Van Alstyne City Council member Teddie Ann Salmon told the standing-room-only crowd, who was gathered for a special called meeting Friday night, that she was the one who put the item on the agenda. The item in question was to “remove all items from the 2017-2018 Van Alstyne budget regarding the Shared Use Path (aka the Van Alstyne Bicycle Trail)” and to bring the project back to the Council for reevaluation at a later date.
This council meeting was made necessary because the second meeting scheduled to follow Friday night was to hold a public hearing on the proposed 2017-18 budget and to approve the proposed tax rate.
The Shared Use Path idea was brought to the City Council four years ago, City Manager Frank Baker said as an update to Phase 1, which was for the bike trail to run from the Van Alstyne High School to the Middle School, and then to North Park, funded by combined funds from the EDC, the CDC, and the city. The city will be asking for bids to complete this portion of the project soon. And, Council Member Lee Thomas said, it will be paid for with combined funds, about 20% city, and 80% state and federal money. Thomas used a graphic to explain, prior to the meeting, that some of the street areas connecting with the bike trail need repairs, and that the tab on those ancillary repairs to the streets and drainage that realize the construction of the bike path is included in that split.
State and federal financial assistance would likewise be applied in the 80/20 split on future phases.
The application for Phase 2 has been completed and submitted to TxDOT, officials said.
Salmon also stated early on that she had spoken with the city attorney, who advised her that, with a motion to that effect and even though there wasn’t a ‘public comment’ portion on the agenda, the public could speak. Motion made, seconded, and passed unanimously. With that, Mayor Larry Cooper took a portable microphone to each of the two dozen or more people who asked to comment. These included members of the public, Economic Development Corporation and Community Development Corporation, Planning & Zoning Commission, a former Chamber of Commerce president and former city council members, the city engineer, and Van Alstyne ISD school officials. But mostly, it was a large percentage of the Dallas Street population who spoke, there to oppose the Phase 2 proposal that the path run down Dallas Street.
CDC board member Collin Flynn reiterated what Thomas had said, that the public needs to remember that, after the $100,000 the city has in the budget and will spend on engineering, it will be the outside government agencies that will pick up the majority of the tab. “We have an opportunity for the government to pay 80% of the project. It’s the best bang for the buck. We can’t have the wind taken out of our sails here. We will lose out on a good grant opportunity.”
Former council member James Flanery said, when handed the microphone, that he has 136 signatures on a document asking the Council to “please suspend any current plans for the shared use plan until the city’s other needs have been met.”
Robert Lewis told the Council that his objection was the route being talked about for Phase 2, Dallas Street. “It was to have gone down Highway 5 and that was a great plan, I thought, and I voted for it. Now I see maybe I was wrong,” Lewis said. He asked if the Council had sent letters to the Dallas Street residents advising them on the proposed route.
There were numerous other mentions, including how helpful it could be for mobility scooters, of trees having to be trimmed back and removed, of yard space lost, and of homeowners insurance going up while property values go down.
There, at times, seemed to be confusion on Phase 1, which has gone through all the necessary processes and which will soon begin construction, and Phase 2. More than once, council members reminded the crowd that these are two separate items, and that this discussion was only about the budget to initially fund Phase 2.
Thomas explained that the path for Phase 2 and all future paths were not set in stone, and could be changed to fit the need. “See that map up there?” Thomas asked as he pointed to the south wall of the Community Center where another graphic was posted. “That map up there could change at any point.”
Council member Suzon Crowell emphasized that Friday night’s meeting “is to remove the funding from this 2017-18 budget.” Salmon said the budget allowed for $100,000 to be used for engineering for Phase 2.
Cooper asked city engineer Len McManus, of McManus & Johnson, what would happen if the city dropped out of the application for Phase 2 now. McManus said it takes about three years to get through the application, negotiation, bidding, and completion process.
“It will probably be September 2018 before you start design, wherever Phase 2 is to go, if we get the award,” McManus said. He also added, in clarification of people’s statements about encroachment on their residential property, “There is an 80-foot platted right of way, down Dallas Street, an existing right of way, that was platted in 1890. It’s not encroachment. If there are trees, that’s a design issue for the design team to handle.”
After giving everyone who asked a chance to speak on the subject, Cooper closed the public comment, then asked the Council members for their final statements before a vote was taken.
Crowell said her major concern was for the budget. “The big question is, is it (the money) for a hike and bike path or for other city services? Or do we go and raise taxes?” she asked.
Thomas said that, so far, Phase 2 has no cost associated with it. “One thing that weighs on me the most is that we don’t have the funds to fix every street or to pull all of our storm drainage underground. To use federal and state funds is, I think, a prudent and wise choice. The return is even more, things get fixed where we need,” he said.
Robert Jaska stated, “Hindsight being 20/20, these issues should have been discussed back in 2013, 2014. My recommendation is to put Phase 2 on hold until we have a plan, and if that means taking it out of the budget, then do.”
Cooper said yes, some funding would be required for engineers. He reminded the residents that, “Anybody on the Council can add an agenda item. It is apparent we need more public hearings. As for as that money, in the proposed budget, it needs to stay there, and planning is essential.”
Salmon, who is also chairman of the Van Alstyne Park Board, said that this wasn’t brought before that board for approval during the past three years, although it shows on the Parks Board budget, which, she added, is made up by the Public Works Department. “My believe is that we do remove this off of the budget. And it be brought back to the Council at a later date. There are so many variables.”
Council Member Brad Clough asked for clarification and got it, that no money has yet been spent on Phase 2. “Like Phase 1, it comes to Council before it is done. All six stages come to Council. Nothing is done in the shadows. It all comes to Council. I think there is a lot of benefit to having this program and appreciate everybody who spoke today. The whole idea of this project is to create community connectivity. As for timing of this project (Phase 2), we are over a year out. This gives us plenty of time, and play off the Mr. Thomas’ input, we are denying substantially cheaper curb and gutter.”
Salmon made the motion to remove the line item from the budget, Crowell seconded, and the vote was three-two in favor, with Jaska voting alongside Salmon and Crowell to remove it, and Clough and Thomas voting to keep it in the budget.
The motion also included that it be brought back to Council at a future date.