by A.C. Hall
The White Settlement City Council has set up over two million dollars from multiple sources over the past year in order to work on the infrastructure of the City. On Tuesday night council put some of that money to use, approving a nearly $1 million project that will see a section of Cherry Lane get completely re-done.
Using funds from an existing tax note, the $998,550 project was approved unanimously and will see the section of Cherry Lane from I-30 down to the old Taco Bell get re-done. Project Manager Jack Bell said that the old road will be torn out and a new concrete roadway complete with new curbs, gutters, and drive approaches will be built in its place. The price of the project also includes striping.
“It’ll be a complete turn-key job,” Bell said.
Council members named Cherry Lane as a priority for them in a recent budget work session and Bell said that they are going to get the project moving as soon as possible.
“We have asked them to put us on the schedule as quick as they can,” Bell said.
Details such as the time line for how long the work will take, plans for usage during the project, and the expected start date were not discussed.
BUDGETS AND TAX RATE APPROVED
After multiple meetings and work sessions in recent months, council unanimously approved all budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The Crime Board budget was approved first. With expected revenues of $1.7 million and expected expenditures of $1.3 million, the budget has a surplus of $454,000. Council member Danny Anderson thanked Police Chief Jack Ely for his help in getting the budget ready.
The Economic Development Corporation budget was approved next. With expected revenues of $1.4 million and expected expenditures of $1.7 million, the budget has a deficit of $247,000. The existing fund balance for the EDC will be used to cover the deficit.
The main city budget was the last to be approved. This budget is perfectly balanced at $9.7 million. The budget includes a five percent cost of living raise for all city employees, an extra firefighter per shift at the fire station, and kitchen upgrades at the Senior Center. This still leaves around $60,000 in the council reserve and $25,000 in the City Manager reserve that can be used for any unforeseen items that pop up in the coming year. Acting City Manager Jim Ryan also said he’s been told that the city has some extra tax money coming to them next year that they weren’t expecting.
“We have good income coming in the next year,” Ryan said.
A public hearing was held for each of the budgets before they were passed. No one spoke about the Crime Board, but one citizen did sound off on the EDC and City budgets. The citizen first spoke about the lack of lobbying power the City has. Instead of relying on outside groups like the Texas Municipal League to lobby for the city in Austin, the citizen spoke about their desire to see the city crusade for themselves, saying they’d like to see the EDC do more to lobby for the city. This citizen also spoke about the possibility of allowing the use of golf carts in the city to help seniors get around easier.
Speaking on the main city budget, the citizen spoke about water usage. Instead of allowing Chesapeake to use city water when drilling wells, this citizen said they should be forced to drill their own wells or haul water in. A member of city staff answered this, saying that the majority of the water Chesapeake uses when working in the city is bought from Fort Worth.
The citizen continued to speak about water, posing the idea that those who don’t use their allotment of water each month could donate it to a senior citizen to help lower their bill. The need to stand up to Fort Worth and their rising water costs was also brought up.
With the budgets passed, council moved on to setting the tax rate for the coming year. Council unanimously approved a tax rate of .69 cents per $100. This is up from the previous rate of .67 and will present an annual increase of around $30 for those who own an average home in the city.
NEW DRILLING MORATORIUM
City staff reported some progress as they continue to try to get detailed information from Chesapeake regarding the City’s gas holdings and production, but council still unanimously approved a 90 day moratorium on accepting oil and gas permit applications. Finance Director Phil Bray presented this item to council, saying that one of the companies council has engaged to help with Chesapeake has received a large amount of information from Chesapeake. The info hasn’t been in hand long, and Bray cautioned that there’s a lot to look at.
“It’s going to require quite a bit of research and analysis,” Bray said.
Bray indicated that the information will be studied and then will be brought back to council along with possible updates to the city’s drilling ordinance. He also stated that any new moratorium could be lifted once staff has gone over the information and crafted a new drilling ordinance.
With the previous 60 day moratorium already expired, council unanimously passed a motion to enact a new 90 day moratorium as well as direct staff to work on a new drilling ordinance.
UPDATE FROM THE RETAIL COACH
Aaron Farmer of The Retail Coach was on hand to give the city an update on the work his company is doing to help bring more growth to the city. Farmer said he and others from his company have made several trips to White Settlement to do license plate scanning and to get to know the community. By scanning license plates at businesses, The Retail Coach can see where the cars come from and develop an idea of the city’s retail drawing power. Farmer stated that White Settlement has a retail trade area of 137,000 people.
As part of their efforts, Farmer and his staff spoke to local shoppers and asked them about what items they usually leave the city to purchase.
“I can’t tell you how many people said we need a grocery store,” Farmer said.
This led to a discussion about retail leakage, with Farmer saying grocery was number one on that list. He estimated that there’s around $167 million worth of grocery retail leakage. Farmer stressed that a local grocery store wouldn’t capture all that money, but could possibly look to pull in ten to twenty percent of it. Clothing was another area pinpointed as having a lot of retail leakage, as were sit down restaurants.
Farmer told the council that his group has been in touch with retailers, developers, and re-developers in an effort to get them all to come to White Settlement. Mayor Jerry Burns asked when tangible results will be seen and was told by Farmer that there are two restaurants he’s in discussions with and he believes that at least one will be moving forward with coming to the city in the next few months.
The Retail Coach has worked with the city to develop some new marketing tools to draw in retailers and will aid the city at an upcoming retailer convention in Dallas.
Council unanimously approved a 1.8% rate increase in trash collection fees. Under their agreement with the City, Progressive Waste Solutions is allowed to request an increase each year. Residential customers will see an increase of around .20 cents on their monthly bill.
After a lengthy closed door executive session, council voted unanimously to extend the five percent city employee raise to both the City Manager and the City Secretary.
Council member Elzie Clements received an excused absence from the meeting as we is on vacation.