A rate increase has caught many Van Alstyne residents off guard and they came out to voice their disapproval at Tuesday night’s city council meeting. Two major agenda items, a site plan approval for a new business and the situation with Councilman John Jennings, took a backseat to complaints from the public about the new rate hike.
As reported previously by the Leader, a water rate hike was in the new fiscal year budget as approved by Council on Sept. 27. The hike, which increases in steps, works out to be, for instance, 15 percent for 7,000 gallons per month, deemed the average user amount. But higher-volume users will pay a higher percentage than the average user. The water rate increase was presented for a public hearing on Sept. 23. There were no citizens who showed up for the hearing.
The higher rates were effective Oct. 1, and recently began showing up on residents’ billing statements, causing many to do a double-take. Van Alstyne resident Al Rodriguez reported that his water bill shot up to $441. “This is twice my [normal] electric bill,” he said.
Heidi Boevers told Council that she had been out of work for 18 months and would have prepared for the higher rates had she known they were coming.
“I do not understand why we got no notice,” she said. “This is a small community, and we’re supposed to pull together and help each other.”
John Garrett stated that he didn’t agree with the increase to capture the prior month’s billing. “This majority decision is creating a hardship for many.”
William McKeeman spoke of conversing with some of those on council and also objected to paying higher rates for his water charged before the increase went into effect.
“That’s like the butcher raising the price of my steak after I ate it,” he told Council.
Van Alstyne Public Works Director Steve White followed the citizens’ remarks with a statement, saying that water in Texas has become a commodity and all money from water revenue goes into infrastructure maintenance and repair and operating costs. White said that the city was hit with water usage fees from the Red River Conservation Board for the water taken out of the ground, paid monthly.
“The City isn’t trying to place a burden on the backs of the citizens with this rate increase,” said White, who went on to state that Anna, Howe and Melissa still have higher rates than Van Alstyne.
Councilwoman Kaaren Teuber later floated the question as to whether or not the water discussion was going to be on the November meeting agenda. Mayor Teddie Ann Salmon told the Leader that residents can request to have an item considered for inclusion on the next city council agenda by submitting their request in writing to City Hall to the Mayor’s attention. Teuber confirmed that the item will be on the November agenda.
The subject of a replacement for Councilman Jennings was discussed but eventually led to what the mayor termed “an impasse.” There were four voting members on this night — Teuber, Jim Smith, Russell Moore and Billy Plake — who each made separate motions to have one of five voluntary candidates placed on the board. Of those five candidates — Timmerle Kelly, Wayne Cummings, Robert Lewis, Adam Wise and Pat Patterson — none were accepted. Each of the four candidates present (Lewis was absent) introduced themselves before Council voted on a replacement.
Under state law, with four members voting it would take a clear majority of 3-1 to pass a candidate for the seat. A 2-2 tie would result in Salmon being the tiebreaker. However, if just one member abstained, the vote on that motion would go nowhere. What it turned out to be was Smith and Teuber against Moore and Plake, as one pair would abstain from the others’ motion, letting it die from lack of votes.
Ultimately, the motions went nowhere and the item was tabled for November. Until then, according to those at the meeting, Jennings is still a member of the city council.
A pleasant surprise for some was a presentation of a site plan and artist’s rendering for a new Golden Chick restaurant on the Central Expressway service road (Henry Hynds Expwy.) The restaurant will be open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and will create 20 jobs with a projected annual salary impact of $300,000 - $350,000. Council approved the site plan, and the restaurant is projected to open its doors in the first quarter of 2014.
In other Council business:
— Council approved a zoning change from Commercial 1 to Commercial Business District for a property at 130 N. Waco St.
— The Mayor was authorized by Council to sign a resolution declaring the Van Alstyne Leader the city’s official paper of record for the new fiscal year.
— Council approved the abandonment of an alleyway adjacent to 524 S. Main St.
— City Manager Frank Baker was authorized by Council to sign an interlocal agreement for the the sale of more than 17 million gallons of water to the City of Melissa for $18,797.30. This is a take-or-pay water water line with treated water piped in by the North Texas Municipal Water District.
— Council authorized Salmon to sign an agreement letter with auditors LaFollett and Company, PLLC.
— Council tabled approval of amendments to the Van Alstyne Community Development Corporation’s bylaws. Council then approved repayment of a loan to the VA Economic Development Corporation from the CDC. The original loan amount was $20,000, of which $13,226.13 is still owed.
— Council nominated former VAISD Superintendent Charlie Williams to the Grayson County Central Appraisal District Board.
— Following a closed session meeting, Council directed city attorney Julie Fort to create a contract between the EDC and Sharif Alshawish of Romano’s Pizza Cafe for the sale of the building located at 221 E. Marshall St. The amount of the sale is $140,000.