By Kathi Bliss
Short, sweet and to the point.
The Lockhart City Council started the 2014 calendar year with a business meeting lasting only a matter of minutes as they laid the groundwork for projects and plans that will last throughout the year.
Utility delivery was on the forefront of everyone’s mind as the council discussed not only electricity and natural gas contracts, but also drainage concerns related to the sweeping “Highway 183 Expansion Project,” a grant-funded improvement of Lockhart’s main thoroughfare, expected to begin construction this year.
The project, which will be funded in large part by a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), promises to add turn lanes to Highway 183 from Pecan Street to Chisholm Trail (WalMart), as well as pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.
However, a TxDOT requirement has asked the city to relocate power, cable and telephone lines and drainage, running everything underground, and it is in that requirement that the project has hit a financial snag.
City Manager Vance Rodgers announced last year that the initial planning of the project could not be funded as planned, with underground drainage across the whole of the project. Funding ran out for underground drainage improvements at Blackjack Street southbound, and Rodgers began negotiations to improve the drainage another way.
On Tuesday evening, he asked the council to approve moving forward with bid advertisements for the open drainage improvements ahead of a Jan. 16 meeting to finalize the funding and design for the project.
Moving forward in this way, he said, will allow the City to work with contractors on the utility relocation project and begin phasing in the project on the north end, while drainage improvements are made on the south end.
The council unanimously approved moving forward.
They also considered suspending an interim rate change requested by Texas Gas Service, which will result in an average increase in natural gas costs, increasing residential customer billing by nearly $5 per month.
The contract was originally set to take effect on Feb. 17, 2014. The council has the option, however, of suspending the effective date for 45 days, allowing customers to continue at their current, lower rates through the high-usage winter season.
Councilmember Richard Banks noted that he would vote against the measure, because he believes the people of his district would not want him to approve any rate increase. Still, Mayor Lew White reminded the council that under the delivery contract with Texas Gas, they do have the right to increase their rates, and the suspension will at least protect customers until after the cold winter months.
The council approved the suspension with a 6-1 vote, and the increased rates are expected to go into effect in March.
With unanimous council approval, Rodgers will also begin considering options for decreasing the amount of electricity the city purchase from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) over the next five years.
The current contract allows the City to acquire up to 10 percent of their electricity from other sources. Rodgers suggested an amendment to the contract that will allow that amount to be gradually increased, over the next five years, to 25 percent.
He said he would be researching other providers and power options, in an effort to find the electricity that customers need at the best price, in an effort to decrease delivery and usage charges and pass those savings along to City of Lockhart customers.
In brief news:
They approved an ordinance that will vacate a small amount of right-of-way in the 1600 block of North Pecos Street. The property was improperly surveyed when a home was built in the area several years ago, and vacating the easement allows the city to relinquish responsibility for any maintenance of the property.
The council heard an update on the renovation project at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library and Masonic Annex. Construction continues on the project, and interior painting is expected to be completed in the next two weeks. They are also moving forward with the tile, and have completed the fire escapes.
Councilmember Kenny Roland reminded the council that District One Pride will be hosting the annual March in Honor of Dr. Martin Luther King on Jan. 20, beginning at City Hall and marching to Cedar Hall for a meal and presentation later that morning. Watch the Post-Register for additional details on the March as they become available.
The Lockhart City Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and are televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.