By Kathi Bliss
After nearly two hours of sometimes heated discussion, the Lockhart City Council voted on Tuesday evening to say, “thanks, but no thanks” to a proposal from the Seton Family of Hospitals.
The proposal, which despite rumors otherwise City Manager Vance Rodgers said came up for discussion in March, would result in a contract between Seton and the City turning operations of Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS over to Seton. Under the proposed contract, the city council would still have final approval over budgeting decisions, and the city’s contracted medical director would maintain responsibility for protocols, but Seton would take over personnel costs and management, including equipment purchasing, setting price points for patients and maintenance of the fleet.
A standing-room-only crowd, including many employees of Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS were on hand for the discussion, and many spoke passionately and extensively against the City entering the agreement.
High among public concerns were the idea that if Seton took over management of the ambulance service, that paramedics would be inclined to transport patients to Seton facilities, rather than utilizing other area hospitals. Despite assurances from Seton management and doctors, as well as statistics from the Seton-run Luling EMS Service, many concerned residents insisted that having a hospital group run an EMS service would limit patient choices in the matter, and eventually lead to a decline in patient care.
Also, several speakers alluded to the idea that some current EMS employees were marked as “unemployable” by Seton, and threatened that Lockhart EMS would lose up to half their current staff in the event a transfer to Seton took place.
Seton previously responded to that concern by assuring Rodgers and the employees that they would institute a “clean slate” policy. In a number of correspondences, Seton representatives said that all current employees of Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS would be retained under a Seton transfer, pending the passage of criminal background checks.
Some said the City should take the position of, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” and said that if there were revenue problems within Lockhart’s EMS service, that those problems could and should be addressed in-house.
Under the agreement with Seton, the City would be guaranteed a maximum of $250,000 in operational losses for three years, after which point Seton-Edgar B. Davis administrator Neal Kelley said he was confident the city would see Seton’s ability to run the service frugally, without the need for the cap.
Fifteen individuals, including area medical professionals, the administrator of Central Texas Medical Center in San Marcos, four doctors, three paramedics and a handful of concerned citizens spoke to the council, presenting various views on the proposal. Some wondered why the service was not sent out for a bid.
Others said that opponents of the proposal were being short-sighted, and that a partnership with Seton would not only save the taxpayers money, but would offer opportunities for advancement for employees and eventually better health care for the community.
Caldwell County Commissioner Joe Roland berated the Council for having entertained the decision without offering Caldwell County, which pays half of Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS’s operational losses, a voice in the discussion.
Mayor Ray Sanders said later that information about the proposal and discussions had been provided to Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn at several points throughout the process.
Sanders, who stood alone in voting against declining the offer, expressed a disappointment in not only the citizens, but in the staff of Lockhart-Caldwell County EMS, who he said were distributing information that was at times only partially true. He questioned their commitment to the community, asking why they believed the quality of care they, as professionals, provided would change if they were employed by a different organization.
Other members of the council echoed his concerns, but said they had not heard a compelling reason why the City of Lockhart should give up control of management of the EMS service.
District One Councilmember Juan Mendoza chose to abstain from the conversation and from the vote, citing “personal bias,” and offering no further explanation for his silence.
In the end, the council voted 5-1-1 to decline Seton’s partnership offer.
In other business, the council heard a presentation from Ronda Reagan, chair of the Friends of the Brock Cabin, regarding the group’s progress in raising funds and working toward the restoration of the cabin.
Reagan said her group, to date, has more than $25,000 available for the restoration, and said that volunteers had agreed to draft a site plan that includes improvements to Lions Park, possibly including the construction of a pavilion or events center, parking upgrades and the restoration of the cabin itself. The goal, she said, was to make the Brock Cabin the centerpiece of Lions Park.
However, as noted by At Large Councilmember Angie Gonzales-Sanchez, the council has yet to make a firm decision on whether the cabin will be restored where it stands, or whether it should be moved to another location.
Reagan said the Friends of the Brock Cabin were prepared to move forward in drafting an RFP to determine the scope and actual cost of the project. Estimates on the cost of the restoration have fluctuated over the last year, ranging from $190,000 down to Reagan’s suggestion on Tuesday that the restoration could be completed for $50,000 or less.
She also said that an architect and engineer may be willing, for a cost, to develop the project scope and estimates in answer to the RFP.
However, it was unclear whether that cost would be borne by the Friends of the Brock Cabin or by the City of Lockhart, and the council voted to table the measure without taking action on advertising for the RFP until the payment issue was clarified.
Rodgers said that two scopes will be developed for the project – one estimating the cost of restoring the cabin in its current location, and another for relocating the building.
The council also considered an appeal filed by AusTex Parts and Service of a recent decision made by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Last month, the Commission voted 3-1 to deny a Specific Use Permit (SUP) to AusTex that would allow them to place a manufactured home on a lot they own at 117 Mulberry St., and then sell the property as a “land-home package.”
According to City Planner Dan Gibson, it is not illegal for the city to outlaw the placement of manufactured homes within the city, and current ordinances allow the placement of such structures in certain areas by right.
Currently, he said, there are two other manufactured homes in the neighborhood, both of which were built via SUP within the last 10 years. He said his recommendation was to overturn the decision and allow the SUP.
According to the minutes of the zoning commission meeting, the request was initially denied because of concerns within the commission, and concerns expressed by neighboring property owners, that the presence of manufactured homes reduces the value and marketability of other properties in the area.
Dwight Hamilton, a stakeholder in AusTex showed the council photographs of not only other mobile homes in the area, but of neighboring properties in various states of disrepair. He told the council that his company had a willing buyer who was qualified for a loan with the land-home package, and that the structure was built to meet the standards of the Federal Housing Administration.
He also said the buyer did not want to place the manufactured home in a “mobile home park,” because he would not be able to purchase the land in such an arrangement.
After much discussion, including public comments from neighboring property owners who do not live in the area, and members of the community who asked the council to allow the sale in order to increase the city’s tax rolls, the council voted to uphold the decision of the Planning and Zoning Commission, in large part because of the precedent some council members thought they would be setting by allowing a “mobile home” in an existing residential neighborhood.
In brief news:
The council approved a bid in the amount of $92,500 for the purchase of a new fire apparatus for the Lockhart Fire Department. The bid, from Dragon Brush Trucks, of Colorado City, Texas, is for a brush truck, which the department will utilize for grass fires in the undeveloped areas of the city, as well as for fire suppression in terrain where a fire engine cannot drive. Most of the purchase price will be funded through a grant from the Texas Forest Service, with the City’s match investment totaling $9,250.
They voted to amend Lockhart’s Water Conservation Plan, changing the permissible hours for outside watering to 7 p.m. – 10 a.m.
Rodgers said the change was being made at the request of several citizens who asked the city to consider more convenient hours for watering.
Sanders read a proclamation declaring the week of May 15 – 21 as “EMS Week.” He also proclaimed the week of May 22-28 as “Hurricane Preparedness Week.”
Students from Texas State University Geography Department presented a project they completed for an upper-level mapping course. The group created a three-dimensional map of the Downtown Historic District, the nine blocks that surround the Caldwell County Courthouse. The map, which will be made available for review online, is intended to be used as an economic development and tourism tool.
The council conditionally approved the sale of property in the Lockhart Industrial Park to Burnet County Recycling. The sale, contingent upon the approval of a Specific Use Permit, will allow the company to build and operate a recycling center in Lockhart. Rodgers said if the business opens, it will not interfere with the operations of the Lockhart Recycling Center, and may in fact increase the opportunity for area residents to recycle.
They amended the sign ordinance to remove limitations on the period of time private citizens may display political signs in their yards. The change, as explained by Gibson, was driven by a current case before the United States Supreme Court suggesting that limitations on the length of time political signs can be displayed on private property is a violation of First Amendment rights.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Center at Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.