by A.C. Hall
The White Settlement Economic Development Corporation held their first budget workshop last week. The budget they were presented with was familiar to most board members.
“It’s pretty much like last year’s,” City Manager Linda Ryan told the EDC.
Changes in the budget include upping the amount of money set aside for land purchase from $25,000 to $50,000. There’s also $45,000 in the budget for the Parks Department to purchase a replacement mower for the ball fields. Asked why this was needed since there are contractors who mow in the parks, a board member was informed that the contractors don’t take care of the fields.
One item that may increase in the budget is personnel costs. Ryan stated that they were expecting increases in insurance costs but that she did not know the exact amount they’d be rising yet.
Financial assistance in the amount of $275,000 is carrying over from the current budget to the new one as it hasn’t been given out yet. This long approved item will give the $275,000 to a hotel builder once they complete their hotel along the I-30 access road on the south side of town.
This same builder recently completed a different hotel on Scott Street next to Flight Deck. The builder was on hand to receive a check for $275,000 as the EDC agreed to give them that amount in financial assistance some time ago. As with any money they give out in assistance, the EDC waited until after the building was fully completed before giving out the check.
“It’s a very nice addition to this city,” EDC Director Jim Ryan said.
Mayor Burns also spoke highly of the new hotel and its owners.
“We’re very proud to have you and we wish you nothing but success,” Mayor Burns said.
Jim Ryan spoke about a recent tour he took through the new Education Service Center, Region 11 building, which is located within the heavily renovated old Sam’s building. Extensive upgrades have been made to both the exterior and interior of the structure.
“It’s a marvelous building,” Ryan said.
It’s expected that 60,000 people a year will come through the building for training purposes.
The new Dollar General building along White Settlement Road was mentioned, as Ryan stated it’s close to being opened. The old location of Dollar General a few blocks down the street was also mentioned, as Ryan indicated that they have a tenant that’s willing to come into the building and renovate it.
The red iron building behind Wells Fargo Banks was mentioned briefly, with Ryan saying that the plans for the building are nearing approval. After standing half finished for well over a decade, the building is on track to be finished and turned into an indoor storage business.
Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp spoke to the board, updating them on his department. Tharp said that the movies in the park program is going strong as summer has gotten underway.
“This year’s turnout has been real good,” Tharp said.
Tharp also spoke about a baseball tournament that will take place at Central Park on July 19 and 20. Thirty teams are signed up to take part in the tournament.
City Manager Linda Ryan updated the EDC on their finances, once again delivering positive news about the sales tax numbers. With just three months remaining in the fiscal year, the numbers continue to show promise.
“It looks like we’ll be a little over budget this year,” Ryan said. by A.C. Hall
Several items related to Chesapeake were on the agenda Tuesday night. Before council were applications for four new wells on the Nugent Pad site located near the Chuck E. Cheese on South Cherry Lane. A presentation was given by the city’s gas well inspector who said the application for the new wells was acceptable and fell within the existing ordinance.
A public hearing was held to give those in the audience a chance to speak about this item. First to the podium was a representative from Chesapeake, Kevin Strawser. He stated that this would be the same type of set up the company had done several times within the city and that the new wells would benefit around 1000 people in the city who have signed leases with Chesapeake.
A local resident also spoke on the matter, stating that the wells belong to the citizens of White Settlement. This resident stated their belief that there are too many unanswered questions about Chesapeake at this time and that by agreeing to these four new wells, the city may be losing the power to get those answers from Chesapeake.
With no one else wishing to speak, the public hearing was closed. Project Manager Jack Bell addressed the council, bringing up the idea of a moratorium on future applications for gas drilling.
“I would also ask you at this time to do a moratorium on any future applications for well permits for at least sixty days to allow the city to do research into some answers and other things that we need to look at,” Bell said.
A motion was made to approve the four well applications from Chesapeake. That motion passed 4 – 0. Council member Steve Ott was not present at the meeting due to medical reasons.
Following that motion, a second motion was made to impose a sixty day moratorium on accepting any further drilling applications. That motion passed 4 – 0, prompting Strawser to approach the podium. He questioned if council was permitted to take such an action without holding a public hearing, but was told they were.
The avenues the City will use to look into some Chesapeake related concerns were discussed earlier in the evening. Finance Director Phil Bray addressed the council on this matter, first updating them on the progress made by Maguire Consulting. This company was engaged by the City in February to identify, document, and attempt to collect money that Chesapeake owed to the city. Bray informed the council that this was something that was not accomplished, as Maguire ended the project after concluding they could not identify any recoverable amounts for the city, suggesting instead the city seek the services of an Oil and Gas Attorney and to secure better lease terms and records.
Bray then presented two individuals to the council. First up was oil and gas attorney Lisa Lumley, who is now working with the city and has reviewed leases and issued legal demand letters to obtain more in-depth information about the city’s lease activity and the amounts of money due to the city. Lumley also crafted a new lease for the city to use in the future that is more favorable to the city than the lease they have been using when signing over mineral rights.
Lumley addressed the council, saying that she hopes the information she has requested will help the city get a better handle on things and figure out if they’re being paid correctly for their mineral leases.
Bray also introduced a representative from Holland Services, who will work as the city’s agent in analyzing information on leases, the wells, and the proceeds. This company will create a database of all the city’s leases and will work to make sure they are being paid correctly for those leases.
ACTING CITY MANAGER NAMED
With City Manager Linda Ryan taking medical leave later this month, council voted 4 – 0 to name current Economic Development Director Jim Ryan as the acting City Manager in Linda Ryan’s absence. Mr. Ryan will receive no salary increase for this.
MOWING CHANGE APPROVED
Building Official Kyle Reeves presented this item to council as he sought a change that would add a fee to having city employees mow overgrown properties in the city. Currently the city uses a contractor for this, sending the contractor out to mow and charging property owners $250 if they let their grass get out of control to the point that this is necessary.
With more of these properties popping up than the contractor can handle, Reeves was seeking a change that would allow city employees to go out and mow them. They can currently do this, but no fee was associated with it. He said this could speed up the process and get more of the overgrown properties in the city mowed.
“Do we have the manpower to mow these?” Council member Elzie Clements asked.
Clements stated that he’s been told on several occasions that city employees don’t have time to do extra tasks. He was told that this was just a back up plan and that the primary work would still be done by the contractor.
A motion was made to approve this item. That motion passed 4 – 0.
Council voted 4 – 0 to reimburse the Community Chest for three $500 scholarships they will be awarding to graduated Brewer students.
“I think it’s a great cause we can provide for these students,” Clements said.
Mayor Burns stated that he’d like to see the scholarships not just awarded to WSISD students, but WSISD students who actually reside in White Settlement.
Council approved 4 – 0 a residential real estate listing agreement. This will partner the city with an agent that will put 18 city owned properties on multiple listings and look to sell them. This agent will receive six percent of the money made from these sells.
A motion to sell police vehicle light bars for one dollar was approved 4 – 0. Captain Odle of the White Settlement Police Department presented this item, stating that he’d been contacted by an officer from the small town of Breckenridge to see if the WSPD could donate any items to their department. These light bars were said to be “just collecting dust,” as the WSPD has moved to a different style light bar for their vehicles.
A discussion was held on the legality of giving the light bars away. After initially tabling this item for further research, council eventually re-opened it and approved the sell of the items to Breckenridge PD for the sum of one dollar.
After looking at several different dates, budget work sessions for the council are set to begin on July 17 at 6 p.m.