Check presentation

Larry Patterson (right) with the Upper Trinity Regional Water District presented Mayor Wyman Williams with a check for the city for more than $500,000 at the City Council meeting on Tuesday. The payment was part of an amended agreement between the water district and the city regarding its water rights at Cooper Lake.

A resolution was passed to establish a Neighborhood Empowerment Zone to bolster affordable housing growth in the northeast part of town and a measure to implement a street improvement survey received much scrutiny at the regular meeting of the Commerce City Council Tuesday night.

Also, the proposed tax rate and budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year were approved on first reading.

The council voted to establish the NEZ effective Oct. 1. The zone is centered around the northeast area of town, south of FM 71, east of Park Street and north of Maple, and will provide incentives for building new homes and refurbishing existing ones.

Incentives include waiving certain city fees for construction of a new home, and giving property tax rebates to owner-occupied houses. Participation in the program is by choice, not mandatory, and applications will be available at City Hall by October 1.

A resolution to authorize a street improvement study by Halff Engineering failed to pass after much back-and-forth discussion between council members. Halff had previously conducted a study of the city’s streets in 2011, and from the study seven streets with the greatest need have been repaired. A new study was proposed with new technology, and would cost the city $55,400.

Another option available to the city would be to work directly with Dynatest, the company with the proper technology to use laser imaging to get a good read on street conditions. This would come at anywhere between $20,000 to $30,000 less in cost, but would come without the benefit of a comprehensive engineering study with price estimates for repair, among other things.

Council member Gene Lockhart and Mayor Wyman Williams wished to conduct the Halff study, while council members Beckey Thompson, Jean Klaus and Stephanie Muller wanted to pursue the cheaper option with Dynatest. When the matter was put to a vote, the measure to go with the Halff study failed to pass with a 2-3 vote, with Lockhart and Williams voting for and Thompson, Klaus and Muller voting against.

A required public hearing was held regarding the proposed budget and tax rate. The hearings were required since the proposed tax rate would bring in more money than the previous year even though the rate remains the same, which is due to increased appraised property values.

The proposed rate is $0.82 per $100 of property value, which is the same rate that has been set by the city for several years now. No one from the community spoke up during the public hearing.

A special meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 10 at City Hall to hold a second and final public hearing. The budget and tax rate would then be accepted at the regularly-scheduled meeting on Sept. 17.

For more information about the proposed budget and tax rate, read our story at https://bit.ly/2z7T3Fd.

In that same vein, the council awarded hotel tax funds to multiple entities. The Chamber of Commerce, Northeast Texas Children’s Museum and Texas A&M University-Commerce will receive $7,500 in hotel tax funds in the next fiscal year, while the city’s Parks and Recreation Department will receive $5,000. $20,000 will also go toward a feasibility study to put in a hotel and convention center in town, and $617.50 will go toward advertising the city’s hotels on statewide tourism websites.

A check for $523,242 was presented by Larry Patterson with the Upper Trinity Regional Water District. The check was part of an amendment to a contract between UTRWD and the city regarding Commerce’s water rights to Cooper Lake. Signed in 1990, it allowed UTRWD to buy the city’s water rights at the lake for up to 150 years, and starting in 2041, the city would regain access to 25 percent of the lake for a reimbursement amount.

The amendment approved by the council on Tuesday allows the city to acquire the water at any time and removes the reimbursement. In return, the UTRWD will no longer have to pay a five-percent payment to the Corps of Engineers and the Sulphur River Municipal Water District. The check was presented as an advance payment of the five-percent mark.

The council authorized City Manager Darrek Ferrell to execute an agreement between the city and Caterpiller Financial Services to lease two 2019-model backhoes for use by the city. Caterpillar would also purchase the city’s two existing backhoes, which are in need of serious repair, for about $26,000.

The backhoes would be available for 1,000 and 1,500 hours of use per year, respectively, and after five years the city will be given the option to either purchase the equipment or start over a five year cycle with newer models. This agreement comes at a price of $2,300 per month, which includes a warranty on the backhoes.

A presentation was given regarding a potential dog park in town. Jennie Reynolds and Kathleen Hooten, who are both members of the city’s parks advisory board, gave a presentation regarding the park. They have chosen a location in-between A.C. Williams Elementary School and the Eddie Moore Sports Complex for the site of the park, which was dubbed “Scentennial Bark,” in reference to the nearby Centennial Park. Reynolds and Hooten stated that an organization, the Friends of the Commerce Dog Park, is being created and they almost have 501c3 status.

No plans are final yet, but Mayor Williams did give his support for the proposed location.

They hope to host information sessions and fundraising opportunities in the future.

The Commerce Beautification Commission gave its first annual goals report, which is now required due to an amended city ordinance this year. The Commission is proposing creating a community-wide recycling event, expand the downtown planter program, and implementing an “adopt-a-spot” program, where individuals or organizations could adopt public spaces around town to make sure they are kept clean and spur beautification efforts.

Sales tax figures were once again higher than budgeted for, with roughly $961,000 collected so far. Property tax collections were listed at $1,975,108, which is a 97.79 percent collection rate.

The next meeting of the Commerce City Council is a special session on Sept. 10 to hold a hearing on the budget and tax rate. The next regularly-scheduled meeting is Sept. 17. Both meetings begin at 6 p.m. and both will be held at City Hall.

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