Bertram eliminates city cell phones, will repair railroad crossings

By Catherine Hosman

BERTRAM — No more bumpy railroad crossings in Bertram. Residents here can look forward to smoother railroad crossings in the future. At Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Bertram City Council, members voted unanimously to repair all four railroad crossings after lengthy discussion debating the closing of two of those crossings.

Chris Walker, utility director for the City, said the railroad crossings in Bertram are in dire need of repair and suggested the permanent closing of the crossings at Lampasas and San Gabriel streets and State Highway 29.

“There are four crossings in about a half mile in bad need of repair,” Walker said. “We need money to repair all crossings or consider closing a couple of them.  We can leave East and West open and by closing the other two, saving $8,000 – $9,000 in maintenance.”

However, closing any of the streets would hinder emergency vehicles from getting to the other side of town, said Councilman John Mandigo.

“If there is an emergency at a school, there is not enough access,” Mandigo said. “I am opposed to closing any of those crossings. It would limit access to the fire department to get across in an emergency.”

Mandigo related a story when trains were blocking both access points and emergency vehicles had to go around town to get to the other side.

“If we close them, we won’t get them back,” he said, making a motion not to close any street.

“It would cost $1,500 in materials for each crossing,” Walker pointed out, “maybe even a little more. Six crossings would cost $9,500 to $10,000.”

“If they do the work, dig it out, we will fill it,” said Mayor Dickie Allen.

Right now the City of Bertram has $5,000 remaining in its street repair budget and Allen said there was $26,000 in reserve for next year.

Councilmember Cynthia Anderson asked that the Mayor be allowed to transfer $10,000  back into the street maintenance budget to cover the repair costs.

No more City-issued cell phones for employees

 Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to discontinue the issuance of City-issued cell phones, choosing instead to pay a stipend to employees to use their personal cell phones for city business.

This vote followed the suggestion of newly-appointed Police Chief Tracy Weems who said “most people carry one.”

The move will save the City more than $420 per month in cell phone charges. However, Mayor Allen raised the concern about requiring employees to answer their phones while off duty.

“Our personnel policy doesn’t address cell phones,” Allen said, adding that they would have to review the policy to make the necessary changes to address the issue.

But not all employees carry a personal cell phone. Utility director Chris Walker only carries a City-issued phone and would have to purchase a new phone to be available to the city.

To keep it fair, the change would have to be across the board for all employees. However, a bi-monthly stipend would be paid to employees who use their phone for business.  Department heads will receive $25 per pay period and city staff will receive $15 per pay period.

Higher sewer rates to offset USDA loan for wastewater plant 

  Bertram City residents will soon see higher rates on their water and sewer bills — revenue the City says is needed to expand the new wastewater treatment plant.

Bertram City Secretary Evan Milliorn announced that the City will receive $507,000 as a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture to complete the plant.

Beginning with the March bill, residents will see an increase of $4.50 for the first 2,000 gallons, raising the base rate from $18 to $22.50. The additional usage fee of $1.85 per 1,000 gallons used remains the same.

“The $4.50 rate increase will go to pay back the loan,” Milliorn said.

  Council approves new trash pick-up contract

  When the new trash service rates go into effect next month, residents will pay $15.90 per month — an increase of $2.50. Commercial customers will pay $20.75 per month — a $4.55 increase.

As part of the City’s new contract with Clawson Disposal, the company will provide free trash pickup to city properties including city offices, the park, ballfield, EMS, water, police department and pool.

In other busines Tuesday, the Council discussed the creation of a Municipal Development District, a topic that will be addressed again during the Feb. 26 regular meeting.

Similar to the Economic Development Corporation, the MDD would raise revenue through a one-quarter percent increase in the sales tax to fund street maintenance.

“By forming this new board it gives us latitude to spend money without going to the regular board (EDC),” Councilmember Mandigo said. “An MDD would give us more freedom to bring in more citizens and spend more money (to bring in those citizens).”

On Feb. 8, the City of Bertram implemented a new technology for processing traffic fines. Anyone needing to pay a fine can now go to www.bertramcourtpmts.com or call 1-877-793-7971.