Paris City Council turns spotlight tonight on 14 applicants for two open spots on PEDC

By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra!

The main item before the Paris City Council meeting today is deciding who will get open spots on city boards and  commissions, and the spotlight is on the Paris Economic Development Corporation — two of whose members’ three-year terms expire on June 30.

The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at the city council chambers at 107 E. Kaufman St.

Almost 50 people have submitted their names for consideration on city boards, and the most desired spots are on the PEDC, where board president Pike Burkhart Jr. is not seeking re-appointment and Rick Poston wants to be put back on for another three years.

Candidates should be at tonight’s council meeting, because the council has indicated it will be more pro-active in this year’s selection process, including asking questions of the candidates.

The field is broader this year because last year, the city council amended its ethics policy to make it less restrictive. Josh Bray sought a spot on the PEDC last year but city attorney Kent McIlyar said he was ineligible because he owns Sanitation Solutions, which had recently won a contract as the city’s landfill provider.

As amended, if a person or his/her family owns a company that does business with the city, he or she or a family member cannot serve on the city council but can serve on a board or commission but must recuse themselves on any matter in which they have a conflict of interest.

There’s another interesting sidelight: Among the candidates for the PEDC are Holland Harper and County Court at Law Judge William Harris, who are already on other boards. Harper is on Planning & Zoning, and Harris is on the Main Street Advisory Board, and their won’t are not expiring this year. 

Denene Johnson, the secretary to city manager John Godwin, is now responsible for keeping track of the membership of each city board, and she exchanged e-mails with Holland informing him that he is ineligible to apply for the PEDC because he is already on a board. City policy allows a person to serve on only one board at a time.

Both Holland and Harris indicated they plan to resign their existing position if they are named to the PEDC.

Johnson said it will be up to the council whether to require them to resign their existing positions first as a prerequisite for seeking the new board spot, or to allow them to be considered for the PEDC but maintain their present positions if they fail to get the PEDC nod. 

Under the latter course, that would create another vacancy on the board/boards they are now serving on, requiring another council appointment to fill that vacancy. That could be simplified by deciding on the two PEDC appointments first.

The three holdover PEDC members are Doug Wehrman, whose term is up in 2013, and Bruce Carr and Kenny Dority, whose terms are up in 2014.

Fourteen people have also applied for spots on the Paris/Lamar County Board of Health, where six positions are listed as up for selection. Current city poloicy is for a maximum of two consecutive 3-year terms — after which a person has to sit out at least a year before becoming eligible to serve on that board again.

Several of the Board of Health members have been on for 25 to 30 years. Bill Strathern, who was appointed in 2011, is the only holdover.

Here are the city’s boards and commissions, spots available, and those who have applied:

Paris Economic Development Corporation — 2 openings, 14 applicants (Donna Bauder, Jim Bell, Josh Bray, James Brockway, Toni Clem, Brady Fisher, Bill Harris, Holland Harper, Joe McCarthy, Ann Norment,  Rick Poston, Vic Ressler, Bill Sanders, Skipper Steely, and Dana Stowell).

Airport Advisory Board – 2 openings, 7 applicants (Jack Ashmore, Ray Ball, Jim Bell, Skyler Burchinal, Earey Eatherly, George Leonberger II, and Wendell Moore).

Band Commission – 1 opening and 2 applicants (Patsy Daniels and Justin Gallant).

Board of Health – 6 openings, 14 applicants (Donna Bauder, Glee Emmite, Rick Erickson, Brady Fisher, William George, Mark Gibbons, Susan Hamby, Keith House, Kristi Martin, Kathy Moseley,  Lauri Redus, Sunil Thummala, Lav Singh, and Dana Stowell),

Buildings & Standards – 2 openings, 5 applicants (Nathan J. Bell V, Chris Brown, Mike Folmar, Susan Hamby, and Wendell Moore).

Civil Service Board – 0 openings.

Historic Preservation – 2 openings, 3 applicants (Douglas Cox, Susan Hamby, and Lauri Redus).

Housing Authority – 2 openings, 2 applicants (Joe McCarthy, Ann Norment).

Library Advisory Board – 1 opening, 5 applicants (Daisy Harvill, Susan Hamby, Ann Norment, Lauri Redus, and Rebecca Umphrey),

Main Street Advisory Board – 2 openings, 7 applicants (Douglas Cox, Fred Green, Ashlea Mattoon, Kathy Moseley, and Kate Raulston).

Planning & Zoning – 2 openings, 6 applicants (Nathan J. Bell V, Dennis Chalaire, Mike Folmar, Susan Hamby, Ann Norment, and Bill Sanders).

Traffic Advisory Board – 3 openings, 5 applicants (Susan Hamby, Kenneth Kohls, Joe McCarthy, Ann Norment, Bill Sanders).

Zoning Board of Adjustment – 2 openings, 0 applicants.

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It’s that time of year again — Paris Municipal Band opens 86th year of Friday night concerts in Bywaters Park

The Paris Municipal Band is shown during its performance Friday night in Bywaters Park — the opening event of the band’s 86th summer of Friday night concerts. The band, one of the oldest municipal bands in Texas, will perform every Friday in June, followed by a patriotic performance during the Rotary Club’s patriotic show at Noyes Stadium on Tuesday, July 3, and then one last Friday night concert at Bywaters Park on July 13. (eParisExtra! Photo by Charles Richards)

By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra!

Sounds of music filled historic Bywaters Park in downtown Paris on Friday night as the Paris Municipal Band opened its 86th year of summer concerts.

The band, one of the oldest municipal bands in Texas, is once again directed by Thomas Neugent, who during a 24-year career as high school band director at Euless Trinity High School guided the school to 24 consecutive UIL sweepstakes ratings.

Thomas Neugent

Several hundred people brought lawn chairs and blankets for the first of six concerts. The band will perform at Bywaters Park for the next three Friday nights – June 15, June 22, and June 29, before performing at Noyes Stadium as part of the Rotary Club’s annual patriotic Fourth of July celebration on July 3.

“Then we’ll be back at Bywaters Park for Friday night, July 13. We’ll do six concerts in all. The Crepe Myrtle Festival on July 13 will wrap it up,” Neugent said.

The music began at 8:30 p.m. Friday, as the sun disappeared and the skies began to darken. The weather was perfect.

The band opened as always, with the Star-Spangled Banner and whipped through eight songs – several marching songs, a spiritual,  and some jazz – before closing as always with Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris.”

 

In between, the band played:

  • Paul King’s “Monterey March”
  • Giuseppe Verdi’s “Prelude to Act I, La Traviata”
  • Fred Allen’s “Were You There?”
  • Juan Tizol’s jazz medley “Sophisticated Lady”
  • Johann Strauss’s “Radetzky March”
  • Alfred Reed’s “Greensleeves”
  • Eric Osterling’s “Instant Swing Concert”, and
  • John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post,” a patriotic march

“You have to understand, I don’t know how many members of the band I will have for a given Friday night. There’s no set number. Sometimes it will be 60, sometimes 70. It’s whoever shows up,” Neugent said.

“We’ve got a lot of high school band members from Prairiland, Chisum, North Lamar and Paris High School, and probably 15 college students, and probably 20 or more adults that are playing around here.

Like many in the band, the 73-year-old Neugent was born and raised in the area (Deport) and came back here to retire.

“We try to get more adults involved, and we had a trombone player show up last night from Sulphur Spring who played years ago. He played in this band years ago,” Neugent said.

“He came last night and sight-read for us, and he did a good job for us tonight. He was worried about his (playing) not being up to shape, and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ll be like everybody else so don’t worry about it.’ “

Betsy Mills has been a part of it for more than 30 years.

Another long-time member of the band is Paul Cardwell, a trombone player who lives in Bonham. “He has been driving here from Bonham, year after year after year,” Neugent said.

The band had three 90-minute rehearsals before Friday night’s first concert.

The routine is the same every time – fast and furious.

“It’s upper left-hand corner to bottom right-hand of each song. Then we go to the next song. We don’t have time to stop and clean stuff up,” Neugent said.

It’s not a place for beginners. Members of the Paris Municipal Band have to be accomplished musicians already.

“Especially the high school students, they have learned they’ve got to be good sight readers. The songs are not all in the same key, the tempo is different for each song, stuff like that,” Neugent said.

“But, I thought they played awfully good tonight for our first concert,” Neugent said. “We’ve got some very talented members of the band. I’m proud of them. They work hard.”

Last year, the concerts were at the pavilion on the north side of Love Civic Center. Bywaters Park was unavailable because of repair work on the Peristyle, which had several cracked pillars. The floor also was uneven. But no more.

“It’s much better,” Neugent said of the Peristyle. “Year before last, there was a big crack in the middle of it, and sometimes when it rained a lot, there’d be water that filled up in there. They’ve fixed it so much better than it used to be.”

Byrun Myrick

The Peristyle is lighted by a series of lights along the inside top of its three sides.

“We’ve got a couple of burned out bulbs, but I’ll talk to the city and they’ll fix that for next week. I see one there, and there’s another one up on the inside,” he said.

For the third year in a row, Byron Myrick, a trombonist who is also a band director in the Paris Independent School District, went to the microphone to let the audience in on background for the next song.

It’s Myrick’s fourth year at the microphone. He succeeded another trombonist, Pat Barbee, whose wit entertained the crowd for years before his untimely death.

“He had a good sense of humor. Most trombonists do. At one point, he said we have to keep the announcing in the trombone section, so I stepped up to the mike when he passed. We kept it there and have a lot of fun with it,” Myrick said.

Myrick’s duties with the Paris ISD are primarily at Crockett Middle School with the beginner program, but he also has a band at junior high and at the high school as well.

“We all help each other out,” he said.

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Gilbert concedes not all of PEDC’s economic development efforts worked … “but a lot of them did”

 By CHARLES RICHARDS

eParisExtra!

PEDC executive director Steve Gilbert

Steve Gilbert, executive director of the Paris Economic Development Corporation, had his day in court last week, arguing that the PEDC has given a good accounting of itself since its inception in 1994.

Well, he was actually appearing before the Paris City Council, but it probably felt a little bit like court.

Gilbert was there to rebut Mayor AJ Hashmi’s assertion during an April council meeting that the PEDC “has not done a great job at what the PEDC came into existence for.

During the April 9 council meeting, the mayor asserted that the PEDC hasn’t shown much of a return on the quarter-cent sales tax that funds it.

He asked Gilbert, who was in the audience that evening, what the PEDC has accomplished with the $17 million spent during its 18 years of existence.

Gilbert had a spot on the May 31 council agenda to respond.

He began with a little history. The PEDC has had three executive directors – Gary Vest from 1994 to 2004, Pete Kampfer from 2006 to 2008, and Gilbert from late 2009 through the present.

There have been 24 members of the five-member PEDC board over its 19-year existence. And without exactly saying so, Gilbert kind of suggested that to criticize the PEDC is to criticize a veritable “Who’s Who” of the city’s civic leaders, all of whom were appointed by the city council itself.

Past board members are Eric Clifford (1993-94), Barney Bray (1993-1999), Phillip Cecil (1993-95), Curtis Fendley (1993-98 and 2001-03), Leon Williams (1993-98), Dick Amis (1994-2000), Michael Rhodes (1996-2002), Don Wall (1999-2005), Jay Guest (1998-2003), Melba Harris (1998-2001), Michael Dunn (2000-06), Terry Christian (2000), Richard Severson (2002-09), Rodney Bass (2003-07), Sims Norment (2003-07), Glen Bawcum (2005-09), John Wright (2006-10), Dan Smith (2007-11), Chad Brown (2007-11), Pike Burkhart Sr. (2009-present), Rick Poston (2009-present), Doug Wehrman (2010-present), Kenny Dority (2011-present), and Bruce Carr (2011-present).

“It’s important to say, you (on the council) are all volunteers – you signed up for this; you made a decision that you wanted to help the community. As you all are, I believe that those appointed to the city’s boards and commissions are respected citizens and business leaders that care about their community.

“They give their time and talent … they make their decisions in earnest, and they make their decisions based on the best interests of their community. Some of these ventures did not work out, but a lot of them did, and we have one of the most dynamic and industrial and commercial economies in Northeast Texas,” Gilbert said.

It’s also important to note, Gilbert said, that from the beginning the mayor, the city manager, the county judge, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, and the president of Paris Junior College have themselves been ex-officio members of the PEDC.

Meaning, never has the city leadership been in the dark or without a say in the PEDC’s activities.

That being said, Gilbert then began to present his case for the agency he directs.

“When you boil it right down to the basics,” he said, “the duties of the PEDC are three things. Our goal is to create new jobs, retain existing jobs, and increase capital investment in Paris and Lamar County. … The PEDC is to provide its resources to bring primary jobs to some very specific industries.”

The good news, Gilbert said, is that the area economy has grown steadily over the years even if Paris’ population has remained about the same.

“So, the question (from Dr. Hashmi) is, what has the PEDC spent its money on since 1994,” Gilbert said, pointing to a chart reflected onto a large screen at the back of the council chambers.

“This is 18 years of history. In the first column is the project we put money into, the second column is the money put into those projects, the third column shows the years that funds were paid to the project, and the fourth column shows the type of investment that project represented.”

(DOUBLE CLICK ON A CHART TO ENLARGE IT)

“Shown in green are projects that, based on all the information I have, and all the information I know, these companies are still in existence today and still providing jobs today.

“The companies shown with a light blue background are no longer in existence.

“In red, those jump right off the page at you – the Bitco and C-Tech projects. I know those are still on a lot of people’s minds, and people have concerns about how those went south.”

The PEDC put $21.4 million into the investments on this chart.

Another chart flashed onto the screen.

“The set of projects on this chart (totaling $750,486) are not directly related to companies, but they’re related to things like workforce training. Paris Junior College and the Regional Advance Manufacturing Academy were both workforce-related projects. And Gene (finance director Gene Anderson) may remember this – back in 1996 and 1997, the PEDC put $223,000 into the construction of the airport terminal at Cox Field. And then there are some match funds, some revolving funds that I think are administered by the city,” Gilbert said.

“But I want to get back to the jobs. What jobs have been created? What jobs has the PEDC impacted? Now, this is not scientific, but what I tried to do is be honest about what we have done, and try to show what the economic impact might be.”

Gilbert pointed to another chart that went up.

“The first column is the list of companies that, over the years, the PEDC has worked with and incentivized in some way. We called all of those companies, and these are the most recent job figures both full-time and part-time that we could gather from these companies, and a couple of the companies gave us their annual payroll in approximate terms,” the PEDC executive director said.

“The total number of jobs today that over the 18 years we’ve touched in some way total 4,509 full-time and 472 part-time jobs. If you divide the $17 million in revenue we have received since the beginning and divide that by 4,509, that works out to about $3,770 per job, if you want to look at it that way.”

Gilbert singled out Paris Packaging as an interesting story. It was acquired last September by Huhtamaki, a global consumer and specialty packaging company whose international headquarters is in Finland. Huhtamaki has said its expects to grow its revenues by 10 percent a year at its Paris plant.

“The important story here is that Paris Packaging was about ready to close its doors and be bought by another company and moved out of Paris,” Gilbert said. “And so a group of local investors came forward and they acquired the company. They wanted to upgrade the equipment and the processes. The PEDC made them a $4.2 million loan from selling bonds, and they paid every bit of that loan. They made their final loan payout before they were acquired by Huhtamaki.”

R.K. Hall is something good that came out of the Bitco debacle. The PEDC gave Bitco $1.3 million in incentives, and when the company failed before even moving into its building at the Industrial Foundation, there was a lawsuit and the PEDC got $35,000 back as a settlement. The PEDC held onto the building and sold it to R.K. Hall Construction, which moved its operations from Sulphur Springs to Paris and is in the building today, providing more than 200 jobs in the community.

The city provided $931,000 in incentives to TCIM Call Center over a period of years, and the company has about 400 employees now.

The Texas Department of Agriculture approved a $1 million Texas Capital Fund grant for the construction of a City of Paris water line to Daisy Farm, which is building a 7,500-acre facility five miles south of Paris off Highway 24 that will house around 10,000 animals.

Even more recently, Gilbert noted, Paris Regional Medical Center has begun an expansion project at the hospital’s north campus, on north Loop 286. “We are continuing to work with them as they move forward with what they call Project Northward Bound. It’s exciting to me to see cranes in the air and that building coming out of the ground.”

Gilbert broke down the PEDC’s 18-year history into four periods – from 1994 to 1998, 1999 to 2003, 2004 to 2008, and 2009 through the present.

“I included all the projects that we put money into, and then I totaled the expenses, and I separated the project expenses from the total expenses, and for the period from 1994 to 1998 I got the number $790,134. If you divide that by five, the total operating cost or overhead cost of operating the PEDC over the first five years was about $158,000 a year,” he said.

For the second five years (1999-2003), it went up to an average operating cost of about $234,000 a year.

The third five-year period (2004-2008), the operating cost went up to $297,000 a year.

“And in the last three years (2009-2011), that average operating cost has gone down to $263,000,” he said.

“And so, we are happy. My experience with this board is that they are not pushovers. They take the fiscal oversight and the responsibility that they have very seriously,” Gilbert said.

At the conclusion of Gilbert’s almost hour-long presentation, the mayor said he remains unconvinced, “but I’m happy the discussion has started, and we’ll be glad to assist in any way.”

Councilman Matt Frierson said one could argue about job creation vs. retention and sustainability, “but in all fairness, without the PEDC we, in many cases, would be sunk.”

People read in the newspaper about the Sara Lee plant shutting down last November, but people didn’t know about other companies “that were on the brink,” Frierson said. “While the PEDC may not have created a job, they were the vehicle in facilitating to make sure those industries are still here today.”

The PEDC’s loss of more than a million dollars in C-Tech’s failure was a disaster, Frierson agreed, “but in fairness, nobody bets a thousand.”

He continued: “Nothing is perfect. We are all fallible. While it becomes very easy to point out the things that didn’t go well, if you are going to make progress, you’d better recognize the importance of the things that did succeed.”

Frierson concluded: “I can’t sit here and say the money the PEDC has taken in and spent over the years has been poorly spent. Paris is a better community today and I hope we don’t lose sight of that.”

Councilman John Wright, who was on the PEDC when Gilbert was hired, and was on the committee that interviewed him, said: “It is the desire of all of us to have more and better jobs. I think a united effort and cooperation from everybody is probably the catalyst that we need. I expect to see the city grow.”

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Paris City Council considers using a monthly users fee instead of taxes to replace aging drainage infrastructure

By CHARLES RICHARDS

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The Paris City Council has cautiously directed the city staff to gather more information on a proposed “drainage utility fee” that could be collected monthly like the water bill, sewer bill, and sanitation bill.

Revenue from the fee – which other cities are using to raise several hundred thousand dollars a year — would be used to address drainage problems, including the projected cost of $10 million to $15 million to replace the city’s aging storm drainage infrastructure.

Reeves Hayter

Presently, the money for drainage problems comes from the General Fund, collected from property taxes.

One result of shifting the cost from the General Fund to a monthly fee on every household is that it would free up more money from the General Fund.

The cost of taking care of the city’s drainage issues would be shifted from taxpayers to renters and home-owners alike in the form of another fee on the monthly water bill.

There would be a water fee, a sewer fee, a sanitation fee and a new fee to pay for the operation, maintenance and financing of the city’s drainage system, Reeves Hayter of Hayter Engineering told the Paris City Council at its meeting Thursday.

“In this case, the creatiion of a drainage utility district allows a fee for services rendered. The services you are rendering is the collection and transportation fo the storm water which is created by the development of property,” Hayter said.

“Right now, drainage competes with other needs for money from the General Fund,” Hayter said.

“In some years, there is not money for drainage because other projects take priority. Also, by removing drainage needs from the General Fund, money is freed up for other city needs,” Hayter said.

Joining with Hayter on a 30-minute presentation was Chris Ekrut, manager of J. Stowe & Co. LLC, of Richardson.

Hayter said implementation of a drainage utility district would have to be preceded by a comprehensive engineering analysis of the city’s drainage infrastructure, including a short-term and long-term capital improvement plan.

“The first thing you have to do is prepare an engineering analysis of the existing drainage system. We would need to inventory what drainage infrastructure we have. We don’t really know,” Hayter said.

“Our master drainage plan is 20 years old, and many of the city’s current projects were in that 20-year plan, so we’ve not made a lot of progress. Much of our storm drains were built back in the WPA time and is approaching 70 to 80 years old or more. Our infrastructure is crumbling,” Hayter said.

“We would want to do a review of the city’s current drainage criteria and manual, and then we would need a capital improvement plan related to drainage to show what our needs would be over the next few years.

“We would then need to have an evaluation of the land data that we have. We’ll have to determine how much impervious area there is in the city, using the appraisal district’s data regarding the size of each house, size of the lot, information of that type.”

Finally, Hayter said, there would have to be ordinance development, community education and at least two public hearings before the monthly rarte could be implemented.

Chris Ekrut

Hayter and Ekrut said the monthly drainage utility fee should be based on property characteristics — such as a concrete driveway that results in more runoff than a grassy yard.

Without a comprehensive study, a city would have little recourse but to assess the same drainage utility fee to every household, regardless of size and regardless of how much a particular structure contributes to the draining problems.

“The fee should be based on drainage characteristics rather than on property value. People who have their own drainage system and don’t rely in any way on the city would be exempt, as would undeveloped property, state-owned property and institutions of higher education,” Ekrut said.

It would be up to the city council whether to also exempt city, county, school or church property.

Asked how long the required engineering study would take, Ekrut said “probably five to six months. It’s not a short process.” His company just finished a study for the City of Amarillo, Ekrut said.

Hayter said a drainage utility fee might best be described as a user fee-based funding mechanism for the operation, maintenance and financing of a municipal drainage utility system.

“It’s similar to your water and your wastewater system,” Hayter said.

Hayter showed slides showing the revenue raised by the cities of Benbrook (population 21,234), Gainesville (population 16,002), Saginaw (population 19,806) and Stephenville (population 17,123) — selected because they are similar in size to Paris.

Benbrook charged each household $6.50 per month and charged each business and apartment unit 2.04 cents per month per square foot of impervious (concrete or asphalt) area.

Gainesville charged $3.50 per month for households and apartment units and $3.50 per month per month for every 1,895 square feet of impervious area.

Saginaw charged $3 per month for households, apartments $3 for every 1,700 square feet of living area, and businesses $2 for every 5,140 square feet of parking.

Stephenville charged each household $4 per month, each apartment $3 for every 6,000 square feet of parking area, and businesses $3 for every 6,000 square feet of parking area.

Annual revenue from the monthly storm drainage fee, collected as part of the monthly water bill, ranged from $416,000 at Saginaw to $980,000 at Benbrook.

When Hayter and Ekrut asked if the council had any questions, Mayor AJ Hashmi said he had three.

“My first question: what is the cost for this engineering study?”

Hayter said it would probably cost about $100,000 for a complete drainage study of the community.

“Parts of the city have adequate draining, and parts of the city do not have adequate draining. Is the whole city going to be taxed equally?” the mayor asked.

After a pause of almost 10 seconds, Hayter said “yes.”

“Although this looks very good that you accumulated $900,000 or a million dollars a year, or whatever, the thing is, it’s one more additional tax for the residents, correct?” Hashmi asked.

“It would be an additional cost to the residents – not a tax,” Hayter replied. “It would be an additional fee.”

Finance director Gene Anderson said the matter was not being brought to the council for a vote on whether to implement a drainage utility district but on whether to have the staff to proceed with the idea and come back with more data.

“You can say, either go out and do more research and give us firmer numbers, or you can say forget the idea. We just need to know in which direction you want to go,” Anderson said.

District 5 councilman Matt Frierson made the motion to have the staff explore the matter further.

“I think, overall, I do see the pros and cons of this. For me, personally, I would be in favor of moving further down the road and see what the ideal numbers would be,” Frierson said.

District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster seconded the motion.

The motion passed 4-2, with councilman John Wright (District 3) and Mayor AJ Hashmi (District 7) voting against.

“I vote no. I am opposed to this fee,” Hashmi said.

Wright said: “The number I’d like to have, before we get started, is a firm commitment on what our costs would be.”

Voting with Frierson and Lancaster were council members Aaron Jenkins (District 1) and Cleonne Wright (District 6). Mayor pro-tem Dr. Richard Grossnickle (District 4) was absent.

The enabling legislation for the Municipal Drainage Utility Systems Act was adopted by the Texas Legislater in 1987 as an amendment to Chapter 552-C of the Texas Local Government Code.

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For second time in weeks, Paris City Council gives favorable nod to residents’ move for disannexation

By CHARLES RICHARDS

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For the second time in a month, the Paris City Council has signaled it will grant disannexation to citizens who were brought into the city limits in the late 1990s but were never given essential city services.

A couple of months ago, the council said no to a request by land owners between Stillhouse Road and U.S. 71 who sought disannexation. The council said no then because the land north of the North Lamar school property has been envisioned for medically related future development.

Dr. Robert Zimmerman

Thursday night, Robyn Zimmerman came before the council on behalf only of herself and her husband, Dr. Robert Zimmerman, who live at 4605 Stillhouse Road. Property on the west side of Stillhouse Road was annexed into the city in 1999; the east side of Stillhouse Road beyond North Lamar schools remain out of the city limits.

“The law in 1999 (concerning annexed property) states that full services will be provided no later than two and a half years after effective date of annexation,” she said.

The city outlined a plan to implement services, but the plan was never put into effect, she said.

“We do not have any of these services to this date almost 13 years later,” she said at Thursday night’s council meeting.

District 3 councilman John Wright made a motion directing the city staff to bring back an ordinance disannexing the property – two adjacent tracts of 3.0 acres and 10.001 acres where they reside. District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster added the second, and the motion passed unanimously.

Before disannexation can occur, requests must go through two public hearings over a period of 40 to 50 days, city attorney Kent McIlyer says.

On May 14, the council considered for the third time a request by Terri Palmer of 4300 Smallwood Road for disannexation of her property. Staff had opposed her request on grounds the law at that time did not require cities to provide services to annexed land. Mayor AJ Hashmi argued that just because the city is not required to provide services isn’t a good enough reason not to, especially since the Texas Legislature later passed a law that does require it.

That council – which came two days after the 2012 city election and had members Joe McCarthy (District 1), Robert Avila (District 2) and Edwin Pickle (District 6) participating in their final council meeting – sided with Ms. Palmer, saying the city has a responsibility to provide sewer lines and other services. Now, Aaron Jenkins (District 1), Sue Lancaster (District 2) and Cleonne Wright (District 6) have taken their seats on the council.

“When we acquired this property in 2002, we were told this property was located in the county,” Robyn Zimmerman told the council last week. “As we began to build a house and needed a water line, we called the city. We were told we were in the county and needed to contact Lamar County Water Supply. We have had to call 911 twice for fire services, and both times were told we had to call the Faught Volunteer Fire Department.”

Twice, the Zimmermans needed law enforcement services, and their calls to police were always redirected to the sheriff’s department, she said.

But in February of last year, Dr. Zimmerman filed as a candidate for the Paris City Council. His candidacy for the District 4 seat on the council drew endorsement from some members of the Tea Party, which Zimmerman said was his inspiration for making a run for office.

Then came questions about whether he was a resident of the City of Paris. City secretary Janice Ellis confirmed that he was registered to vote in District 4, and in March of last year, the Zimmermans received a letter from the Lamar County Appraisal District notifying them they owed 10 years of back city taxes.

“Before this time, we had not received any tax notices in regard to this property, Robyn Zimmerman told the council. Neither had their neighbors, the appraisal district discovered.

“Upon further investigation, we were told that this property had been annexed in 1999,” Robyn Zimmerman said.

On April 6, 2011, Zimmerman announced without elaboration that he was pulling out of the race for the council.

“I feel it is in the best interests of all concerned for me to remove myself from the city council race. I wish all the candidates the best of luck in their districts, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of the elections,” Dr. Zimmerman said in a statement.

Before 2007, one of the conditions for running for city council was that the candidate owe no back taxes. A court has stricken that requirement as unconstitutional, and a change in the City Charter in 2007 took that out as one of the conditions for candidacy. The prohibition against owing taxes is still on the books for people seeking a spot on City of Paris boards and commissions.

Zimmerman’s decision last year to pull out of the city council race came 13 days after the legal deadline to withdraw, and his name remained on the ballot. Zimmerman received 14.2 percent of the votes in the May 14, 2011, city election. Dr. Richard Grossnickle won with 63 votes (52.5 percent) to 40 votes (33.3 percent) for Jeff Higgins and 17 votes for Zimmerman.

Robyn Zimmerman told the council last week that she understands the cost is prohibitive to provide services “for just one property, so we respectfully request that (only) the property at 4605 Stillhouse Road be disannexed.”

She also asked that all city taxes paid on the property by her and her husband be refunded or credited toward their county taxes “for services not rendered.”

Officials say the Zimmermans are current on their taxes to the City of Paris, Lamar County, Paris Junior College and North Lamar ISD. They were required to pay city taxes for the five years prior to the discovery — $478.06 for 2007, $472.64 for 2008, $482.29 for 2009, $503.15 for 2010 and $669.76 for 2011.

They now have also paid $669.44 in city taxes for 2012, bringing to $3,275.34 the amount of city taxes for which the the Zimmermans seek reimbursement.

There was no discussion prior to Thursday night’s vote to indicate the council’s position on the request for reimbursement of the city taxes paid by the Zimmermans.

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