New mayor takes city reins

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The council and city staff offered a warm thank you to Mayor Connie Fuller Monday before election returns were canvassed and the new mayor, Rick Hall, was sworn in.

About 30 minutes into the meeting, Hall took the mayor’s seat at the center of the dais.

Hall said he appreciated how the transition went Monday, adding that he enjoyed the “trial by fire” of a lengthy first meeting that lasted more than three hours.

“I appreciated Mayor Fuller’s support at the meeting,” Hall said. “We have talked some and we may meet sometime soon to have lunch and talk about some of the things going on.”

Fuller shared her appreciation for the city staff and her time as mayor, wishing Hall luck as she prepared to open her final meeting as mayor.

“I want to wish him all the success in the world, because that’s what it is all about when you are working for your people, and you need to keep them in mind and you need to come together and work together, that’s just so important,” Fuller said. “We’ve had enough of that division, haven’t we?”

Along with Hall, council members Ron Rhea in Place 2 and Wendell McLeod in Place 4 were also sworn in. The council elected Liz Rundzieher to continue as mayor pro-tem.

The ordinance that wasn’t
On three occasions in the past upon the election of a new mayor, the council has brought forth and passed an ordinance “expressing the powers and duties of the mayor and curtailing some of those powers and duties.”

The ordinance was voted on and passed with mayors Michelle “Mike” Murphy, Jamie Williamson and Fuller.

While it was on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, Hall asked that it be moved to after the executive session for consideration. Following an executive session lasting just over an hour, Council Member Liz Branigan made a motion to adopt the ordinance, but the motion died for lack of a second with no discussion.

She told The Independent Tuesday that she supported the ordinance because it had been used in the past as a way of reinforcing to a new mayor what could and could not be done without consent of the council, but added that whether it was passed or not, state law already dictated the same parameters on the mayor’s powers.

She said she was pretty sure when the council emerged from its executive session her motion would not pass.

“When it was done for Mayor Murphy it was at a different time and caused a lot of bad feelings, so that’s probably why the council chose a more conciliatory approach this time,” Branigan said.

For her part, Rundzieher – who confirmed the issue was discussed in the executive session – felt after speaking to the attorney that voting on the ordinance was not necessary.

“Whenever we have a new mayor come in, we always limit their duties, but it is not different than state law, and the attorney said we didn’t need to vote on it,” she said.

Hall said he asked for the item to be moved to after the executive session to seek clarification from the city attorney.

“I spoke with the city attorney just to get clarification of what it was and she explained there was no reason to do it because it was just reiterating what was already state law,” he said. “That’s just something they’ve always done, but it didn’t change anything, so once there was no second it was dropped.”

Water rate study

With issues of the potential annexation of Stonewall and possibility of purchasing a large amount of water service area from Georgetown on the horizon, city staff proposed a new rate study for water and wastewater service.

The proposal was met with some questions and skepticism, but was passed 4-1 with McLeod voting against.

“With ongoing capital projects and anticipated community growth and potential expansion to the city’s boundaries, a new rate study has proven necessary,” said Finance Director Michel Sorrell.

The city has chosen Willdan Financial Services to begin the process, which starts with a meeting and some fact-finding to determine the complete scope of work for the project.

“Currently there is not a specific scope of services because we have a complex, unique set of circumstances with the city, so while we develop the scope of services, the limits to expenditures will be $10,000,” Sorrell said. “The complexity of determining the scope of services is due to the fact that we, unlike most municipalities, have a regional wastewater treatment facility.”

Council members were hesitant to support the expenditure before knowing the final cost, but Rebecca Schafer with Willdan Financial explained that the full cost of a study depended on the eventual scope of what the city needed.

“A study tends to range anywhere from about $30,000 to $50,000 when you are all said and done with all the meetings,” She said. “Until we can talk more about what the city needs and wants, we can’t really fine-tune that number for you, but that first $10,000 is like that first stage of the project.”

The study will gather data and determine the long-range needs of the city in terms of maintenance and expansion of services and infrastructure.

“We’ve done a majority of our work in recent years with these fast-growing cities, because you have the dual need of both the maintenance and repair and replacement of existing infrastructure that has been in the ground for a long time, as well as the needs of a high-growth community,” Schafer said.

The process would likely conclude in late summer.

“You have to get a lot of data and a lot of answers in order to construct a model that will properly do that forecasting for you,” Shafer said. “It takes about 90 days, from the time we sit down and start asking all those questions. After that we come back to staff with preliminary findings and recommendations to get their input again, then we would come back late summer, early fall to the council with recommendations.”

When McLeod questioned the need for a rate increase, Schafer said that a study did not mean an increase would be imminent.

“Some people assume a rate study means a rate increase, but not necessarily,” Schafer said. “The rate study looks at the needs of the system and the structure of the rates and evaluates what is needed. Not every study results in a rate adjustment in the first year, it looks down the road.”

Customers saw an eight percent rate increase in January of this year based on the last rate study conducted in 2016.

Schafer emphasized the importance of looking down the road today so customers do not get hit with a huge rate increase all at once later on, and being able to explain the needs that cause an increase when it is implemented.

“We don’t complicate it unnecessarily,” she said. “Then in the end we need to be able to explain it in a way that everyone is comfortable with it. It is basic math with a lot of twists and turns and we want to present that to you as clearly and transparently as possible.”

In response to the concern about cost, City Administrator Greg Boatright said much of the cost would be absorbed by wastewater customers not within the city limits.

“The majority of this is the regional system that we run for wastewater. The lion’s share of this will be covered by the MUDs that we service,” he said. “The last thing we want is to have a large increase and for our citizens to have to incur that. It is time for us to look at this because a lot of things have changed, and a lot of the agreements that we have currently with a lot of the MUDs out there are reaching the end of their commitment. We’re going to have to renegotiate some of these things and they’re not going to move off of dead center until they have a rate study. We can’t move forward without this tool.”

Stubblefield
The Council voted unanimously to select Doucet and Associates for engineering services for the Stubblefield Lane extension.

By naming Doucet, the Council allowed city staff to move forward with outlining a contract for services, which would then be brought back for council approval.

“We had four proposals that we reviewed and we felt like Doucet, with the experience they have, was the best fit for this project,” Boatright said. “What we’re recommending to Council is to identify the firm we want to work with on this project and then we will outline a scope that will identify what we will do in association with identifying right of way, construction planning, drainage and all of the things associated with this project for phase one and two.”

The other three firms that submitted qulifications included K Friese & Associates, Rodriguez Transportation Group and Steger & Bizzell.

Once a contract is ironed out, the firm will focus on issues such as identifying the route with drainage, engineering specifications and detailed design work. This will allow the city to identify the specific route and needed right of way to acquire.

The plan is to go from Loop 332, across from the elementary school, southward to eventually intersect with County Road 279.

Retail Coach
Following the Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) unanimous vote in April to extend its contract with The Retail Coach for a second year, the Council put its stamp of approval on the decision with a unanimous vote of its own Monday.

The assistance provided by The Retail Coach has been critical for EDC Executive Director Lance Dean through the first year of the agreement.

“The Retail Coach has been a tremendous help to us over the last year,” Dean said. “They helped us define our retail trade area and they also helped us get some good demographics, which we haven’t had in the past.”

Recent developments Dean tied to assistance on some level from The Retail Coach were Dairy Queen, Mojo Coffee and a pending QuikTrip convenience store and gas station development at the corner CR 214 and SH 29, which has not been finalized.

“Any deal that happens in the city is the culmination of work from a lot of people involved, so it is definitely a team effort, but some of it The Retail Coach has assisted with these,” he said.

The second-year annual contract for services is for $22,500.

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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