Feb

22

Posted by : Monitor Admin | On : February 22, 2017

By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
TOOL–Tool City Council members named a road repairs contractor the same night it approved selling $2,610,000 in bonds of obligation.
After a lengthy closed session. Mayor Donny Daniel announced Police Chief Rickey Feist resigned without giving a reason.
The last several city annual budgets have set aside $300,000 for road materials and repairs. This amount has been used to repair or rebuild perhaps up to one mile of roadway per year. Now, for the average annual amortization rate of $261,000 over ten years, the city will realize 15 to 20 miles of roads repaired this year. That many roads repaired added to those roads already repaired through previous grant projects represents half the roads in the city, Councilman Michael Fladmark pointed out in a Feb. 8 special meeting of the council.
The project is to start on the south end of the city and move north. Work is to commence in March and be completed in September, weather permitting.
Boyd London of Hilltop Securities presented the bank bids for purchase of the bonds of obligation during a Feb. 16 council meeting. He recommended the sale go to Texas Independent Bank of Houston for an annual percentage rate of 2.58 percent. “The firm is accustomed to dealing with small communities and has been buying these bonds for the past 10-12 years. They know and understand small towns,” London said.
The second bidder was The Bank of Texas, offering $2.66 percent and included a penalty for early pay off or refinancing the debt and included a fee. The council followed London’s recommendation.
Had the bonds sold before the election, London predicted the city might have gotten a lower interest rate. He added there were about 40 banks interested in buying the bonds, but since the city couldn’t provide three years of annual audits, most bowed out, as they must defend their taking on the loan in this way. However, overall, he is pleased with the bids.
Four road contractors submitted closed bids. The council went with the lowest bid from 5W Contracting, bidding a price of $1.63 per square foot, subject to the contractor getting bonding and insurance for the job. The Tool road project will be the largest this contractor has done to date, Mayor Donny Daniel said in his telling about the background of the contractor.
However, he said the contractor has performed admirably for other cities such as Sulphur Springs, Ennis and Canton. The company owner has been to Tool and utilities director Frank Martin said he toured him around the roads that were priority to be redone, so he would be familiar with the terrain and the challenges.
Texas Bit Oldcastle was named the alternate bidder with a price of $1.81 per square foot, this was followed by bids of $1.84 and $2.35. The council was expecting bids in the $1.90 range, as recorded in the minutes from the Feb. 8 special meeting. If all works out for the lowest bidder, the council anticipates being able to do more miles of roads than the expected 14.
City Secretary Makenzie Lyons added the city has been granted some FEMA funding under one of the disaster declarations which will also go toward drainage and road repair. This is expected to be received in the next few weeks, she said.
After a lengthy closed session to meet with the city attorney and consider employment matters, council members unanimously made several decisions. They agreed to terminate the employment of investigator Jenny Engle. The investigator along with police officer Garrett Engle were under suspension during the council’s Feb. 3 emergency meeting. Since then, Garrett Engle had resigned, Mayor Daniel informed.
This decision to terminate was followed by an acceptance of the resignation of Police Chief Rickey Feist, effective immediately. His letter of resignation did not signify any reason for his departure, Councilwoman Barbara Whitfill said.
The last decision was a direction to the city attorney to send a notice of noncompliance to the Home Sweet Home RV Park on a zoning issue.
In other business, the council:
• granted a setback variance to Carolyn and Kenneth Nowotny of 1412 Bora Bora for an addition to their home to accommodate additional family members living there. The variance allows the structure to encroach 4.5 feet into the 20-foot setback. Other options were unavailable on the heavily wooded lot that also contained a large drainage area.
• appointed Ashley Payne as court clerk. Payne had been a probationary hire.. “She has done a very good job for the city,” Mayor Daniel noted.

Feb

22

Posted by : Monitor Admin | On : February 22, 2017

Monitor Staff Reports
KAUFMAN–The Kaufman County Commissioners’ court passed, 3-2, to adopt a resolution, opposing a Texas Senate bill relating to property tax relief, Feb. 13.
Senate Bill 2 (SB-2) would trigger a rollback tax election for any taxing authority proposing increases greater than 4 percent. Most independent school districts are already at 4 percent. Currently, the rollback trigger is set at 8 percent above the effective tax rate (the rate necessary to generate the same amount of revenue as the year previous).
The number of the bill reflects its importance to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who as presiding officer of the Texas Senate, sets the priority of bills. S.B 1 is the budget bill.
More than 100 other counties in the state are registering their disapproval of the legislation.
Commissioners Jakie Allen (Precinct 4, Mabank and Kemp) and Skeet Phillips (Precinct 2) voted against the resolution, wanting more time to study the proposed legislation.
Destin Senesky, representing Senator Bob Hall, told commissioners the resolution was published by a lobbying group and contained misleading information. It doesn’t limit the proposed tax rate, it only subjects it to the control of voters over a certain increased amount, giving the voters the final say, he said. “Senator Hall supports the bill,” he said.
County Judge Bruce Wood responded that if the senator was for local control, he should fight against unfunded mandates passed down from the state to the counties, which increases the county’s financial burden. Wood pointed out the county budget’s $1,000,000 for indigent defense as mandated by the state and is reimbursed a mere $100,000. Moves like these causes tax burdens on property owners, Wood said.
Senesky maintained that the resolution was a stand against tax-paying property owners.
In other business, commissioners:
• named Lori Poole of Forney its new human resource director. She replaces Lori Floyd who left to join the Texas Association of Counties last summer
• agreed to fund several budgeted expenses including seven vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office. Two pickup trucks for a total of $71,494 are to replace 2008 models and five Dodge Chargers, totaling $135,640. Four of these to be used as prisoner transport and the fifth as a patrol vehicle to test the model’s effectiveness in police work. Sheriff Bryan Beavers said some police departments had reservations about the Charger. Originally, the plan was for the purchase of five Chevy Tahoe vehicles at $43,000 each. The new plan saves the KCSO $8,000, Beavers said.
• approved the county seeking three grant applications. One for $111,000 to reimburse the county’s expense on the Brownlow murder trial, leaving only $4,000 balance. The Terrell man is on Death Row for the murder of one of five victims in 2013. A second grant could fund the purchase of 62 rifle vests for constables and deputies at $1,000 each, or equipment for special forces, including helmets, vests and other necessary equipment up to $50,000. These grants are judged on a scoring system and are very competitive, Pam Corder said. A third grant application would be submitted through the District Attorney’s Office to fund a liaison in child abuse/family violence cases. Funded through the Governors Victim Assistance Funding would pay for a position up to three years, she said.
• rescinded a provision sending all expenditures above $25,000 to Commissioners’ Court for approval. The new amount is $50,000 for the court to review.

Feb

17

Posted by : Monitor Admin | On : February 17, 2017

By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
KEMP–Residents filled the Kemp City Council Chamber Tuesday to question and to hear why the mayor and her administration have pulled away from having West Cedar Creek Municipal Utility District provide the city’s water. A half dozen citizens signed up to address the council with several giving up their allotted three minutes to two of the major speakers. Both citizens and then the council and mayor spoke passionately for their positions, while audience members, including WCCMUD board president Clifton Smith and utility general manager Tony Ciardo listened to the hour-long discussion.
The same day the Public Utilities Commission accepted the transfer of water rights from Kemp to WCCMUD (Dec. 16, 2016), the parties withdrew their application. The agreement between the city and WCCMUD dissolved into disarray and water service was terminated Dec. 20. The parties are called to mediate their differences in the City of Kaufman, Feb. 21.
Voters approved handing over its water rights to WCCMUD during the general election of Nov. 5, 2013, former city administrator James Whitehead pointed out in his remarks.
Having led the city dating back to 2011-2013 when Kemp’s water lines battled continuous leaks that drained its water supply during drought conditions, Whitehead unfolded the history behind the voters’ decision.
“West Cedar Creek has the staff and resources to manage the system. It is the only reasonable solution I know of,” Whitehead said. Purchasing water from Mabank’s two-inch line into Kemp’s four-inch lines at $4.10 per gallon, he said, was not a solution. “I hope that’s not the price,” he said. “Council, I wouldn’t want to be in your position if this city runs out of water one more time.”
Allen Spears, owner of the largest business in town, Rugged CCTV, pointed out the impact an unresolved water issue is having on the economic growth of the city. “Our company has attracted two more companies to the area, but they went to Mabank and Forney because of this issue,” he said. “Now, we’re out of space. We’d like to stay and expand but this town needs to grow.” He suggested that this impasse is about “bruised egos and personalities,” and suggested the parties involved get “over it.”
Mayor Laura Hanna Peace responded by denying that her ego was bruised. “This is about protecting the citizens of this city from arbitrary control of their water and future by an entity with no accountability to them,” she said.
Three areas of concern include:
• A $35 surcharge on water bills to pay for infrastructure improvements, without a given time frame or accounting to show how much is being collected and how it is being used.
• Second, the ratepayers do not have representation on the utility board. “I asked for a seat on the board for the City of Kemp and was turned down,” she said. If the city council makes decisions about the city’s utilities, the members are accountable to the voters, she pointed out.
• Thirdly, according to the agreement, WCCMUD was to take over the management of the city’s water utility “immediately after the vote in 2013. That didn’t happen,” she said. The city continued to maintain its system over the past three years.
“There are no provisions in the agreement stating that the city will owe WCCMUD in the event WCCMUD fails to finalize the agreement,” Peace stated. “In fact, the only language in the agreement regarding costs state that WCCMUD is responsible for expenses for maintaining the system immediately following the election.”
However, Peace said the change in plan was motivated by words reported in the newspaper from WCCMUD’s general manager during an Oct. 16 utility board meeting recommending to the board that it “pull out” of the deal and “just sell them water.” That statement showed that the city’s water supply was vulnerable to the decisions of someone else, she said. “We had to make sure that you had water and I had water.”
Peace said the news story caused her to panic. She said she couldn’t get a meeting with WCCMUD until Nov. 30. The outcome of that meeting from WCCMUD was, “we won’t sell you water until these demands are met,” she said, followed by a demand letter.
The City of Kemp had offered a purchase agreement, which WCCMUD refused until the city agreed to reimburse the utility for expenditures that were neither discussed with the city, approved by the city nor provided for in the agreement, Peace outlined in a social media post called The Mayor’s Page.
“We are not in breach of the agreement,” she said, “not at all.” From that point, she said, an immediate meeting with utility director Luis Valentine and city administrator Regina Kaiser, revealed the city could make its own water. As a backup, an agreement to purchase water from Mabank was also established.
“So, on Dec. 20 when we got the call – a day early — that we were to turn the valve off, we were ready,” Peace said.
Consultations with the Heritage Institute of Sustainability’s Valerie Shoup, with whom the city has a working relationship, led to an agreement with engineering firm Alan Plummer Associates, Inc. to design a phased plan to build a new water plant. All this came to light during the Jan. 10 Kemp City Council meeting. In addition, the council agreed the city make every effort to procure grant funding with various federal, state and community sources.
She said estimates for constructing a new water plant are between $800,000 and $1.5M to provide service for 20 years with enough to sell to Becker-Jiba, which has expressed the desire to buy water from Kemp. Another $350,000 is needed to replace the major water lines, she added.
“The city’s water rights are the most precious possession the city has and I’ve been encouraged to protect them,” Peace said. “I don’t have any intention of doing something without explaining it first, but we had to move fast.” She assured those in attendance that the city has someone with a Class B water certification and that the city has options now that it didn’t have three years ago.
“We have to take care of ourselves. We are competent to handle our own water,” Peace said. “We have plans now, that we didn’t have before. We have options. If we transfer our (water) rights, we are at their mercy.”
Councilman Barry Lummus pointed out the city has “potential.” The problem has been the infighting, mistrust and untruths. “We need your support,” he said. “West Cedar Creek stepped up when we needed them most, but only for a moment and I appreciate what they did.”

Mayor’s Page-Laura Hanna Peace
Water rights are extremely valuable. West Cedar creek MUD failed to meet its obligations under the agreement between the city and WCCMUD. The agreement states that WCCMUD will take over the city water department IMMEDIATELY following the passage of the vote which occurred in 2013 allowing the city to negotiate and sell the system to WCCMUD. WCCMUD did not do that.
The city continued to maintain our system over the past three years. There are NO PROVISIONS IN THE AGREEMENT STATING THAT THE CITY WILL OWE WCCMUD in the event WCCMUD fails to finalize the agreement. In fact, the only language in the agreement regarding costs state that WCCMUD is responsible for expenses for maintaining the system IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE ELECTION. Also contained in the agreement was a much debated $35 SURCHARGE that WCCMUD planned to charge City of Kemp customers indefinitely. The city asked for accountability regarding how the surcharge Kemp citizens had to pay was used and we were told by the WCCMUD manager that they simply were not going to agree to that. It was a huge concern. So when the manager says in October 2016 (out of the blue…) that he recommends pulling out of the deal, we realized that there are serious issues to be addressed before moving forward.
As suggested by WCCMUD, The city of Kemp offered a purchase agreement to WCCMUD. WCCMUD refused to sell us water until the city agreed to “reimbursement” of expenditures by WCCMUD that were neither discussed with the city, approved by the city nor provided for in the agreement.
At that point it became very clear the city needed to look beyond WCCMUD to insure our citizens water. We increased the amount of water produced at our water plant and also entered into an agreement with the city of Mabank to purchase water to subsidize our plant when needed. We hired an engineering firm, developed a plan and are applying for grant/loans to fund the $800,000 to $1.5m cost for new plant with capacity to meet our current needs as well as our projected needs into the future. Until we receive the responses on those applications we do not know how much will be grant and how much will be loan. But what we do know is that the investment will be made into the property of the city of Kemp, and not into another entities bank account. We need to be in control of our water rights. After three years of waiting for WCCMUD to take over it became clear that we could maintain our own water system and not give away the most valuable asset the city possesses.
Had WCCMUD upheld its end of the agreement, all of this would be moot– they would have been collecting our payments including the $35 surcharge for the past three years and we would have no control or input into the water system in our own town; we requested a seat on the WCCMUD board and were denied.
This is a very serious matter, once water rights are passed on to another entity it would be difficult to impossible to regain them. It seemed prudent to put the brakes on the agreement and re-evaluate. Some may disagree. But it feels wrong to give control over our water system to an entity over which our citizens have no voice. There are those who will criticize and find fault, the council respects individual opinions. We carefully considered the vote taken by our citizens and weighed that against the risks of allowing WCCMUD to control our water without our citizens input and decided to halt the process.
This was acted on at a duly posted and open city council meeting. These decisions are not made lightly or without serious consideration by the council. This is a hard job. I ask that you pray for our council members as we try to make the best decisions based on the information that we have. We all live here and will live with the same consequences as everyone else; so, we are working hard to be sure the City of Kemp’s best interests are served. Thanks for reading this far. I am trying to be as complete as possible but might have missed a point or two. I ask for your indulgence, I’m typing this on my phone and it feels like I’ve written a book! I just hope I’ve answered a question or two.