Van Alstyne Mayor Larry Cooper opened Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting with the usual rituals, prayer and pledges of allegiance, then went straight to the first item on the agenda — his resignation. More about that in a separate story in this issue, saying that the Council accepted the resignation. Mayor Pro Tem Teddie Ann Salmon picked up the responsibility and continued the meeting.
No one signed up to speak to the Council for items not listed on the agenda, so Salmon went straight into the agenda items.
• By unanimous vote, the Council approved an interlocal agreement with the Van Alstyne ISD to provide a school resource officer for the school district, but the Council agreed also on some wording change in the agreement involving specifications of minimum and maximum salary. Council member Suzon Crowell stated she didn’t “like the specificity of the compensation,” to which Police Chief Tim Barnes said that the salary was the same pay scale that all officers in this are paid now.
There was more discussion before the vote was taken. The officer hired will be an employee of the Van Alstyne PD, but assigned consistently to the school district. The city will pay him, but the school district will reimburse all costs to the city on a regular basis.
Likewise, the Council approved a similar agreement to pay the Economic Development Corporation’s director, with EDC reimbursing the city.
For several months, the Council has been taking steps toward hiring a firm to conduct a forensic on the city’s books. Tuesday night, they made one more step toward that goal by agreeing to sign contract with Vail & Associates The cost will be $125,000 for a forensic audit covering a six-year period, a Vail & Associates representative said.
“You have a reason for wanting to do that. Hopefully, you have in mind finding something.” If the audit finds fraud or any irregularities, the company will provide the city with that information, but if the company has to go to court, “Litigation would not be included in that $125,000,” the spokesman added.
Council Members Lee Thomas and Crowell talked about waiting until the city has an interim city manager on board to begin.
“So he can guide it on a daily basis,” Crowell said and Thomas added, “It would be easier for an interim city manager to be a part of the audit and know what is going on, instead of being told when we went on (before he got here).”
Instead, for the time being, vote went toward contracting with Vail & Associates to do an internal control study, to begin once an interim city manager is seated in his office.
Council Member Brad Clough asked for clarification on the differences between an internal control study and the yearly audit. The spokesman explained that “a yearly audit is based on the city’s financial statements as a whole and deciding if those are materially correct. We are focused on internal control.”
The vote on this issue was two — Crowell and Thomas — for it and Jaska and Clough against. Salmon broke the tie by voting for it. However, this internal control study will only include the Administration and the Public Works departments; approved on a separate vote with Clough abstaining.
A spokesman from Hilltop Securities addressed the Council next, regarding a plan of finance for the city’s purchase of land and paying closing costs in the amount of $175,000. He explained that the city can use unrestricted cash on hand to pay the loan back at a fixed rate, good interest, and short amortization.
Jaska talked with the crowd in attendance about the purchase of the land. He said he had been questioned many times, “Is it a small move by the Council to acquire this property, and is there a plan for acquiring property for a new city building?”
Jaska said the city’s borrowing capacity is less than $2.9 million, and if the city runs into a designated emergency, the city wouldn’t have the borrowing power to answer that emergency solution if it had used that up in purchasing pricier land.
“If anyone wants to judge what the council has done, we have been prudent in our decisions. That (this purchase) would expand the property into a larger property, almost doubling the size, using less than $200,000, and we’d still have over $2 million in borrowing capacity. The property will be marketable once improved. I believe in my heart of hearts that this is a good business decision for this city to make.”
Later, after the meeting, Thomas explained that he did not vote for the contract to be signed to purchase the land “because I had issues the wording. But even though it was signed… I know that part of government is that even though I didn’t agree with the purchase, I want to help mitigate any risk. Just because you don’t win doesn’t mean you can just sit back and do nothing. OK, then it’s time for the funding. You have to go on to the next item,” which in this case was the funding for the purchase.
Jaska will be the point of contact to work with Hilltop Securities on this business matter.
After four public hearings on replatting or rezoning properties around town, the Council approved all requests. These are south of CR 377 and east of State Highway 5; 155 S. Preston Avenue; 556 Gilcrease Street, and 380 Texana Street. The rezoning on Texana and Gilcrease streets were from single-family dwellings to two-family residences, or duplexes. Two people, neither of whom gave their names, spoke to the need for rental space in the city.
The property on South Preston is now allowed to have auctions, but must keep them indoors. Dean Wolfe, the owner, told the Council that they don’t want a large auction in here, that they have one in Tom Bean now. He called that storefront, which is part of the long-standing hardware store, “The Pipe Room,” and a sign in its window calling it a “Flea Market.” He said they are moving their retail store from Anna to Van Alstyne, and that will be in the portion of the renovated historic building that opens on Marshall Street.
In other actions, the Council:
• Accepted an agreement that assigns all liability and financial obligations to the Economic Development Corporation, rather than the city;
• Heard the Police Department’s required report on Racial Profiling;
• Accepted an agreement in the amount of $262,214.45 with Grayson County to perform proposed street repairs;
• Heard from City Engineer Len McManus that he had to trim about nine feet off the Van Alstyne Shared Use Path, Phase 1, because of overages in the bids. This was necessary, he said, to comply with the federal and state money coming into the city to help building this walking and bike trail, which will run from the south side of the high school and end at North Park;
• Heard from Crowell on a plan regarding a proposed city-wide task force created to make recommendations on comprehensive planning for the city of Van Alstyne, with the first meeting possibly being the end of February;
• Approved new rental policies and procedures for using the Community Center, and established a Community Center Coordination part-time job to work with those using the center for private events;
• Approved amendments to the ordinance for water meter installation fees.
Departmental reports included:
• Notification of extended deadline for those wanting to run for the now-open mayor position. That deadline is March 5, and packets are now available for pickup at City Hall, and there is one employment opportunity open at City Hall.
• The police department has been awarded a grant to use for ballistic vests; and there are three opening in the department for patrol.
• The fire department answered 109 emergency calls and 32 fire calls and went on 10 transfers, and that department is short-staffed by four people;
• The recent freezing weather took it’s toll on the public works department, damaging two meters and causing a major water leak that together cost the city more than $14,000 to repair;
• The public library’s door count was up 30 percent from last month, with 29 new patrons.
• Striping in the downtown area begins soon and McManus said and he and Steve White, PW director, are meeting with the contracted company today (Friday) to map out exact locations. One possible problem for those who use Jefferson street is that, if they stripe that state-controlled street in downtown, it must be striped to allow only parallel parking. If they do not stripe it, it can continue to have angle parking on the north side, as it does now. That decision will be made Friday. McManus said they will lose up to eight parking spots.
After a lengthy executive session, which included EDC staff at invitation, the Council returned to open meeting about 11:30 p.m. They made no motions and took no votes on any of the subjects discussed in Executive Session, which included, according to the agenda, a contract with an interim city managers, updates to personnel policies, the vacancy in the mayor’s office, and EDC’s purchase of property.
The regular meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month inside the Community Center, and agendas are posted on the glassed-in bulletin board outside City Hall and on its Website; CityofVanAlstyne.us