our neighbor to the North.”  He acknowledged it is expensive and that someone has to pay for it.  He explained that the city “has sought to have the business owner or developer take on this expense as part of their development.”  Shuffler went on to say that a recent news article on the relocation and expansion of the Manvel Seafood Restaurant outlined an instance in which the cost would be prohibitive to a small business.  “In other instances, developers have agreed to such projects, have built successful subdivisions, but are now coming back stating they don’t want to do what they agreed to do originally.”

 

Shuffler says council must find a way to “handle these different situations, and fund important projects in a way that isn't so onerous to the business owners and developers or so onerous for the tax payers of Manvel that it prohibits development.”  He says he does not have a good answer but knows it will be a big issue for Council in the next term.  “We have to come up with a solution that works for all parties.  We also must find solutions that allow some flexibility in decision making when reasonable variance requests are made but stand firm when the interests of the city are negatively impacted.”

 

Shuffler closes in saying, “I feel like we are right in the middle of this and I am not ready to walk away with unfinished business which is the reason I have decided to run for another term of office.  I find this work interesting and enjoy the challenge before me.  I'm looking forward to putting in the time and effort to do what's right for the city and citizens of Manvel.  It’s been 10 years since my wife, Mary Anne, and I were married here on the front porch of our house (which was still under construction) and we are very proud to call Manvel home.  If given the opportunity, I will do my best to continue to serve the town I call home.”

 

Election Day is Saturday, May 7.  Early voting begins April 25 and runs through May 3.  District voters can now vote in any county precinct location, both during the early voting period and on Election Day.

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Council receives petition from local business

March 16, 2016

 

A group of concerned business owners, property owners, and individuals who live and/or work in Manvel participated in a petition effort that was submitted to Manvel city council at this week’s meeting.  The petition stated the belief that current city policies and attitudes are hindering business activity in the city.  The signers cite “the reality of minimal commercial development over the past many years as testament to the contention that the city is currently, and has in the past, grossly mismanaged its economic development opportunities.  While year after year Manvel remains mired in inactivity, neighboring communities continue to see exciting development projects that improve their quality of life, provide local employment opportunities, diversify their tax base, and provide relief to their current taxpayers.”

 

Urging council to take more seriously the economic development of the city, the petition encouraged council to fund a business liaison position that would serve as the initial contact for business expansion opportunities.  The intent of the position would be to smooth the process of the myriad rules and regulations a new or expanded business currently must negotiate to meet the requirements of the city.  The petition signers contend someone who is dedicated to working with them and to welcome, encourage, and assist their efforts would increase the likelihood of greater success in business recruitment for the city.

 

Frank Hagdorn, owner of Manvel Mattress and Furniture, spoke on behalf of the signers and delivered to the city a stack of a claimed 200 or so signed petitions.  Hagdorn elaborated on the primary goals of the petition essentially making the point that the current approach to business development has been ineffective.  He claims that the intersection of FM 521 and SH 6 in Arcola “has opened more businesses in that little corner than we have in the last three years.”  He encouraged the council to review some of the cities policies saying, “you might see that they seem unreasonable and maybe that is why we are losing the economic development race to our neighboring cities.” 

 

Hagdorn spoke during citizen comments where no debate is allowed.  Later in the regular agenda the matter was opened for discussion.  Council’s comments followed another item that directed staff to rework the city’s development ordinances to ease the infrastructure requirements on small businesses that locate in the city.  That action was in response to the plight of the Manvel Seafood Restaurant which was faced with $500,000 worth of public infrastructure over and above its costs of nearly $1 million to relocate its business from its current location.  Council’s recognition and direction to take action on that matter was encouraging, though little debate on the business liaison position was had.  Essentially Mayor Martin set the tone of the discussion in stating there was little use for the position, “until we make the changes to the rules it’s not going to change anything.”  Martin went on to say that “in time that will be a very important person.  But right now we have to step forward and make the changes that need to be made before we do anything else.”  The resultant implication from the discussion was that the position would likely not be considered until next year’s budget negotiations, commencing in August for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

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City's economic development debated

March 23, 2016

 

Economic Development in the city of Manvel has been in the news of late.  At a recent council meeting local businessman Frank Hagdorn spoke of the need for the city to take more seriously its efforts at encouraging, motivating, and assisting business creation in the city.  In his plea he wondered aloud if city leaders understand what economic development is.  The International Economic Development Council defines it as the promotion of economic well-being and quality of life for the community; the creation, retention and expansion of jobs that facilitate growth; the enhancement of wealth; and the provision of a stable tax base.  Manvel’s Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) generally operates with three primary aims: delivering economic diversity, increasing the city’s productive tax base, and providing employment opportunities for its citizens.

 

Subdivisions under construction in the city’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) would only narrowly be considered economic development.  Some temporary construction jobs are created, some quality of life improvements may be realized through parkland and such, and an increased density of residents within the region should in time spur business growth.  Otherwise the new home in Pomona or Sedona Lakes will not create a job, will not produce property tax revenue as it is not within the city limits, and it will not generate sales tax activity.  In effect, economic development can be described as the facilitation of an exchange of goods and services, generally for cash.  That economic activity drives the demand for employment opportunities both locally and regionally.  That employment in turn drives demand for housing and local services, be it the restaurant down the street, the dry cleaners or barber shop in the strip mall, or the gas station on the corner.  Correspondingly, the commercial activity increases property tax valuations and generates sales tax revenue that ultimately provides tax relief to individual homeowners while enabling city services and a better quality of life.

 

The concept of government participation in economic development was first approved in the State of Texas in 1979, when the Legislature allowed a municipality to create a non-profit development corporation to promote the creation of new and expanded industry and manufacturing activity.  Those initial corporations were totally dependent on non-government funding, however.  It was in 1987 that voters approved a constitutional amendment that allowed governments to participate financially in promoting economic development.  In 1989 voters could authorize their local corporation to impose a sales tax dedicated to economic development.  Known as a Type A corporation, their primary efforts were to promote new and expanded industrial and manufacturing activities.  In 1991 a new Type B corporation was authorized that allowed a much expanded scope of economic development that promotes a wide range of civic and commercial projects.

 

Type B corporations, of which Manvel’s EDC is, can pursue the more traditional “Type A” economic development goals of facilitating manufacturing and industrial activities but can also fund other types of public projects, including transportation initiatives; water, sewer, and road infrastructure that promotes or develops new or expanded business enterprises; disposal and recycling facilities; job training efforts; parks and sports facilities; events, entertainment, and tourist facilities; and affordable housing.  Manvel’s EDC has focused almost exclusively on infrastructure projects, which is not uncommon for a young city.  Insufficient infrastructure is the leading roadblock to economic development as an inability to provide the basic services of water, sewer, drainage, and transportation directly compromises a city’s ability to promote business creation.

 

An on-going debate in Manvel is who should pay for that infrastructure.  Current city policies require incoming or expanding businesses, and individual property owners, to fund their own infrastructure improvements.  The current dispute with the expansion of the Manvel Seafood Restaurant well demonstrates the divergence of thought on who should pay and how much.  City ordinances require the restaurant fund the water/sewer line needed to service its business as well as construct one half of a road at the back of the property.  The burden of those public improvements adds significantly to the project’s cost.  The water/sewer line will in time benefit other users who presumably will pay nothing for their share.  The road would be only half constructed and will dead-end to empty lots.  The intent is that the developer on the other side would be required to complete the balance of the road if and when development ultimately occurs.  City council at its last meeting directed the city manager to craft potential revisions to those ordinances for council’s consideration.

 

Cities have various tools it can utilize to fund necessary infrastructure.  To the extent it is reasonable, a city should strive to have development pay its own way.  At some point in its growth, however, it should be expected that a city will need to bear some of the financial obligation, regrettably requiring taxpayer funding.  A city’s EDC is a resource that can contribute and in Manvel it has done so with several projects in recent years.  A consistent and aggressive pursuit of federal, state, and regional grants can return beneficial results for infrastructure funding.  Impact, or user, fees offer a more equitable collection method for a portion of the cost that new development places on the infrastructure and resources of the city.  Manvel does currently charge an impact fee at the time of platting; perhaps city council should revisit the existing fee structure and intent with an eye toward possibly expanding its reach.  Tax abatements or rebates can be another effective way to fund public infrastructure.  As a development creates additional taxable value, some portion of the increased revenue earned by the city would be returned to the developer in reimbursement of the costs.  This method could be used for either property or sales taxes, or a combination of the two.

 

More formal arrangements of similar tools include 380 Agreements and a TIF (Tax Increment Financing), sometimes referred to as a TIRZ (Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone).  These financing vehicles designate an investment zone inside of which prescribed infrastructure improvements are initially funded by a developer with an expectation that some or all of those costs would be reimbursed from the increase in tax revenue resulting from the improvement(s).  This type of public/private partnership is mutually beneficial to the developer and the city.  The developer earns eventual relief on its investment.  The city benefits in that the developer bears the risk and the city pays nothing until and unless the prescribed improvements meet certain performance thresholds.  The city would thereby acquire the valuable infrastructure at essentially no cost as without the improvement(s) in place the value to the city would not have been there in any event.  Additionally, the city would not be required to burden taxpayers outside the development zone as only the improvements in the zone would go toward reimbursement.

 

Collaboration and flexibility in its attitude towards infrastructure installation will create a better likelihood that a city will realize its planning mandates.  That approach can be most significant in Manvel with its demands for large lots, wide thoroughfares, considerable parks and green space, and appropriate drainage capacity.

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Manvel to see fiber optic installation

March 30, 2016

 

Comcast Business announced last week that it has extended its advanced fiber optic network into the city of Manvel.  According to a Comcast press release, the comprehensive portfolio of advanced communications services will help local business improve productivity and scale their operations.  The investment of close to $400,000 will allow more local businesses to have access to bandwidth capacity of up to 10 Gigabits-per-second (Gbps).  The services are specifically designed to help companies of all sizes take advantage of the latest available technology and affordable, competitive choice.

 

The service expansion covers an area that reaches from West of Highway 288 to County Road 99 and includes a variety of businesses including restaurants, retail storefronts, day care centers, a pharmacy, and a library.  In addition to the expansion to the business district of Manvel, the subdivisions of Pomona, Sterling Lakes and Meridiana will gain access to a suite of fiber-based products and services.  Comcast explains the service will include Xfinity TV and the Xfinity X1 Operating System.  In addition, residents in those communities will have access to Xfinity High Speed Internet service and Xfinity Voice, Comcast’s digital residential telephone service.  Residents will also have access to Xfinity Home, Comcast’s home security and home automation platform.

 

John Phillips, vice president of Comcast Business in the Houston region explained the investment in Manvel: “The growth in Manvel over the past 10 years made it stand out as a highly desirable location for investment by Comcast Business. As we look to further develop high-capacity network infrastructure in the Houston area, it’s important that we identify cities like Manvel which show not only a history of growth but potential for additional business expansion.  Extending network services to the city of Manvel is another example of Comcast’s commitment to bringing businesses more options for high-capacity network service, increasing the foundation for economic development in the area.”

 

Johanna McWilliams, president and CEO of the Alvin-Manvel Area Chamber of Commerce commented favorably on the investment as well:  “As our city continues to grow, so too will the demand for access to high-performance networks – it’s a must-have for businesses across all industries. By offering this technology, we will attract more organizations and help the local economy continue to grow.”

 

According to the press release, Comcast Business serves schools, businesses, hospitals, and other organizations that require large amounts of bandwidth and which might be looking to link multiple locations or branch locations, or that plan to connect their offices to a third-party data center.  Nationally, Comcast Business’s Ethernet services are delivered over an advanced network that spans 140,000 miles.  Bandwidth is available up to 10 Gbps and can be scaled in increments and offered in three different classes of service, backed by strict service level agreements and monitored 24x7x365 from Comcast’s dedicated Network Operations Centers.  The company is a unit of Comcast Cable and provides advanced communication solutions to help organizations of all sizes meet their business objectives, delivering business internet, Ethernet, TV, and a full portfolio of voice services for cost-effective, simplified communications management.

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City receives good financial report

March 30, 2016

 

Each year the City of Manvel is audited by an impartial outside accounting firm to assure taxpayer money is being collected and expended in an accurate, fair, and just manner.  This year’s audit, which covers the last fiscal year ended on September 30, 2015, returned a clean unmodified opinion, indicating the highest level of assurance provided by an external auditor.  General fund revenues came in last year at $5.377 million and total expenditures came in at just under $4.790 million.  The net income to the city last year was $625,000.  The city’s fund balance at the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year was $3,829,000.  At the end of the year it was $4,454,000.  Essentially the fund balance represents a savings account held by the city.  As the auditor explained, the fund balance is generally regarded as a good indicator of financial health for a governmental entity.  Fund balance is compared to total expenditures and typically a sixty to ninety-day ability to cover normal city expenditures is looked for, or approximately 25% of the city’s budget.  Manvel maintains almost 100% of its budget in fund balance, “so is in great shape from a financial health standpoint,” according to the report.

 

The water/sewer fund saw total revenue of $527,000 with expenditures of $592,000.  That amount of expenditure includes depreciation, which is a non-cash write-off $189,000.  Depreciation essentially serves to reduce the value of an asset over its useful life due to wear and tear.  From a cash perspective then the fund did actually finish the year with net revenue to the city coffers.  The report also credited the city with a sound status in its retirement plan funding.  Manvel participates with the Texas Municipal Retirement System which is a conservatively managed fund.  Actuaries from the plan’s management determine the city’s contribution amount and Manvel has been faithful with those contributions every year.  A city will most typically maintain a pension liability, in essence owing to the fund.  Manvel, though, actually maintains a pension asset of $18,000.  Described as a small amount by the auditor, it nevertheless shows the city “in great shape from a pension standpoint” as many cities have pension liabilities up in the millions of dollars.

 

Council member Lew Shuffler inquired of the amount the city could spend without adversely affecting the city bond rating.  The auditor responded that the city would first need to be certain that any earmarked money or unfunded obligations due in subsequent years are accounted for.  For example, a city may have money set aside to complete a road as part of a previous developer agreement.  That money would need to be set aside and excluded from any spending intentions.  He suggested a city policy be adopted that spelled out the amount of fund balance the city desires to maintain.  As stated previously, typically an amount equal to 25% of the budget is expected but in a city along the Gulf Coast which could be subject to natural disasters such as a hurricane, might be advised to maintain a higher amount to cover potential clean-up and such.  Once the policy is determined on a minimal amount to maintain, the excess fund balance could be used to fund other city needs, such as infrastructure and such.

 

This year’s solid report is due in significant part to the city’s finance director, Wes Vela, who assumed the position in early 2015.  In January of this year the City received a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award that recognizes the highest principles of governmental budgeting.  Nationally recognized guidelines must be satisfied to earn the award which are designed to assess how well an entity’s budget serves as a policy document, a financial plan, an operations guide, and a communications device.  The award was given by a national professional association that services the needs of more than 18,000 finance practitioners and appointed and elected officials at every level of government.  Its purpose is to enhance the skills and performance of those responsible for government finance policy and management.

 

In other council news, approval was granted for a development agreement that allows construction of a storage facility to commence on land just east of Don Jeter Elementary School at 2695 CR 58.  The developer has agreed to set aside funds to the city to pay for a portion of a road that will border the project.  If and when the neighboring property is developed the funds will be expended on the road’s construction.

 

And debate continued on the offer from the Sedona Lakes development to give the city 20 acres of park land in exchange for relief from the requirement to construct a partial road on the west side of the project.  Initially the offer indicated a roughly equivalent value in the exchange but county appraisals seem to indicate the land is valued at an amount below what the developer suggested.  The newly formed parks board is eager to accept the land as it would represent a good addition to the city’s lagging parks inventory.  Some on council feel the exchange could end up costing the city considerable money if the road construction costs falls to the city at some point in the future.  As it is a county road there is some ambiguity on the responsibility of the construction.  The item was tabled for future discussion when more information is available from which the council can make a decision on its acceptance.

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