by Janette Blackwell
Presiding over the April 14 Woodville City Council meeting, Mayor Pro-Tem Byron Stowe presented Woodville Mayor Ben Bythewood's proclamation that April 2014 be specified as Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month in the City of Woodville. Stowe also presented Bythewood's proclamation of April as Autism Awareness Month.
Fire Chief Tommy Shane stated that March was the best month in his 30 years with the fire department. He reported there were no house fires, no grass fires, no 10-50s, one car fire and four other fires – and the department used only 100 gallons of water for fire-fighting purposes.
The City has been granted an exception for the in-line booster pumps at the pressure station on U.S. Highway 190 West near Heritage Village. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) originally documented their disapproval, stating that the City must build a ground storage tank to meet state regulations. Twice the City appealed TCEQ's decisions, finally saving City taxpayers approximately $150,000 by averting the need to purchase land and build a ground storage tank on it.
Last month the City's bond rating was upgraded from A+ to AA-, which improves our credit and borrowing power. The City's financial advisor has encouraged the City to refinance debt at a significantly lower interest rate. City Administrator Mandy Risinger will provide more information for Council consideration next month. She is considering refinancing the 40-year 1998 sewer remodel debt, expecting to save taxpayers about $300,000 over the remaining life of the debt.
Police Chief Scott Yosko requested the Council to approve a program to allow the City to pay off-duty officers assigned exclusively to traffic control. Yosko said officers are often pulled for other duties, for example when arrests are made and related paperwork must be completed immediately; this leaves city streets without adequate traffic patrols until the officers' arrest-related tasks are completed. Yosko stated further that increased revenues collected for fines would allow the program to pay for itself, and suggested starting the program on a trial basis. Risinger noted that the traffic enforcement program would show up as overtime, but additional productivity would increase revenues and improve community safety. Municipal Judge Judith Haney's report revealed that nine of the top 20 violations recorded in March were directly related to speeding. At Risinger's suggestion, Council members agreed to defer action on this program until more information is available.
Risinger reported that the City's IT consultant has purchased a new server and software to upgrade utility billing.
Contractors are expected to finalize the installation and retrofitting of meter automation equipment by the end of the month.
The Southeast Texas Groundwater Conservation District (SETGCD) approved City bids to drill a water well on Pine Street, and the application for TCEQ to drill the well is pending. Risinger is obtaining written consent for the sanitary control easements from property owners, affirming they will not contaminate the water source, as required for environmental approval. ETech, which is building the biomass plant, has negotiated to build a new water plant and well for the City in exchange for use of cleaned and processed black water solely for use in their plant's boilers; the company will not use more water from our aquifer, and they will return the clean water to the creek after using it.
The City received federal funds from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through DETCOG for the Hurricane Ike 2.2 recovery program. Risinger is awaiting a hearing date to determine whether these funds may be used to drill a water well north of town at the industrial park.
The 2011-2012 CDBG project is complete, and Risinger asked the state for approval to use funds left over from that project to replace sewer lines on Pine Street and Highway 287; the state approved the request, and engineers' bids are pending.
Risinger asked the Council to consider approval of the 2014 annual price index adjustment to municipal telecommunications right-of-way access line rates. Rates are driven by the consumer price index, according to Risinger and if approved, rates would increase for residents by $0.02, for non-residents by $0.03, and for point-to-point by $0.03. Council gave its approval of the measure.
Council considered and approved Risinger's request to authorize the mayor to execute oil, gas and mineral leases with Kodiak Resources, Inc., following review and approval of the city attorney.
During Western and Dogwood weekends, Police Chief Scott Yosko reported, the number of arrests was down. Councilman Russ Nalley complimented the police department for keeping everything under control in the city during the extended Dogwood Festival, and Judge Haney credited Public Works Director Charles Maclin and his team for excellent and timely cleanup of the downtown area. Risinger and Council members agreed the new crowd control fencing looked nice and worked well, and Risinger stated that the City will budget for additional fences over the next two years to replace the previously-used orange netting. Yosko also noted that police officers' candy patrol during the parade prevented injuries by helping children to pick up candy safely during parade lulls. Yosko reported complaints of noise during the Dogwood weekend, noting that the source of the noise was outside the city limits.
Judge Haney expressed her appreciation for Judge Alva Cook covering for her during an unavoidable time away from her duties last month.