The Rockport City Council, at its special meeting Tuesday, Aug. 31, deliberated on the proposed 2021-22 budget. That deliberation was preceded by comments from residents about flooding issues in Rockport Country Club, as well as other specific items in the budget.
After another lengthy discussion by the council, Finance Director Katie Griffin outlined the changes council members want to see in the budget. She will make those changes prior to the public hearing for the budget, which is set for Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Most of the changes to be made deal with how particular personnel will be funded, which items are to be eliminated from the budget, and how remaining funds from the Community Disaster Loan (CDL) are to be spent. Griffin will provide a cover sheet for the Sept. 7 meeting outlining the changes made.
Public comments and deliberation
Most of the debate about the budget, in regard to large dollar amounts to be spent, or not spent, have centered on funds allocated for drainage maintenance.
Jack Wright said he has watched this (flooding issue) story unfold for the last few weeks and is troubled by what he sees.
“I have a 14-year history of negotiating contracts with the City over drainage issues in Rockport Country Club (RCC). I read with interest Jim Urban’s comment that the City has managed its drainage issues with grants, and not through a conscientious budgeted maintenance program. For the record, (Director of Public Works and Development Services) Mike Donoho is a friend of mine. I did not come here to throw him under the bus, but to support him.”
Wright said the flooding problems in Rockport Country Club “is not a golf course issue, it is a subdivision where people live issue.”
He noted the golf course was designed to take stormwater from the streets within the subdivision, which was not in the city limits when built.
He showed a picture of a sinkhole that first surfaced about six years ago, located approximately 200 feet from the intersection of Marion Drive and Henderson Street.
“It is directly over the drain line that empties the north side of the subdivision. That drain is one of only two exit points that carry the water from the subdivision, through Tule to Little Bay,” said Wright. “Specifically, the streets of Henderson, Cherry Hills, Oak Tree, Traylor, Olympic, Peach Tree, Oakmont, Cedar Ridge, and Marion drain through the pipe that used to be there. That is 305 homes plus 14.6 acres of concrete and rooftops of the Oaks at Bentwater (apartments that were not originally included in the RCC drainage plan).”
Wright said the sinkhole first caved in approximately two years before Hurricane Harvey.
“Because the city has essentially no maintenance budget for street issues, the fix was to fill the hole with sand. I don’t fault the maintenance crew, they used what the budget allowed,” he said. “But it was the exact wrong action. This sinkhole has reopened at least six to eight times since then, and each time the City’s fix was more sand.”
He showed another picture of the sinkhole taken Aug. 27. It was much wider than the original sinkhole.
“Each time the sinkhole was filled with sand it stopped up the drain line. The next significant rain event would either push through the sand plug or as in this last event, found alternate routes.”
Wright said there are six sinkholes in the intersection of Marion and Henderson caused by the recent major rain event.
“Each has been filled with what appears to be caliche. Most of them have been refilled as the holes continue to devour what is poured into them. My fear is the next significant rain event will completely collapse the intersection of Marion and Henderson.
“I understand the city has engaged a reputable firm to determine the extent of the damage and the required fix. Please provide them the necessary budget before a disaster happens.”
Kathy Kane asked why City Manager Kevin Carruth has not provided a revised budget based on the twice-proposed tax rate.
“Council gave clear direction on two occasions to lower the budget. Yet, we are here today without a balanced plan,” she said.
Andrew Kane said the City does not have a budget cut using the No New Revenue Rate (NNRR).
(Note: The NNRR was narrowly approved with a 3-2 vote at the council’s Aug. 24 meeting.)
“We’re asking the council to balance the budget with increased revenues,” said Kane. “Tell (City) staff you won’t give (cost of living) increases if you can’t do your job.”
Kristie Rutledge questioned how the City can maintain large increases in personnel costs annually.
Russell Roberts said he appreciates the additional $200,000 added to the budget for streets and drainage, but it isn’t enough.
“You know what we need to do,” he said, before encouraging the council to spend CDL money addressing drainage issues.
Roberts also encouraged the council to seek bond money for larger capital projects, before thanking them for what they do.
The council then discussed particular items in the budget, and desired changes. It is those items, collectively, that will be outlined on a cover sheet at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Griffin noted additional funds in the budget from ad valorem taxes come from new value added to the tax roll, not existing homes. This is due to adopting the NNRR.
Addressing employee pay, Mayor Pat Rios noted the City was losing employees to surrounding areas about six years ago. A salary study was conducted, changes were made, and the City quit losing employees to surrounding areas.
“The cost to recruit, hire, and train new employees is devastating when we lose employees,” he said.
Donoho said, “Our employees are the backbone of this City. Many live on barely a livable wage. I hope you (council) will do everything to support them.”
A brief discussion followed regarding the difficulty of finding and keeping employees, and retaining contract employees, which perform much of the work now being demanded by the public (i.e.-drainage projects).
Councilman Brad Brundrett, as the discussion neared its end, asked, “What we presented tonight, does it give you what you need?”
Griffin said, “We can make it work.”