NEWS HEADLINES

City, school district to hold joint election, early voting

By Bob Buckel | Published Wednesday, January 29, 2014

After listening to two hours of departmental reports (see below), the Decatur city council wasted no time going through its regular agenda Monday night.

The most consequential item was calling an election May 10 for four seats on the council. Two-year terms are up for Mayor Martin Woodruff and place 5 councilmember Jay Davidson, both of whom are elected at-large, as well as Dana Clinesmith, who holds place 1, and Cary Bohn, who holds place 3.

Places 1 and 3 are elected in council districts.

Filing begins Wednesday, Jan. 29 and ends Friday, Jan. 28 during regular business hours at City Hall, 201 E. Walnut.

Early voting will run April 28-May 6 at City Hall, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each business day except April 29 and May 6. It will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. both of those Tuesdays.

Voting on May 10, a Saturday, will also run 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The council also agreed to hold the election jointly with Decatur ISD, which has two board positions on the ballot this year. Both early voting and election-day voting will take place at City Hall for both entities.

The council also approved on second and final reading a zoning change to allow a law office at 400 East Main St. Attorney Todd Parks said his firm is planning to convert a house into an office.

He also commended the city’s Planning Dept. for “taking someone off the street and walking me through” the process of applying for the zoning change and getting it approved. “They did a great job,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

RACIAL PROFILING REPORT

Police Chief Rex Hoskins presented the federally-required annual racial profiling report, noting that 6,440 people were stopped by Decatur Police in 2013.

Of that number, 4,035 were males and 2,405 were females. There were 4,846 Caucasians, 1,106 Hispanic, 354 African-Americans, 82 Asians and 52 Middle Eastern drivers among those stopped. In only 98 cases did officers report they knew the ethnicity of the person before the stop.

Only 264 of those vehicles were searched – 89 of them to perform an inventory prior to towing – and in 92 cases officers discovered contraband. Only three of those stops did not result in a warning or a citation, and 226 arrests were made as a result of traffic stops.

“The report pretty well shows that we are not picking on one race over another,” Hoskins said. “It’s pretty consistent.”

Hoskins also presented a request for a new contract for an interactive communication service with Everbridge, Inc. The system allows for mass notification via call or text of phone numbers in the city in cases of emergency.

The basic system costs $7,500 for an annual subscription. An add-on, Smart Weather Alerting, costs another $1,500. The basic system is $500 more than the one the city has been using, while the weather alert system was not part of the previous system.

The contract is for one year, renewable at the city’s option for the next four years. The council approved it.

The council also:

  • OK’d street closings for a 5K and Kids 1-mile Fun Run event to be held Saturday, April 5, sponsored by Fit-n-Wise.
  • changed their scheduled March 10 meeting to March 17 to avoid conflicting with spring break, when it is unlikely they would have a quorum.

DECATUR COUNCIL HEARS ANNUAL REPORTS

AIRPORT – A $12,000 “ramp grant” from the state will make the Decatur Municipal Airport’s 2013 look even better, according to airport director Brad Burnett. Burnett said that grant will lower the airport’s loss to around $94,000 for the year, with total expenses of $176,076. Other highlights for 2013 include:

  • Interior remodeling of the terminal building
  • painting fuel storage tanks
  • fencing and signage

Goals for 2014 and beyond include adding approach lights for south-to-north landing airplanes, burying power lines to the south of the runway to reduce a safety hazard, updating the current open T-hangars and building 18 more closed T-hangars.

FINANCE - The city’s cash balance is up $144,000 from last year and has grown by $750,000 since 2009. Finance director Brad Burnett still wants to build reserves, however, in both the general fund and the water fund. The general fund operated at a deficit last year, but it was more than covered by a $400,000 transfer from the water fund, which operated at a surplus of $456,000. “We budget that way,” Burnett said, noting that the general fund had subsidized the water fund in past years. That amount is just about paid back, he said.

PLANNING – Planning director Dedra Ragland said the city issued 586 building permits in 2013, the second-lowest total in the last five years (the high was 912 in 2011). New construction permits included 24 new residential (highest in the last five years) and two new commercial (lowest in the last five years). Total permit valuations were $16,216,818 – highest since 2009′s $36,978,875. Total building activity – the combination of new construction and remodeling – was 1,385 permits in 2013. That’s a steep drop from 2012′s 3,541.

“We are continuing to refine the permitting process to make it more user-friendly,” she said. “We are trying to think outside of the box. We know we can better serve developers, and that’s what we want to do, when we can. But we also have to carefully balance the parameters of the ordinances that the state, local government and federal government put upon us.”

Code enforcement and food inspections reached new highs, as the city issued 148 health permits, conducted 726 health inspections, registered 104 food managers and closed three food establishments for health violations. They also issued permits to two new food establishments.

Department goals for 2014 include completing the zoning ordinance rewrite, working with low-scoring food establishments to improve their scores and continuing to support economic development priorities through “fast-tracking” of projects.

PUBLIC WORKS – Public Works director Earl Smith reported on the array of services his department oversees. Among the highlights:

  • For the 1,773 homes served by the city’s recycling program, 314.7 tons were recycled in 2013. That’s down 41 tons from 2012.
  • The city’s chipper crew completed 5,524 work orders.
  • Utility crews replaced 133 water meters, investigated 45 leaks and made 50 sewer repairs.
  • The wastewater treatment plant handled 213.7 million gallons – down from over 239 million in 2012.
  • The water plant produced 493,304 million gallons of potable water, also down substantially from 2012′s 553,496.

Smith noted that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has rated Decatur’s water quality “Superior” and also reported substantial paving improvements along Main St. completed during the year, with plans to repave Deer Park, West Thompson and Eagle Drive in 2014.

CIVIC CENTER – Director Lori Sherwood noted an 11 percent improvement in sales revenue to $566,756 in 2013. The Civic Center catered for 459 groups and also did 49 off-site events. She shared the January and February schedules, which show more than 90 events booked for those two months. The Center’s offsite catering business continues to grow, she said.

MAIN STREET – In 2013, the Decatur Main Street program welcomed nine new businesses to the downtown area, made four incentive sign grants and produced design requests for four businesses. Director Frieda Haley pointed out that Decatur hosted Texas Main Street Director Debra Farst at their annual retreat and planning meeting in May, and in July was part of a tour of Texas’ Best Main Street Cities for national Main Street director Patrice Frey. She also reviewed the array of events hosted by Main Street each year and noted that Wise County is the only county in Texas with two Main Street cities – Decatur and Bridgeport.

FIRE DEPARTMENT – Fire Chief Mike Richardson reported 2013 was a busy year. “Our service load continues to parallel that of Texas cities that have a population of 25-30,000 residents,” he said, comparing with cities such as Roanoke, Crowley and Azle even though Decatur’s permanent population is much less. “We attribute this to an estimated daytime population of 30,000 plus, made up of visitors for business and government, as well as those passing through on the highway system. Even though the majority of these people don’t live here, we must include them in our planning for service.”

The DFD has three full-time administrative personnel, nine full-time operations personnel, 30 volunteer firefighters and four volunteer support personnel. With that number, they responded to 1,640 incidents in 2013. Their average response time was 5:15 in the city limits and 10:42 outside the city limits, within the county. They also completed more than 25,000 of formal training.

Goals for 2014 include maintaining and developing the volunteer corps and improving response times. The department also plans to implement a fire training facility in the city and begin assessment and planning for satellite stations within the city. Richardson estimates the south part of Decatur will need a satellite station within the next five years, and the north part within the next eight years.

POLICE DEPARTMENT – More than $443,000 worth of property was stolen in Decatur in 2013. Police Chief Rex Hoskins told the council thefts in the city “increased tremendously” during the year to 266 – the highest number ever. Most occurred in parking lots, where items are stolen out of cars, and at motels. Fourteen stolen cars accounted for nearly $200,000 of that total – many from car dealerships. Hoskins said his 20 officers responded to more than 30,000 calls this year and wrote 7,921 citations. They arrested 765 people, including 39 for driving while intoxicated, 67 for public intoxication and 41 for drug offenses.

Accidents were down to 321 – the lowest in last 10 years – and Hoskins attributed some of it to the divider which was installed during 2013 on Farm Road 51 South. “The flow of traffic has improved,” he said.

LIBRARY – Librarian Pat Peters reported several milestones during 2013, including increases in program offerings and attendance and record numbers of Summer Reading participants. The library’s collection has more books, audiobooks, movies and electronic resources than ever. She calculated the library’s “return on investment” for the city at nearly $2.2 million compared to the facility’s $505,525 budget – $3.35 for every dollar the city invests in the library.

During the year, the library staff did an inventory and found that of the 64,842 items in its collection, 175 were missing. Peters said in the midst of a two-week “amnesty” period, 36 of those have been returned with no fine. The library has more than 20,000 cardholders.

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