Friday, July 18, 2008

Marfa City Council meeting wrap-up 7/8/08

Meeting came to order at 6 PM on Tuesday July 8th, city hall, Marfa. By the way, all of these meetings are open to the public. Photography and recording are allowed.
In attendance were councilmen Rudy Garcia, Scott May, Manny Baeza, and David Beebe. Absent was Rusty Garlick. Mayor Dan Dunlap presided. City Administrator James Mustard was in attendance.

Citizens' comment period- no citizen comments

Minutes of the meeting of 6/26 were approved.

Mayor's Report-
Mayor Dunlap informed council that our computer software support and designer Mike Gearing will be retiring in Decemeber and will no longer be available in that capacity. He had also done the systems for Alpine, Van Horn, and Presidio. Those cities are looking at options and a new software firm will be chosen. This is bad news from the financial side of things, since we'll need to reprogram our systems, but the newer technology should allow us to integrate all our city systems. The goal is to implement a new provider and begin the process by Oct 1.

City Administrator's Report-
Marfa EMS has received a $29,697 grant due to the efforts that our EMS director, Burt, put into completing training and paperwork (voluntary work on his part).
The Rio Grande Council of Governments recycling grant application has been submitted (by Marfa). This will provide funding for our "Cram-A-Lot" cardboard baler and also will get 3 phase power over to the recycling center to run the baler and other machinery.
The city is requesting additional options for pickup and/or dumpster number reduction from Duncan Disposal in preparation for the new contract. No response from our request for numbers from West Texas Disposal yet.
The USO building/ Amvets Hall- the building has developed some serious roof leaks and also some of the electrical problems are severe enough that the hallneeds to be renovated starting ASAP. The conditions are so bad that we may not be able to rent it out anymore. The Chamber of Commerce is proceeding with studies as to how to renovate it into a proper convention center.

Councilmember Comments-

Rudy Garcia mentioned the new Rotary Club weekly targeted city cleanup. Rotary Club now cleans up a 2-3 block area of their choosing after every Wednesday night meeting, weather permitting. Rudy also wanted to know if city alleyways were open to cleaning without contacting neighboring property owners (yes). Also, the metal recycling firm that conducted the steel pickup program last month will be leaving roll-offs at the old landfill (composting area) for use by citizens to dispose of appliances and steel refuse at no cost to the city or individuals.
By the way, speaking of Rotary, Marfa Rotary meets every Wed at 5:30 PM in the tipi behind Adobe Moon BBQ. All are welcome- and anyone is welcome to assist with the targeted neighborhood cleanup after the meetings.- David
Councilman May mentioned that the roll-offs for non-steel large trash at the composting area are full. Mayor Dunlap responded that Duncan Disposal had been contacted to remove and replace them with empties.
No comments from Baeza or Beebe

Next we had a presentation from Southwest Municipal Gas Corp on the new increase in gas rates. We had this presentation because the cities of Marfa and Alpine co-own the gas company. The gas company in a non-profit, so all extra monies collected have to go back into maintenance and/or improvement of the system. The system itself covers Alpine, Marfa and Ft Davis.
Basically, director Hal Craig gave us a detailed description of the company's overhead, gas costs, and efforts to increase the use of gas appliances in homes locally. The more gas SWMGC can sell, the better the price is that they can buy it for.
Here's a basic breakdown of the plan for the next several years with the new increase in wholesale rates to SWMGC taken into account.
1) the gas comany plans to hold expenses per year at 1.2 million dollars. this is even with a gasoline and diesel fuel increase in cost.
2) the Gas corp plans to add zero dollars to it's already empty contingency fund.
3) There will no longer be a tap fee to hook up a gas meter to your home or business.
4) the company will promote rebates to your gas bill for customers who replace and electric appliance and install a new gas water heater, heater, etc to new or remodel construction projects.
5) the gas corp will encourage people to switch from propane to natural gas. Propane is roughly 2-4 times more expensive per BTU.
6) the new contract for natural gas to SWMGC from WTG will be for $12 per MCF (old was $9.29)
7) New consumer rate will rise from $14.11 per MCF to $19.29 per MCF.

I was impressed with the presentation from Hal and even more impressed with the information and Q&A froom system foreman Melvin (last name not written down- sorry). I would absolutely encourage citizens to inquire about the reabtes for gas appliance installation, as they are substantial.

1) Council unanimously approved a contract with Warren CAT to supply a new backhoe. Total out from city to Warren will be $57,290, including extended warranty and trade-in for our old unit. This funding is part of the tax note, which came in a net to us, $260,000. This means our somewhat slippery tax note man only took $10,000 for administration, which is on the low side. Looks like he's honest! Whew- a sigh of relief from me.

2) Water Well Grant- Passed unanimously to add some amendments based on discussion of topic from last meeting, 6/26

3) City Ordinance 08-05- Ordinance to Define Changeable Electronic Variable Message Sign (CEVMS), to prohibit same, et al.
This was my only piece of legislation I wanted to pass as a new city coouncilman. After seeing the worst-case scenario involving these new LED message signs in the form of Berdoll's Pecan Farm ouotside of Bastrop (what were they thinking- Jeez!) I felt it was important to regulate and prohibit these signs in Marfa, since we rely so much on tourism and our appeal as a secluded town "in the middle of nowhere" is an integral part of that. There are already several of these signs running 24/7 in Alpine (Sonic, True Value, Sul Ross University, The Prescription Depot(?). I could, in my nightmares, see both Town and Country Food Stores on either end of town running (2 BURRITOS, $1.19!!!) all night long for eternity. I made a short presentation to council about these signs and why I oppose them for our area. City Administrator James Mustard refined an existing ordinance from Castroville (I think) to fit our town. The ordinance does not create a sign ordinance, but is narrowly written to prohibit signs that flash, use motion or color changing technology to get attention. This would actually also include incandescant and neon signs in some of their forms. Existing signs are exempt. Also, there was discussion about the Open/Abierto LED sign in the window of Adobe Moon BBQ. As an existing sign, it is exempt, but I made the point that as a sign inside a plate glass window of the dining room, it can easily be argued that it is not actually a sign. It would not be considered one in Houston, that I know.
Ordinance passed unanimously.
Whew- I was actually really stressed out about doing this.

Next we appointed a councilmember to the Parks and Rec Board to fill the empty council position that had been held by former council member Lionel Salgado. Rudy Garcia nominated me. Passed unanimously!

Resolution 08-11- Create a Library Donation Bank Account-

This was a great news item- the Lannon Foundation has donated $75,000 to assist with the ongoing library renovation. for complex reasons, this money has to be used after the grant monies are exhausted. Carl Robinson made a presentation relating the library board's situation and library funding in general. In a nutshell, here is the scoop.
The total cost of complete renovations is around $454,000
The ORCA grant that expires and must be spent by the end of July covers $216,000
The Library Board has raised an additional $97,000
The Friends of the Library has raised $19,000
That leaves the library still $156,000 short on funding. Lannon is now contributing $75,000, nearly halving the deficit. The Board expects this donation may prompt others, as the finish line is near.
The Council approved the formation of a specialized bank account under the city name for this purpose unanimously.

Thanks goes to Carl Robinson for his work and a very informative presentation.

Next we discussed, as the request of Rudy Garcia, the city's policy on streets and alley ways. Without going into too much detail, the city does control and own all alley ways, even those people have built on, landscaped on, and/or tried to hide. None have been officially or unofficially abandoned. It is a crime to block access to these alley ways. Regular traffic laws apply, including parking laws. We actually have no parking ordinance, so there is gray area; however, blocking an alley is not considered a parking violation- it is a ingress/egress violation. I predict we'll have a parking ordinance come about before the end of the year. There was some heated discussion about points of detail, etc. There have also been accusations around town of police activity that has been targeted towards certain people and/or businesses. Surely there will be additional discussion at some point on these matters. No action taken by council following council and citizen comments and discussion.

Next we approved unanimously the payrolland expenditure reports for June.

Finally we adjourned. Thanks for reading!- David Beebe

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wrap up: Marfa City Council Meeting 6/26/08

City Council met at 6 PM Thursday June 26th. Following the pledge the citizen comment period was opened. By the way, the council is prohibited to discuss or take action on anything discussed during the citizen comment period, but may opt to place an item brought up by a citizen on a future council agenda. Citizen Bill White spoke during the comment period. He had compaints about lack of enforcement of specific parking regulations such as parking facing the wrong way on the street, an illegally parked travel trailer (not mine!), and city officials, including police officers, breaking these same parking regulations. City Administrator Jim Mustard responded that Marfa has no city parking ordinance, so technically officers can't enforce parking restrictions that are not on state highways. by the way, all our major thoroughfares through Marfa are state highways.
More discussion was had, no resolutions or items placed on future agendas, although Mustard did say that council could opt to create a parking ordinance at some point.

Next, last meeting's minutes were approved unanimously. Oh yes, by the way, members absent from the meeting were Rudy Garcia and Rusty Garlick. In attendance were Scott May, David Beebe, Manny Baeza and Mayor Dan Dunlap.

Mayor's Report- None

City Administrator's Report- Jim Mustard announced that the pool at the MAC is open for business. We have 7 lifeguards. Also, the ORCA grant for the library is on schedule, as is construction. The project that includes the grant must be completed before August 1 or we lose the remaining unspent money. Next, the sewer plant grant update was given. We have unofficially passed the environmental study and the engineering firm we hired should be finished with the drawings and specs by April. They have provided us a timeline in writing. This is also a project that must be finished before the end of the grant funding deadline.
Next, Jim Mustard talked about the ORCA Water Well grant. This was to repair and/or replace Water Well #3, one of our larger wells that is making some major noise. Previous attempts at normal service have failed. No change this time with the giant crew pulling on it with drilling muds and heavy equipment. The well is still working, and may for quite some time, but is unrepairable. We have to spend the rest of this $295,000 grant by the end of Sept in order not to lose it. Plan B is to bid on a backup generator for the Water Plant and to spend the remainder on Water Well #4, which can pump 400 gallons perminute but is not hooked up to a chlorinator or the city system. Also, we will abandon Water Well #5, which is not hooked up to either the system or a chlorinator and can only pump 60 gallons per minute.
Mustard also mentioned that the steel recycling program was very successful (all agree). Also, the school district is applying for a parking variance from the zoning board for the new school gyms they will be building. More discussion about lack of parking rules in our city, etc.

Council member comments:
Scott May applauded the steel recycling program. He also brought up possible rules for "Jake brake" usage by rigs in the city. Citizens have complained and most cities, small and large, in Texas have "No Engine Brake" ordinances on the books. Ironically, as he spoke, an 18 wheeler outsid city hall at 90 & 67 used its Engine brake to stop at the light.
No other comments from Manny or myself.

New Business:
2009 TCDP Block Grant- the had been a public hearing prior to the council meetingdiscussing this grant and its potential application. Also discussed was how the TCDP was prioritizing grant monies by differing "point values" for projects. Projects more likely to get maximum monies and priority treatment are water and sewer projects, rather than parks, libraries or transportation issues. We voted unanimously to apply for the grant ($240,000-$250,000) and to use it for sewer line replacement for the SW quadrant of the city (W Waco, Dallas Sts, etc). Rocbert Silva, water dept head, consulted on this as the "most needed" repair to our system. Pipes are small, collapsed and generally 80-plus years old.

Duncan Disposal Contract fopr garbage collection- 2008-2009

I have not a lot to say about this except for that we discussed it at length and it is an exhausting subject. We are getting jacked, in my opinion, by a garbage service that is highly inefficient and priced as such. Our nearest landfill is in Presidio (we can't use Alipne's which is nearly full as it is). That is a 120 mile round-trip. Fuel costs are skyrocketing and we will have to shoulder those regardless. Duncan has been our garbage collection provider for a long time and doesn't want to have to have our contract go out for bid. It is my impression that they want us to sign a deal that's "good today, but not if we contact anyone else". They have stated that their price, if bidded out formally, will be much higher. As is, it's already a 60% plus ncrease over the last contract. We just raised rates (and they are HIGH) to cover costs last year. West Texas Disposal (who serves Alpine) seems to do a much better job of servicing their customers needs and wants, and also operates a bona fide recycling program. Their rates are higher than Duncan's per capita, and will be evene higher is they have to set up new service here. We are stuck, regardless. it is my opinion that city hall is ready to sign with Duncan now (for ease of contract, lower price and also because Duncan let us pay late interest free for the last year), but I just HATE this "here's our price- take it now, but if you bid it out, this price is off the table". Like a used car salesman. A bad way of doing business.
By the way, this is my opinion and may not reflect facts altogether accurately. This is an emotional issue for me as I see rates going higher for all of us, and I know that those who can least afford it will really be hurting.
The conclusion of our discussion was that we would solicit informal rates from West Texas Disposal to see how they compare and buy us some time.

Somebody PLEASE! form a group that can get us a local landfill and landfill permit! You will make a profit and we will use you!

Next, Big Bend Community Action requested permission to use the MAC building parking lot for a bus stop for their new commuter service to nneighboring cities and Midland/Odessa. After discussion, we opted to give permission for 10 parking spaces and a bus stop for their vans as long as they took care of trash with a trash can and pickup of same. Manny and I voted yes, Scott May abstained based on his 'Marfa Flyer" business, but stated his support.

Meeting adjourned.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A little late on posting

Sorry I haven't yet posted the last city council meeting. I have one tonight and I will be sure to get them both up soon. By the way, the whole point of posting them is to have a public viewing place for my voting record. I would recommend reading the Big Bend Sentinel's account of the meetings for an unbiased look at council activities. I do my best to just report the meetings as I see them from a seat at the table, but I can tell you for sure that on issues such as garbage pickup contracts there's no way I can seperate my feelings from the writing. The Big Bend Sentinel is less than $40 a year delivered to your door, anywhere in the country. My mother gets it and it gets to her mailbox in Houston usually the Tuesday following the Thursday publication.

More later on council and also recording adventures. By the way, my radio show is still going strong- 11PM to 1 AM every Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. I will miss next week as I'll be in Houston but am broadcasting (and webcasting) tonight. Marfa Publci Radio FM 93.5 - David