Council talks crime budget cuts, permit fees in workshop

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By A.C. Hall

This is the second half of the council workshop held on Feb. 22.  Go to Grizzlydetail.com to read about what was discussed in the first half of the workshop.

White Settlement Police Chief Jack Ely was also present at the workshop.  He stated that the police department went through their budget, and Ely presented a list of things that could be put on hold in order to save money.  These proposed cuts would save around $200,000.  Chief Ely indicated that these are things the department can live without for now, but said they want to continue to strive for professionalism.

“Can we live with what we got?  Absolutely,” Chief Ely said.  “Could we be better?  Yes.”

Among the proposed items to be put on hold is $24,793 worth of SWAT equipment, $69,000 for a position, $22,000 for 911 center furniture and $11,884 for patrol uniforms and ballistic vests.

Council member Danny Anderson asked if the police department had looked into the possibility of vehicles that get better gas mileage.  Ely said that was something that was heavily researched and considered, but that so far they are very happy with the Chevy Tahoe vehicles they are using.  The Tahoe’s great resale value was another selling point for the vehicle.

As discussion of the police department continued, council member Steve Ott praised them for the work they do in the city as they face difficult times.

“There is so much crime in this city that it’s unbelievable,” Ott said.

Ott went on to speak about the strong way the WSPD handles their job as they make the City safer.

 

Crime Board

Continuing discussion on an item that has come up several times in recent months, the possibility of replacing the Crime Board with the City Council was once again brought up.  Currently, the Crime Board operates like other city boards, with Council appointing citizens to the board.  It is legal for the council to name themselves as the Crime Board instead, and it was stated that some nearby cities operate that way.

Anderson indicated he wasn’t sure about making the switch, but said the problem is the iron clad budget of the Crime Board.  Unlike other budgets, the council can’t do anything when the Crime Board budget is submitted other than accepting it as is or rejecting it outright.

“They can hold us hostage,” Anderson said.

As this conversation continued, some on the council agreed that it would be nice to have more control over the Crime Board budget.  One suggestion was to have joint budget meetings between the council and the crime board to help keep the two entities on the same page.

Chief Ely weighed in on the matter, saying that he’s always found the Crime Board smooth to work with.  He praised the way the Crime Board works in general as well.

The consensus in the room appeared to be leaving the Crime Board as is, even though council continued to mention they would like to have a bit more control over the crime board budget.

 

Permit Fees

Building Official Kyle Reeves was on hand to discuss the residential certificate of occupancy program that has been running for a year now.  This program requires a home to be inspected before someone moves in, or before the occupants change.  This sees a walkthrough done on the property where the inspector looks for safety hazards, plumbing conditions, the height of electric lines and several other things.

If no issues are found, the city gives Oncor the okay to turn on the electricity to the property.  Reeves said the entire system is set up to establish minimum safety standards so people aren’t moving into unsafe homes.

Anderson spoke on the matter, saying that existing codes already allow inspections to be done on dilapidated homes.  He said that beyond that, any issues are a civil matter between buyer and seller, and that it doesn’t fall on the city to get involved. Professionals from the real estate field were on hand, as Gene Thompson and Gene Thompson Jr. of Gene Thompson & Associates weighed in on this matter.  They own and deal with both residential and commercial property in White Settlement and other areas, and both Sr. and Jr. didn’t have glowing words about the residential certificate of occupancy program.

According to these men, this program punishes most people who own property in the City and also hurts renters by making them pay more.  The amount of time it takes in dealing with the electric company was also mentioned.  In their opinion, the Thompsons felt the program has done more harm to the city instead of good, and has hurt the city’s reputation.

Mayor Jerry Burns asked Reeves if there had been any complaints received over the new system.  Reeves said that beyond a few complaints about having to wait for electric service to be activated, they hadn’t heard any complaints.  Economic Development Director Jim Ryan said there were a few early hiccups with the system, but he believes they’ve been cleaned up.

Ott suggested doing away with the program’s involvement with Oncor.

Mayor Burns stated that they should compare the program to prospering cities in the area to see what everyone else is doing.  Burns said that it will help them to know if White Settlement is on the right track with the program or if “they’re way out in left field.”

Roofing inspection fees were also discussed.  Ott said he felt they should get rid of them altogether.  The origins of the fees were brought up, and it was said they were to keep people from being swindled and to make sure only reputable companies are working on roofs in the city.

“That’s the home owner’s responsibility,” Ott said.

It was said that most cities don’t have roofing inspection fees.

 

Council Car Allowance

Continuing on a subject from a recent council meeting, the possibility of giving council members a car allowance for driving to relevant functions was brought up.

Before discussions got underway, an issue arose.  Council member Elzie Clements became visibly upset over what he called “accusations” he felt were being made against him by council member Gene Hatcher.  Clements raised his voice and hit the table before eventually gathering up his things and leaving the meeting.

Once talk returned to the possibility of a car allowance, no one had anything to say on the matter.  Earlier in the workshop, both Hatcher and council member Mike Arnold had expressed their belief that all recently discussed increases in council compensation should be forgotten so the city can save that money.

Water and drilling concerns

Robert Smith of the Public Works Department addressed water quality concerns for the council members.

“The water’s fine,” Smith said.

He addressed the status of the well that was taken offline after a notice was sent to citizens about it several months ago.  Smith said it remains offline and is only being used for irrigation.

The safety of drilling within the City was also discussed.  It was said the city does sound sampling and air quality sampling around the rigs.  The city also has a gas well inspector they work with who keeps an eye on drilling activities.

Council members were told that Chesapeake may eventually look to sale the land they drilled on next to Chuck E. Cheese so it can return to commercial.  They’re required to keep an area of 200 feet from the well head, but that still leaves much commercial real estate they could make available.  The realtor who could handle the sale of the land is someone who has brought several businesses to town recently.

There was some concern about this matter.  Anderson stated that White Settlement doesn’t have a lot of room to spare when it comes to prime commercial space.

“We have to start looking really close at what we allow,” Anderson said.

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