By A.C. Hall
It was a night of meetings last Tuesday as the White Settlement EDC met, followed by a joint session with the City Council, and capped off by a full Council meeting. A big subject of all three meetings was the overhaul of Central Park.
“We are almost through,” Project Manager Jack Bell said.
The desire to have the park ready for the April 6 White Settlement Youth Association opening day of little league baseball has been discussed recently, and Bell said that despite a few last minute things, he believes that will happen.
“I know we’re down to the eleventh hour, but everybody’s pretty confident that we’re going to be ready for opening weekend,” Bell said.
Bell stated that even though it may not look like it from the street, they really are close to having the park finished.
“I know how important it is to everybody,” Bell said. “We’re going to be there.”
The council decided upon April 5 for the grand opening of the park, and will hold that ceremony in the evening. The next morning will be the parade and WSYA opening day.
Following up on a discussion from a recent workshop, council members brought up the possibility of citizen use of the baseball fields at Central Park. Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp said currently fields are used only for games, but that decision was up to the council.
“We want to make sure they’re still available for the citizens to use,” Council member Danny Anderson said.
Other council members appeared to agree that they’d like to see citizens able to use the fields. The general consensus emerging from this discussion was to allow citizen use of the fields if the fields aren’t being used or prepped for official games, so long as those citizens using the fields don’t do damage. Currently, it’s unclear if this is an official mandate or more of an unofficial understanding.
Naming some of the new features at Central Park was discussed, as there is going to be one softball field, one baseball field, and the new amphitheater that need to be named. Some of the names suggested were former Mayors James Herring and James Ouzts, as well as Norris Chambers and Francis Caldwell.
This issue was discussed by both the EDC and Council, and they were told it was a time sensitive matter.
“We have signage that we need to get made for opening day,” Tharp said.
Council member Steve Ott questioned why this matter was left until the last minute, while council member Elzie Clements agreed, saying he didn’t have an issue with the names being thrown around but wondered why it was having to be done under the gun. Ultimately, the council decided this was something that didn’t have to be rushed, and that it wouldn’t impact opening day to wait.
One suggestion was to include citizens in the decision. The possibility of inserting a survey into water bills so citizens could help choose names was also discussed.
Rental fees for Central Park was another big agenda item that was spread across the meetings. Anderson asked about taking a survey to see how many citizens rent park amenities, but Tharp already had that information available. Tharp stated that seventy percent of rentals are by people outside the City. Discount rental rates for civic organizations were discussed, but Anderson suggested extending discount rates to citizens too.
“I think that since their tax dollars are paying for these fields and these structures and everything, we need to have some kind of a built in decrease for them,” Anderson said.
Council seemed to agree to extend the same thirty percent discount rate to citizens that they do to civic organizations.
A change to how the city charges the WSYA for the baseball season was also agreed upon. Up until now, a flat rate was charged. Tharp said that many cities were now doing a per child fee instead. White Settlement will shift to that system, charging the youth association a $12 per child fee.
Clements asked how concessions were going to be handled during the WSYA season. Tharp stated that a switch to the per child fee would allow the city to leave concession monies at Central Park alone.
While they were on the subject of registration fees, Clements asked about a rumor he recently heard about the youth football association raising their registration prices by $25 per kid. Clements stated that it was just a rumor right now and may be untrue, but he’d like it to be investigated.
“If the youth association’s gonna hit the kid for $25 extra, we may want to look into that,” Clements said.
Certificate of Occupancy program questioned
Another item that carried over from a recent workshop was discussion about the residential certificate of occupancy program. This program has been running for about a year, and sees homes have to be inspected by the city for safety issues anytime the occupant changes. The program was sharply criticized at a recent workshop by professionals from the real estate field, and was called into question by some on the council.
Building official Kyle Reeves was on hand to present council information about other cities and if they run a similar style program. Some cities he examined don’t run a similar program at all, while others have one on new construction but not on occupancy changes.
Anderson said that the cities that were being discussed such as Aledo, Weatherford, River Oaks and Lake Worth, were all expansive cities that still have plenty of room to grow, while White Settlement is as filled up as it can get. He followed those words with some critical comments on the residential certificate of occupancy program as a whole.
“I think that us going in here and charging people on their residences just because somebody is moving in or moving out or selling the property or something like that is an invasion by our city on our citizens,” Anderson said. “I think we need to discontinue that process.”
Anderson said the city should stick to inspecting remodels and substandard structures, and stop with the residential CO inspections.
“I just think we need to get back out of the citizen’s business,” Anderson said.
Council member Mike Arnold disagreed with these statements, saying that the city had an obligation to make sure people were moving into safe homes.
“I think we’re doing the citizens an injustice by not doing it,” Arnold said.
Council member Gene Hatcher agreed, saying it was done to keep this a family friendly city and that the inspections could also raise property values. Mayor Burns agreed, saying one of the main reasons behind the program was to help struggling home values in the city.
The cost of the program, which is $75, was called into question. Burns stated that he felt this was a little high when compared to other cities.
“We need to figure out what we’re doing cost wise and make a reasonable effort to stay close to cost plus a little,” Mayor Burns said.
As this was not an action item, the council did not make any motions related to it. Reeves was instructed to gather more information for the council regarding all that was discussed, as well as additional info on how other cities handled similar programs.
Check back next week for the second half of our coverage of these meetings.