NEWS HEADLINES

Council re-funds bonds, calls for spring election

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When you get a chance to save a cool half-million, you do it.

That’s what the City of Decatur did on Monday evening when it re-funded a series of 10-year-old water and sewer bonds at a significantly lower interest rate.

According to bond adviser Murphy Davis, what the city actually did was sell $3,475,00 in 2004 bonds and use that money to purchase treasury securities that mature on March 1, 2014 – the date those bonds are callable. Proceeds from those securities will pay off those 2004 bonds next year – then the city will save an average of $51,762 a year over the next 10 years as it pays off the new bonds.

“We’re not extending your debt, just refinancing it at a different rate,” Davis said.

Davis praised the city for its strong financial performance, which earned it an A-1 rating from Moody’s Financial Services last month. That rating is a major reason the city can get an interest rate of 2.71 on the new bonds – compared to the 4.64 it was paying on the old bonds.

“Building up those reserve funds helps maintain that A-1 rating,” he said. “That’s about primo as far as a city this size goes. You have a great city here.”

The rating also means the city doesn’t need to buy insurance on the bonds – another saving.

THREE SEATS ON BALLOT

The council also called an election to elect, or re-elect, three members to the city council.

On the ballot for the May 11 election are places 2, 4 and 6, currently held by Susan Cocanougher, Jason Wren and Randy Bowker. All are two-year terms.

The filing period opens today (Wednesday, Jan. 30) and runs through March 1. Early voting is April 29 through May 7 at City Hall.

The council also voted to hold the election jointly with Decatur Independent School District – with the reservation that it’s possible either entity might not have an opposed election, in which case they would be allowed by law to cancel. Both the city and school district set aside funds to handle their own election, and if they are able to hold voting jointly, both come in under budget.

The council also:

  • approved the use of the Harmon Park skateboard park on Saturday, May 25 for a competition to be hosted by Shredderz, a local skateboard shop;
  • approved a zoning variance for the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse to allow the construction of a monument sign with an electronic message board. The property where the Sheriff’s Posse Arena is located along FM 51 South is currently zoned Single-Family, a zoning which prohibits such signs.
  • gave final approval to an ordinance lowering the speed limit on U.S. 380 to 55 mph from Chico Street to the west city limits.
  • voted to cancel the council’s Feb. 11 meeting due to the expected lack of a quorum. That day is Wise County Day at the state Capitol in Austin, and at least three councilmembers are expected to attend. The following Monday is a federal holiday for Presidents Day. With no cases pending from the Planning & Zoning Commission which would require hearings and the publication of notices, the council opted to just handle everything on the fourth Monday in February.

Prior to the meeting, in a work session that began at 5:30, the council heard annual reports on the airport, planning department, public works, civic center, Main Street program, fire and police departments, finance department and the library.

ANNUAL REPORTS
DFD HAS A WAITING LIST

Decatur Fire Chief Mike Richardson reported on his department’s activities for 2012 and going forward.

The DFD currently has three full-time administrative personnel, nine full-time firefighters, seven part-time support personnel and 22 volunteers. A new system for training and utilizing volunteers, modeled after the City of Frisco, has been “very successful” Richardson said, and has actually increased the number of volunteer applications.

Under the system, rather than being constantly on-call, volunteers work a 12-hour shift every nine days. This allows volunteers to schedule their time, come in, do their shift, do their training and go home or to their other jobs. Consequently, the DFD now has volunteers from Boyd, Rhome, Alvord – even one who lives in Bedford.

“This allows us to have a couple of volunteers on duty most nights from 7 to 7,” Richardson said. “It has, to my surprise, increased interest from guys wanting to get hours, get training and get into a professional job.”

Decatur’s limit for volunteers is 30, so there are currently eight spots available – but Richardson said he has 16 applicants for those spots.

Among the department’s accomplishments for 2012 were implementation of a five-year plan, securing a temporary fire training facility, improving the fire inspection process, expanding fire education efforts, encouraging the use of sprinkler systems, working with the public works department to enhance public water supply firefighting capabilities, upgrading training and adding a tanker.

Goals for 2013 include building a portable live-burn simulator to use in training, initiating a “Ready, Set, Go!” program aimed at prevention education for wildfires, reinstituting the Citizens Fire Academy and continuing work in other areas.

The DFD’s response times for city, county and overall came down in 2012: from 5:06 minutes to 5:02 in the city; 10:46 to 10:10 in the county, and 6:59 to 6:12 overall.

POLICE PRODUCTIVE

Police Chief Rex Hoskins went through the statistics, both on crime and on the number of arrests and citations issued by his officers during the year. The DPD’s 19 officers worked 355 accidents in 2012, made 748 arrests and issued 7,852 citations. They responded to 32,279 calls for service during the year – the sixth-busiest out of the last 10 years.

Arrests for DWI, public intoxication and drug offenses were the lowest since 2003. The city had no murders, only one robbery and one sexual assault, 11 motor vehicle thefts, 20 burglaries, 84 assaults and 187 thefts. Of $231,778 in stolen property reported – money, jewelry, clothing, vehicles, office equipment, electronics, firearms and household goods – $63,797 was recovered during the year.

AIRPORT LOOKS AT FUTURE

Finance Manager Brad Burnett, who recently took on the additional responsibilities of Airport Manager, gave the council a rundown on aircraft, employment, hangar rentals and companies located at the Decatur Municipal Airport.

Currently there are 52 airplanes and one helicopter based at the airport in 48 closed, open and privately owned hangars. Employers at the airport – including Decatur Jet Center, United Rotocraft Solutions, Wayne’s Aircraft Services/Clearview Hangar, Alamo Aerospace, Garrett & Hasty Properties and the City of Decatur – generate approximately 50 full-time jobs. The airport’s fixed-base operator (FBO) sold 17,895 gallons of AVGAS in 2012, up 8 percent from last year. Jet fuel sales were down, however, by 29 percent from 21,412 gallons in 2011 to 15,105 in 2012.

The airport generated reveues of $62,845 in 2012, with expenditures coming in at $206,022.

Plans for 2013 include refurbishing the terminal building with paint and tile flooring, and a fence project that will enclose the perimeter of the airport. Six electronically-operated gates will be installed as part of the $130,000 project, with $13,000 to be paid by the city and the rest through a grant from TxDOT’s aviation division. Burnett said he has also contacted Oncor about going underground with some power lines on the airport grounds to eliminate a potential cause of crashes.

A ramp refurbishing is due in 2015 – engineering will start next year – and the city will look at expanding both the width and length of the runway. And Burnett said he would like to explore the current hangar situation and come up with suggestions to the council on how it might be improved.

“There is a lot of interest in people building hangars out there,” he said. “We need about 40 t-hangars and a corporate hangar – but right now they have to give it back to the city in 20 years, and most are not willing to do that. We’ll be coming back to you to see if there’s a way we can modify that.”

DEVELOPMENT DOWN

Planning Director Dedra D. Ragland, AICP, went over her report with the council, noting that since the record year of 2008, development activity in the City of Decatur has “decreased significantly.” Items like plats, plans, gas well development, special use permits, subdivisions, commercial and residential site plan reviews and zoning changes went from 117 in 2008 to 61 in 2012.

Fees generated on those items fell from the high of $19,550 in ’08 to $9,098 last year.

Ragland said her department issued 808 building permits and conducted 1,491 building inspections in 2012. Residential projects were mainly in the Homes of Briar Crossing, South Martin Branch and Greathouse Village Estates, while major commercial projects included Easy Rent, Panda Express, Crossroads Church, Casa Torres Mexican Restaurant and State National Bank.

The department’s major project, the Zoning Ordinance rewrite, has taken longer than anticipated, but “we are making progress” she told the council.

PUBLIC WORKS ON PACE

Public Works Director Earl Smith, PE, reported on the array of programs he directs including recycling, parks, street paving, utility maintenance, water and wastewater plants. The recycling program was up 5 percent in 2012, while wastewater treatment was down significantly compared to 2011 and water use was up slightly. Decatur’s water plant can produce three million gallons of potable water a day from Lake Bridgeport, and Smith said “Last year at one time we touched 2.8 million one day.”

Rainfall in 2012 was almost 10 inches below average, and the elevation of Lake Bridgeport was nearly 15 feet felow conservation level on average in 2012.

The city’s electronic water meter installation program continues, with 1,491 of the city’s 2,666 meters now electronic. Smith said his department plans to install another 150 of the new meters this year. He also outlined various projects on tap for 2013.

CIVIC CENTER UP-AND-COMING

Civic Center Director Lori Sherwood was brief and to-the-point with her one-page report: the Civic Center is busy and getting busier. Sherwood outlined marketing efforts to not only book the Civic Center for business conferences, community and family events, but planning and catering off-site events. The Center brought in $509,031 in 2012 and has already booked every Saturday through Sept. 1 for weddings and quinceaneras.

Sherwood also noted that most December weekend dates are already sold.

“Something we didn’t expect was when January hit and our phones lit up with people fighting over dates for Christmas parties,” she said.

The new sound system should be an additional draw for corporate and larger meetings – but if the city had more hotel rooms she could book more, and bigger, corporate conferences.

MAIN STREET STAYS BUSY

Main Street Director Frieda Hanley told the council next year is the 20th anniversary of Decatur entering the statewide Main Street program. “It’s time to begin working on a review,” she said. “Where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going.” She said she is planning a retreat sometime this spring to “redevelop, reset and develop a master plan for the future.”

The Main Street program promotes numerous activities to enhance business around the square and downtown, and works to promote tourism and highlight the positives of the city’s central business district. It also works on historic preservation, research and design recommendations, signage, traffic patterns and other downtown issues.

FINANCE: ‘SLIGHT GROWTH’

Finance Director Brad Burnett told the council the city experienced “slight growth” financially in 2012 – and said that’s about what it is looking for in 2013. “And that’s good,” he added. “You don’t really want a lot of growth in one year or you get into infrastructure issues.”

A highlight was that the city’s cash reserves grew by $300,000 during the year. Burnett said he wants to continue to build those reserves – which were one factor in the city’s improved bond rating (see page 1). He also looks to upgrade internet connectivity between the city’s buildings, and to implement internal audits of various departments throughout the year.

For the fiscal year, tax collections were up 9 percent while property values rose by 2 percent. Franchise tax revenue increased 7 percent, hotel/motel tax revenue was u p14 percent, court fines were up 11 percent, water and sewer sales increased nearly 2 percent and sales taxes were up 4 percent.

Overall, general fund revenues were up 7 percent and expenditures were up 5 percent.

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