by A.C. Hall
At Tuesday evening’s White Settlement City Council meeting the budget for the Splash Dayz waterpark was unanimously approved. With council members Elzie Clements and Mike Arnold out with approved absences, the remaining three members heard from city staff members who have been working diligently on preparing the budget for the waterpark. Finance Director Phil Bray addressed the council about the proposed budget.
“This was our best estimate at that time,” Bray said of the budget. “We already know some things that we could update.”
With no historical basis to look to, the staff spoke of their need to use estimates and at times guesses to prepare what they feel is a reasonable budget to run the water park for a shortened summer season in 2016.
“This is a true guesstimate,” City Manager Jim Ryan said of the budget.
Ryan said he believes the amount being requested will be more than enough to cover costs and that whatever isn’t needed won’t be spent.
The budget for Splash Dayz estimates revenues of $634,000 and total expenses of $1.8 million. That comes to a total operating loss for the 2016 season of $1.2 million.
As Ryan spoke about the budget, he referenced the large amount the City already invested when they took on a bond to build the park. Now that the lease agreement with Hawaiian Falls has been terminated, that $12.5 million in debt will have to be paid back by the City.
“It’s going to take a little bit of a leap of faith, but we’ve got a $12.5 million investment out there that we need to protect for our citizens,” Ryan said. “We need to put a little money into this park. We do not expect to make money this year, but I do not believe we can do any worse than the company that ran it in the past.”
One of the reasons for the high budget for Splash Dayz is the repairs and maintenance that must be done to get the park ready for opening. Over the past weeks several members of city leadership have voiced their displeasure over the state the park was left in by Hawaiian Falls, and Ryan also weighed in on the subject on Tuesday night.
“The park was in a deplorable state,” Ryan said. “It was a travesty how it was left.”
As the discussion about the park continued, both Bray and Ryan spoke of the need to have a budget in place so they can get Splash Dayz ready to open. Bray stressed the importance to the community of getting the park opened as soon as possible, saying the city staff working towards that goal have seen their days consumed with work on Splash Dayz. According to Ryan, the city is aiming for an opening day of July 1 or possibly sooner for the waterpark.
A public hearing was held on the proposed budget and three individuals spoke. The first referenced a business deal that was in place between his company and Hawaiian Falls to repair fences at the property. City staff told the individual that they would contact him about doing the repairs once their budget was approved.
The second speaker told the council of some upcoming events they had planned with a local organization, saying they would like to tie them in with the waterpark and other local businesses.
The final speaker spoke about the large hit to the budget Splash Dayz now represents, saying they hoped that it won’t impact other things in the budget like the library.
Council member Steve Ott addressed all of the citizens who volunteered to come out and help the city clean up the waterpark. He thanked all who said they would be willing to help, but said that due to liability issues they aren’t going to be able to accept any volunteer workers.
With the public hearing completed, council considered taking action on this item. A motion to approve the budget was made. That motion passed 3 – 0.
Following the vote, Mayor Ronald A. White addressed the city staff.
“Your funding’s in place. Get after it,” Mayor White said.
Splash Dayz water wells
Later in the meeting, council considered moving forward with a previously discussed plan to drill two low flow water wells at the waterpark. Public Works Director Robert Smith presented this item, telling council what the wells would accomplish.
“They will basically fill and feed the waterpark,” Smith said.
One well would be drilled near the animal shelter while the other would be located behind the wave pool at the waterpark. Once drilled, the wells would have a low profile as they wouldn not have any storage tanks.
The cost for the two wells is $100,000. As discussions on this item continued, the need for this to get done quickly was stated several times. A time frame of 60 – 90 days after the start of the project for completion was given.
Council voted 3 – 0 to approve the drilling of the two water wells.
Golf cart purchase
Anyone who visited Hawaiian Falls or drove past it probably saw the large golf carts that would ferry waterpark visitors to and from their vehicles. Before council on Tuesday was a consideration to spend no more than $45,000 to purchase some golf carts for this purpose.
“We’re absolutely gonna need them,” council member Dave Mann said.
It was also stated that the carts could be used by the Fire and Police departments at many city events and at events held in the parks.
A motion was made to approve an expenditure of up to $45,000 on golf carts. That motion passed 3 – 0.
More retaining walls discussed
Two retaining walls have already been constructed along the creek in the Municipal Complex in an attempt to combat severe soil erosion along the creek’s shore. On Tuesday, Council discussed an item that would see the erosion project completed. Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp presented this item that would see a retaining wall be built that would stretch down the remainder of the creek in front of City Hall.
“We’re trying to keep the erosion from taking our buildings,” City Manager Jim Ryan said.
The proposal was to get bids on the completion of the project with a cost not to exceed $150,000. During the discussions, Ott asked if there was a way to make the side of the creek in front of City Hall match the other shore that has concrete amphitheater style tiers. Ott expressed his view that it would give the creek a better aesthetic as the two sides would match. Ryan stated that they will look at adding this into the bidding process.
Council approved a motion to move forward with the bidding process by a vote of 3 – 0. Once the bids are received they will come back before council for final approval.
Social media guidelines
Assistant City Manager Jeff James presented this item that would see guidelines for the use of social media established for elected officials and city employees. The proposed guidelines come from the State of Texas. James said one thing the guidelines will do is keep elected officials from getting lured into any arguments or discussions online that may reveal confidential information.
“It’s to protect us all,” James said.
Ott spoke during this item, pointing out in the guidelines a rule that would see elected officials putting a disclaimer on their posts anytime they discuss city related information on social media. The disclaimer would point out that the view given belonged solely to the person posting and not the entire council. Ott contended that anyone reading the post would know the poster was a council member, rendering the disclaimer less effective. As the discussion continued, James explained that the disclaimer would do away with the chance that anyone reading the post might mistake it for the stance of the entire council.
A motion was made to approve the new social media guidelines. That motion passed 3 – 0.
One person spoke during the public comments section, expressing their support for the library. This person told the city leadership that they believed the library is the heart of the city, a view they felt wasn’t shared by some of the city leaders. They shared personal stories about how important the library is to them and their family, saying it has something for everyone. The speaker closed by saying they have heard rumors that the library is being told to freeze open positions and that the hours may be cut, saying that these things would harm the library and would be bad for the community.