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Telecommunications Sales Tax Splits Vote Tuesday Night

It was a relatively short agenda for Tuesday night’s edition of the Van Alstyne City Council. Along the way, Council approved a rezoning request, two departmental budgets, a fee structure for the Parks & Recreation Department, a special events regulation ordinance and survived a fractured vote to approve a resolution supporting a telecommunications services sales tax.

Before agenda business was dealt with the citizens had their say. Kaaren Teuber addressed Council regarding new digital water meters the city is installing, stating that these are being installed with no notice or instructions. She stated that there needed to be more information provided on these by the city.

Elizabeth Troup addressed Council, stating that she wishes to water her new lawn more than twice a week and that she had applied for a variance days prior but had not heard back from the city. City Manager Frank Baker informed her that the request was with the public works department and that she would be receiving a response.

Rebecca Rodriguez presented her opposition to a proposed peak energy plant to be located in Van Alstyne’s extraterritorial jurisdiction built by Navasota Energy. She said that she did not know anything about the project until two weeks ago and that the emissions from the plant would include “hazardous air pollutants including but not limited to lead, organic compounds, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter including particulate matter with diameters of 10 microns or less and 2.5 microns or less.”

“This plant, the size it is, all of this emission into our air is going to affect the elderly and the children first, the animals, the water to feed the animals, especially if there’s cows,” she said. “This isn’t just going to affect Ballard Road; the wind travels east and south. It is going to affect your community.”

Following the citizen’s comments portion of the meeting, Council held a public hearing and voted on a re-zoning request at 407 Bailey Street to change it from a single family-1 to a two family lot. Longtime Van Alstyne resident Jimmie Farley spoke against the request, citing too many people and noise on her quiet street. Property owner Vince Sawyers then asked to speak and stated that he had spoken with the people next door to his lot —on which he wants to build the duplex —and that the lot would be cleaned up and they would cease parking there. The rezoning was approved unanimously, 5-0.

An item submitted by Teuber asked council members to consider and take action regarding a resolution to “protect the health, safety and security of our citizens and community from illegal immigrants,” as it read on the agenda. The resolution specifically addressed immigrants entering across the border illegally. Council did not discuss the resolution and the item died due to a lack of motion.

An item that garnered much discussion in the early part of the year was re-visited on Tuesday night. April Butler, representing the Parks & Recreation Board, addressed Council regarding usage fees for the city’s two main parks hosting sports facilities. The issue stemmed from teams from outside the community coming in and occupying the fields with no notice, causing problems for local teams and incurring electric usage fees. The Parks board proposed usage fees, including: a $30 fee for a two-hour block for local teams and a $50 fee for a two-hour block for outside teams; $50 per day, per team charge for tournament play; and a $25 fee lights usage fee for a two-hour slot. It was noted that this is for the baseball and softball fields and does not apply to the basketball or tennis courts.

The fees will be collected through the Van Alstyne Sports Authority and should not impact kids from VASA or the Van Altyne ISD. Council approved a motion to turn this over to city staff to prepare a fee ordinance.

Council approved the 2014-15 fiscal year budgets for both the Community Development Corporation and the Economic Development Corporation.

A special events ordinance, which had been brought forth by the Van Alstyne Chamber of Commerce at a previous meeting, was approved with wording changes in a 5-0 vote.

The only dissension of the night from council members came during a vote to approve passage of an ordinance imposing a local sales and use tax on the receipts from the sale of telecommunications services within the corporate limits of Van Alstyne. What this unwieldy explanation amounted to was that the city could tax all telecommunications services. According to Council documents, these include: “the electronic or electrical transmission, conveyance, routing, or reception of sounds, signals, data, or information utilizing wire, cable, radio waves, microwaves, satellites, fiber optic, or any other method now in existence or that may be devised, including, but not limited to, basic local exchange telephone service, mobile telephone service, paid telephone, prepaid telephone services, and private communication services. The storage of data or information for subsequent retrieval or the processing or reception and processing of data or information intended to change its form or content are not included in ‘telecommunications services.’”

This was brought to the city’s attention as a possible tax revenue source by the legal department, represented by city attorney Julie Fort. Fort stated that there is a two-cent sales tax that these companies can tack on if approved by the city and that it would be in addition to what is already being charged. This could cause rates to go up if the billing companies decide to pass the cost on to their customers.

What the ordinance would actually cover, however, were vague to some. Council member Timmerle Kelly stated that the felt there needed to be clarification. Nevertheless, Council approved the ordinance in a 3-2 vote with Kelly and Robert Jaska the dissenting voices.

MEETING NOTES: Public Works director Steve White said his department is looking for a teacher to take their conservation materials into Van Alstyne schools, grades K-5. Those interested should contact him at swhite@cityofvanalstyne.us… Library Director Tracy Luscombe thanked the fire and police departments for supporting their Big Rig Day on Monday and stated her last day with the city (she is leaving for Greenville) would be Aug. 26. She was thanked for her dedication to the city by Mayor Teddie Ann Salmon and council members Kelly, Jaska and Russell Moore… Jaska told those in attendance that the next installment of Music in the Park would be Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Dorothy Fielder Park… Councilman Larry Cooper presented general information on the Navasota energy plant after getting approval from the city attorney. He stated that some people were under the belief that it was a refinery, but it is actually a generator plant. He also stated that the power produced by the plant would be used in Van Alstyne, not just Dallas or Garland as some had said. He also plugged the Senior Center Music Night on the second Saturday of each month.