Spending dominates council talks
Impact fees, bonds may pay for improvements
By LPR Staff
While politicians and leaders across the country express deeper and deeper concern that the nation teeters on the brink of fiscal disaster, the City of Lockhart though feeling the strain, insists “the show must go on.”
Finalizing a choice made earlier this month, the coun
cil voted on Tuesday to reinstate impact fees for industrial and residential construction, despite concerns and objections raised by some councilmembers.
“[The Federal Reserve Bank] thinks that a recession is at hand,” Councilmember Paul Gomez said during the discussion. “Although we aren”t feeling it as much in Texas as they are in some other places, we are feeling it. And there are concerns in the Fed about the housing and foreclosure market.”
Gomez stated he has been, and remains, against imposing impact fees at this time, because the increased fees, he feels, are little more than additional tax on the people.
“We know many people that have been living in this town for many years, and have paid taxes for many years,” he said. “According to one analysis, about 85 percent of homebuyers are those that are upgrading and moving into a new subdivision. We are taxing our citizens into bankruptcy and foreclosure.”
Councilmember Lew White, who has been steadfast against the impact fees, in particular road impact fees, throughout his tenure, agreed with Gomez”s concerns, but emphasized the need for pragmatism.
“I”ve always been opposed to the road impact fee because we”re the only one in central Texas that”s doing it,” White said. “But our fees are still the lowest in the area, even with the road fees. And we have about two years before the highway hits us. I do this reluctantly, but I think this is the time.”
White”s comment came in response to a statement from Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram, who reminded the council that other municipalities in Central Texas have been ill-prepared for the explosive growth brought upon them by the construction of State Highway 130.
Councilmember Dick Wieland agreed with Bertram, noting that city staff has alluded to large-scale developments “in the talking phases,” and stating the fees should not be a short-term problem, but rather a long-term solution.
Councilmember Michael Sanders, who had been vocal during previous discussions regarding his support for imposing impact fees on a tiered basis, was not present for the vote, and the reintroduction of impact fees passed the council with a 4-2 vote, with Gomez and Councilmember Kenny Roland opposing.
The impact fee structure will return to the council for review in October.
In related business, the council discussed the results of a capital improvements workshop held earlier this month.
During the workshop, the council discussed the city”s many needs and attempted to prioritize those needs for the best of the citizens. Among major projects suggested for improving the infrastructure and preparing for growth were street and drainage improvement, construction of a new fire station and animal shelter, the purchase of a new fire truck and hiring of several employees. These items, along with the expansion of City Hall to add more office and meeting space, were categorized as “Essential,” while other projects, including remodeling the second and third floors of the library”s Masonic Building, sidewalk installation and the construction of a civic center were thought to be “non-essential.”
To move forward with the projects, the city council will be required to initiate a bond package, which will be discussed at greater length in the coming months, aiming toward a bond election in November.
In other business:
Under recommendations from the city”s Ordinance Review ad hoc committee, the council considered changes to three of the city”s ordinances.
Of particular note, the council was asked to remove ordinances governing “dance halls” and “pool halls” from the Code of Ordinances. The change was suggested by the committee, who expressed a belief that “such businesses don”t really exist” in the form which the ordinance intends to govern them. The committee expressed the opinion that the ordinance is no longer necessary.
Councilmember Dick Wieland, however, suggested that pool halls in particular continue to be a thriving business in Central Texas, and expressed concern that, by removing the language from the Code of Ordinances, the city might be hobbling itself in wooing them.
The council, in time, voted to approve the amendment, along with two others.
The second ordinance amendment changed the language of “Chapter 6: Alcoholic Beverages.” Previously, when discussing the locations of businesses intended for the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages, the ordinance restricted sale near “… any church, school or other educational institution.” The revision will change the language to read “… any church, school or private school,” but will not alter the required distance of alcohol-driven businesses from those locations.
Finally, the committee suggested a change to require permitting fees, deposits and liability insurance for carnivals or circuses within the city limits.
The existing fee of $150 has not been changed since 1987. The committee suggested increasing the fee to $250, requiring a $500 refundable deposit for carnivals or circuses held on city property and requiring liability insurance naming the City of Lockhart as “additional insured,” in the amount of $1 million. Circuses and carnivals sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of Lockhart will be exempted from these fees.
Wieland suggested, and the other councilmembers agreed, that the ordinance should also reflect that such carnivals and circuses will be allowed only if they comply with all state, local and federal laws. The existing ordinance referenced only local and state laws.