Sunday, May 31, 2015

Downtown Development Incentives Return

The agenda packet for the June 2nd City Council meeting included information on downtown development.  City Staff and Catalyst Urban Development will present:

1.  Discussion and consideration of the recommendation of the DDC board to adopt incentive policy framework as proposed by Catalyst Urban Development and City staff.

2.  Discussion and possible action regarding funding for incentive policy framework as recommended by DDC board, and as proposed by Catalyst Urban Development and City staff.

City Council engaged Catalyst Urban Development and this is the culmination of Phase II of four possible phases.

...a funding strategy/incentive framework has been prepared by Mr. Rutherford and submitted to staff for review. A draft of this document was presented to the Downtown Development Commission at their meeting on May 12th. Commission members provided additional edits and suggestions, which were conveyed to Mr. Rutherford shortly thereafter. The resulting final draft of this document - with these edits and suggestions addressed - is attached. Key questions which need to be addressed by the Council in order for staff to proceed are:

1. Does the Council have a desire to contribute funding to this incentive strategy? 
2. Does the Council have edits or suggestions to make related to the draft document? 
3. Does the Council desire to acquire or facilitate acquisition of key properties for economic development purposes? 
4. If the contribution of funding is desired, what level of funding, and from what source
5. Should collaboration between Council, COSADC, and TIRZ take place to align priorities to support this effort? 
6. Organizationally, the designation/creation of a staff position (as suggested in the report, a "single source position that serves as the clearinghouse for City Center interests requiring an economic development process, in most cases, held by the economic development department of the respective City") as well as any associated funding requirements.
I expected this level of discussion during Council's strategic planning effort, which was not recorded or shared with the public for the second consecutive year.  COSADC's Roland Pena talked numerous times to the Development Corporation board about developing several buildings, including downtown, as possible strategies.

Council's packet has "N/A" under financial impact, but the presentation has several example projects that require substantial funding to fill projected financial gaps.  The financial impact could be significant.  

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Campus Carry Passes Texas Senate: House Next

The Standard Times reported:

Texas surged toward allowing concealed handguns in public college classrooms, dorms and buildings with a key Senate vote Saturday.

If approved by the House on Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the bill into law, taking effect Aug. 1, 2016. The legislative session ends Monday.

Flashback six years for the local take on this issue:

"I believe that we all have a right to carry under a concealed handgun permit as long as you pass a training course and background check," Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo said. "It's a fundamental right that Texans have."

James Adams, the ASU police chief, said the course required to obtain a concealed handgun license is not adequate training if someone were put in a highly stressful situation like a school shooting. He said he and his department oppose the legislation.

"My opposition is not the right for people to have weapons," Adams said. "My biggest concern is the level of training and process that people go through to get the training."

He said police officers receive an extraordinary amount of handgun training, and even they might have a hard time following procedure if a shooting were to occur.

Adams also said a police officer's job would be far more complicated when responding to a call where multiple people have guns.

"It's different than if a guy holds up a liquor store or a residence," he said. "When you have a situation where you have potentially hundreds of people around, it makes it harder for people to manage in a situation like that. Had students been armed at Virginia Tech, would it have really turned out different?"

There's no public record of any other stance from current Angelo State administrators.  This bill will likely be signed into law before their voice can be heard.

Update 6-1-15:  The House passed the measure 98-47.  No local positions were mentioned in this article.

Update 6-6-15:  The Standard Times did a piece on Angelo State University and Howard College needing to implement campus carry.  Brace for impact.

Avenue P Townhall Meeting: 2015 vs. 2011

The City of San Angelo will conduct another town hall meeting on Avenue P flooding the city's plan to alleviate this longstanding problem.

On September 19, 2011, former City Engineer Clinton Bailey, along with former City Manager Harold Dominguez and City Councilman Johnny Silvas, hosted a neighborhood meeting. Approximately 25 area residents were present to voice their concerns regarding the flooding. Solutions were discussed to alleviate property damage and mitigate health risks due to the area flooding. The Master Drainage Plan recommended this project to mitigate the flooding issues experienced so often in this neighborhood. This project will direct runoff from the area to a storm drain under W. Avenue P and discharge it east of S. Chadbourne Street into the Red Arroyo. The storm drain is designed to carry the 5-year storm event, with most of the heavier events contained within the ROW. 

At the City Council meeting on November 1, 2011, City Council approved funding for this project at $1.7 million for design and construction. $755,000 of that was appropriated from the 2011-2012 budget at the December 6, 2011 City Council meeting. $1,045,000 was budgeted in fiscal year 2012-2013, bringing the total budgeted amount at that time to $1.8 million. City Council approved additional funds in the amount of $640,000 during the May 14, 2013 general meeting. The total budgeted amount is $2,440,000.

The City sought bids in February 2013 for the Avenue P project.  City staff took a recommendation to Council in July of that year to undertake the project.  Council unanimously approved Reece Albert's bid to address this longstanding problem .  Here's the city's 2013 take on Avenue P flooding.

The area around W. Avenue P has a history of severe flooding. In fact, the 2000 Master Drainage Plan prepared by Freese & Nichols, Inc. ranks this project as the #2 most recommended drainage improvement project in San Angelo. The current drainage issues along Avenue P are caused by excessive street flow and limited channel capacity downstream. Stormwater runoff in this area flows from over 430 acres and from as far away as Angelo State University.

Local flooding in the area has been a major health, safety, and welfare issue for decades. Damages caused by the deep, swift water include stalled/flooded vehicles, numerous flooded homes and other property, and possible drowning. In addition, the flooding causes blocked travel paths that are especially important in the event of an emergency.

Citizens are invited to a June 4, 2015 town hall meeting for an update on the project.   It starts at 6:00 pm at St. Mary's Catholic Church.  The delay resulted from multiple factors, including the loss of numerous city engineers.  While our drought of engineers is yet to end under Public Works Executive Director Ricky Dickson, the Avenue P project looms on the horizon.

Update 9-3-16:  The Avenue P saga continues as the city diverts to yet another strategy to solve flooding concerns, buying homes.

Update 3-28-19:  City Engineer Russell Pehl could be leaving with Avenue P flooding still a concern

Update 11-12-19:   City Engineer Lance Overstreet presented the Avenue P retention pond to City Council.  The project is expected to take between 18-24 months.

Update 7-5-22:  The city finally finished a project designed to reduce flooding on Avenue P.  The detention pond is complete and ready for Chamber of Commerce blessing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

COSADC Board to Hear Sales Tax Declined 5.35%

After forty two months of increases (on a same month basis) City of San Angelo sales taxes finally fell short.  April 2015 sales taxes fell nearly $50,000 from April 2014.  The oil boom may return but San Angelo has one definitive sign of decreased economic activity, just in time for the opening of the new Marriott Courtyard.   

The Development Corporation Board will consider the sale of fire damaged space formerly occupied by MedHab LLC.  Sunbelt Construction LLC will pay $100,000 for the building at 2009 W. Beauregard.  Michael Biggerstaff's Sunbelt Construction shows a 2001 W. Beauregard address.  Documentation in the board packet indicated losses of $650,000 from the fire and no definitive cause.

The Board will discuss economic development agreements with Hirschfeld Energy and MedHab LLC during an executive session.  An employment update showed MedHab with three employees.  Over three years ago City Council provided MedHab a $3.6 million economic development package hoping for 227 jobs, with 85 of those jobs in Phase 1. 

We'll see what else is revealed in tomorrow's COSADC board meeting.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Fleming Experiences City Blob

City Councilman Rodney Fleming expressed his frustration on the lack of movement on his request to study curb cut water harvesting,originally made in March 2014.  An update occurred in December 2014 by City Engineer Karl Bednarz.  Bednarz left city employment in April 2015.  San Angelo Live reported Fleming's reaction to the latest presentation on the topic:

“This is before you, so I’m not getting on to you, but not a single thing has been done on this in the last 18 months. I’m furious. This is unbelievable,” Fleming said red faced. “You just gave me a list of things that need to be done and it’s everything. It’s unbelievable. I’ve been told every three or four months this is getting worked on and there has been nothing done on this thing. Again not your fault, but this thing better get done. We need to have this in place just because we got a ton of rain last night doesn’t matter, people need to be looking towards the future and this is a viable option for residence in our city to use this. I am blown away that nothing was done in 18 months. I’ve been in this position for 18 months and I’ve been told that this is being worked on and not a single thing was done.” 
That sums up the history of San Angelo's water leadership under Will Wilde and Ricky Dickson.  City Councilman Kendall Hirschfeld repeatedly asked the same pair to draft an incentive program for citizens to conserve water.  Such programs are common in other Texas communities.  Hirschfeld had his first Water Advisory Board meeting and faces fulfilling his long time request in his new role.

City staff ignored requests that allow citizens more power in the water equation. Wilde and Dickson protected water revenues at every turn, primarily through non-listening and inaction.  Councilman Fleming is the latest to experience this pattern.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mr. Riley: The Spence Conundrum

San Angelo's Water Advisory Board is new and improved, a far cry from the rubber stamp version under former Water Chief Will Wilde and the non-entity under his replacement Ricky Dickson.  The new Water Chief Bill Riley gave an update on the Hickory Aquifer.  He deferred to Board members saying:

 "I know that most of you are more familiar with the Hickory Project than I am."
Riley went on to talk about Lake Iviie and E.V. Spence Reservoir.

"Spence Reservoir is the other reservoir.  Their water is made available to San Angelo.  It is virtually dry.  It has not picked up any significant water so it doesn't play into the equation right now."
Spence picked up nearly 6,000 acre feet in the last month, going from 9,029 to 14,770 acre feet.  That's roughly the amount in the North and South Pools at Twin Buttes Reservoir.  How is one critical to our water supply and the other irrelevant? 

The answer is we can get Twin Buttes water to our treatment plant.  Riley's predecessor said this in 2009 to an earlier version of the Water Board.

Mr. Wilde stated the Lake Spence water supply pipeline has experience problems and issues, primarily due to the materials used; therefore not a viable water source.
Wilde used a bad Spence pipeline to justify construction of the Hickory pipeline.  Surface water comes and goes.  Two years ago Spence had 30,000 acre feet and no way to move a drop to San Angelo.  That is if Will Wilde told the truth.  Since that wasn't Wilde's strong suit, what is the status of the Spence pipeline?  How much repair or replacement does it need to function as promised?

Spence is part of San Angelo's water history.  It's not clear it's part of our future.

Update 5-19-15:  Spence Reservoir is up three feet in the last 24 hours.  It now holds 17,158 acre feet. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

San Angelo's Water Board Challenge!

The City's Water Advisory Board met for the first time in years today.  The list of names comes from the prior board never pulled together by Ricky Dickson in his term as Water Czar.  Dickson is now the Super Public Works Director, over water, streets and nearly everything else the city under-funded for decades.  The man who never spoke up about the consequences of chronic under-investment will lead the recovery charge on all fronts.

There's a new Water Board in town and someday the City's website will include the current members.  No word yet from Councilman Johnny Silvas on why Paul Alexander is no longer on the board.  That's unusual from a representative so conscientious in getting back to citizens.

Pray for water, wisdom and current information to rain down on our fair city.

Update 5-14-15:  The Water Board webpage has been updated and is now accurate. San Angelo Live noticed the mismatch highlighted in this piece.

Monday, May 11, 2015

MedHab Shoots for $3 million in 5th Capital Raise

SEC filings show MedHab's Johnny Ross selling $3 million in equity.  The May 5th filing showed $25,000 had been raised with $2,975,000 left to be sold.   MedHab's sales are listed in the $1 to $1 million dollar range.  The filing shows MedHab intends to raise this amount within a year, start date May 4, 2015.  Johnny Ross is listed as Sole Manager of the company in this filing.  The document shows no minimum amount for buying an equity stake in MedHab.  The one investor thus far plunked down $25,000. 

This isn't MedHab's first equity raise.  MedHab completed two rounds before the City of San Angelo awarded MedHab a $3.6 million economic development package.  The company has three years to take advantage of the $3.6 million in incentives.  How might that help Johnny Ross sell MedHab to angel investors?

Friday, May 08, 2015

Hirschfeld Wants Out of Economic Development Deal

Hirschfeld Energy informed the City of San Angelo Development Corporation it wanted out of the economic development deal reached in 2009.  Hirschfeld officials requested termination of the agreement and negotiation of a settlement via e-mail on September 30, 2014. 

City Council met a number of times on this subject.  On March 11, 2015 the City announced it would take legal action against Hirschfeld regarding the agreement.  It hired Cowles & Thompson, a Dallas law firm with an initial retainer of $5,000.  City leaders signed the contract with the law firm on February 2, 2015.

Internal documents show the City and Development Corporation asked for

1.  Job creation and retention repayment for failing to grow jobs and retain them for three years.  Hirschfeld Energy lost jobs in 2011 and 2012.  The City seeks roughly $365,000.

2.  Repayment of tax rebates provided by the City of San Angelo in the approximate amount of $266,000.

3. Both the City and the Development Corporation provided Hirschfeld funds for land, buildings and infrastructure.  COSADC seeks $1.5 million, while the City of San Angelo requests roughly $280,000.

These requests total $2.4 million.  A contract is as good as someone's word.

Hirschfeld's website states:

We stand behind our work and what we do.
 We shall see.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Development Corporation Board to Sell Burned MedHab Space?

The City of San Angelo Development Corporation Board entertained a $100,000 offer by an interested party for MedHab's charred office space on Beauregard, the former site of the Concho Valley Center for Entrepreneurial Development.

Airport Lease Bids Wanted

Area citizens have roughly two weeks left to submit bids to the City of San Angelo to lease a hangar at San Angelo Regional Airport.  The draft lease indicates monthly rent of at least $2,500.  That amount could get a bidder 24,000 square feet to house their airplane(s).

Monday, May 04, 2015

Development Corporation Compliance Audit Ordered Released by Texas Attorney General

The Office of the Attorney General ordered the City of San Angelo to release the audit of Development Corporation contracts, which includes a number of economic development agreements. Auditors looked at compliance with contract terms for Martifer-Hirschfeld (now Hirschfeld Energy), MedHab, Glazer's Wholesale Drug and Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Texas. In total auditors examined eleven COSADC contract agreements.

Both the COSADC board and City Council chose not to share this information with the public. This blogger had to appeal to the Attorney General's office for the material's release. Here's the timeline:

January 30, 2015 - Submitted Public Information Request 
February 13 - City Requests Texas Attorney General approval to withhold information 
February 18 - Appealed to Texas Attorney General's office for document's release based on COSADC bylaws and prior publishing of documents where awardees had not met contracted obligations. 
April 23 - Texas Attorney General's Office orders information released
April 28 - City sends required information
It's been my experience that former City Attorney Lysia Bowling frequently requested to keep public information private.  I hope this pattern changes under our new City Attorney.  Consider this my contribution to keeping public information public.

Update 5-5-15:  City Council minutes refer to the audit on September 16, 2014 and February 3, 2015.  While mentioning the prospect of making the audit available to the public the city is yet to do so.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Is City Council Ready to Go High Tech?

Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson will present an audio-visual package for Council's consideration.  The City went out for bids expecting to pay $100,000 to $200,000 for the latest and greatest technology to record meetings and share information while council is in sessions.  The winning bidder came in well above expectations, some $125,000 to $225,000 over.

Anthony's presentation shows a $325,000 capital budget for Public Information while the current operating budget shows $250,000.  I'm sure Anthony will clarify these changes in his presentation on Tuesday.  He always does.

The question is what City Council wants.  Did they prioritize this project above other city needs, like the city's looming pension deficit or safety net health services for citizens? 

Council will make their mark on Tuesday.

Update 5-5-15:  Council gave a resounding yes to spending $325,000 on a new audiovisual system via a 7-0 vote.  The discussion will be interesting to watch.

Update 8-4-15:  Wilson sold Council by saying the new system would allow them to video meetings in rooms outside council chambers.  City Council and COSADC board met on 7-21-15 and the meeting was not videod.  I've asked if the new system has been installed.  I'll update this post with the city's answer. City Clerk Bryan Kendrick replied ,"The new audio/video equipment will be operational in September."  .

Update 10-9-15:  The new video equipment will be installed after the next City Council meeting scheduled for October 20th.