- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
The focus will be on the city’s drainage problems when a citizens’ advisory committee meets at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday with Longview-based KSA Engineers.
KSA is the company hired by the Paris City Council to develop a long-term plan for replacing the city’s aging infrastructure with the help of a $45 million bond issue approved by city voters on May 11.
Wednesday’s meeting – the fourth between the seven-person committee and KSA — is scheduled for the council chambers at 107 E. Kaufman St.
After that meeting, the committee will have a joint meeting with the Paris City Council in June to recommend which projects it considers the most pressing.
KSA, known for its work in infrastructure, has had teams – each headed by an engineer – working with city staff since early December to assess the city’s water, sewer, street and drainage needs.
The advisory committee’s focus is narrower because a $45 million bond issue approved by residents in the May 11 city election is limited to replacing or extending water and sewer lines.
Follow-up street and drainage construction can be paid for with bond money if it’s follow-up work made necessary by the water and sewer line work.
Other street and drainage work must be funded from the city’s other resources, such as grants or the council’s regular budgeting process.
KSA engineers reported on street conditions in their initial joint meeting with the citizens’ committee on March 7.
A second meeting on March 20 dealt with an assessment of the city’s water lines.
A third meeting on April 17 dealt with sewer issues.
KSA reports have documented the work orders associated with problem water and sewer lines in the city.
The engineering firm is recommending replacement of cast iron water pipes and clay sewer pipes with newer technology PVC pipe. In both cases, the outmoded pipes make up most of Paris’ water and sewer lines.
On the citizens’ advisory committee, each appointed by a city council member, are:
Even as the community continues to bask in the glow of Skinner Bakery’s move into the former Sara Lee plant, PEDC executive director Steve Gilbert told the Paris City Council that two more major companies are looking to move into Paris.
Gilbert used code names — “Project Fryer” and “Project Sims” – in discussing the companies on Monday during the economic development corporation’s quarterly report to the council.
As all are economic development projects in their early stages, Gilbert declined to be more specific.
Discussions are ongoing on several other interesting prospects, he told the council.
So far in 2013, he said, “we have been working on dotting the Is and crossing the Ts with a lot of projects announced in 2012 – including tax abatement of Skinner’s $19.4 million in new capital investment scheduled from now through 2017.”
(The following day, in a meeting of the Paris Economic Development Board, Gilbert said he had just talked with Skinner officials “and they thought they will move fairly quickly toward that 100-employee milestone – sooner rather than later. They’re rocking right along, and so that is a very positive thing. They may have a soft opening event in the early part of June.”)
In Gilbert’s report to the council, he said the PEDC is working with City of Paris staff for an abatement request on behalf of the proposed $150 million Paris Lakes development – a hospital, shopping center, hotel, retirement community and lighted par-3 golf course planned across from Covenant Christian Church on the southeast loop.
“We hope to come before you with that project sometime in June for your consideration,” Gilbert said.
The PEDC has pledged $250,000 toward costs of bringing City of Paris water and sewer to that project, which developer Ron Parker says will bring 800 new jobs, not including 1,000 or more construction workers.
Gilbert also talked about two projects that fell through – including a project originally labeled “Project Jewel,” which was announced last October. Triton manufacturing center was to bring $36.3 million in capital investment and 312 new jobs to Paris over a five-year period.
The investor decided to put the plant in Arizona instead, Gilbert said.
Company officials “indicated if there was an expansion that they would certainly look at Paris, but honestly, I don’t think that’s in the foreseeable future,” the PEDC executive director said.
That drew a rebuke later in the meeting from the mayor, Dr. AJ Hashmi.
“I want to say that you’re doing a good job. I’m very happy with it. But I do want to caution on a few things,” he began.
“I think you need to be very careful when you make an announcement, and wait until such time that we have a more definitive answer as to whether we have it. Otherwise, you raise hopes and then drop them suddenly,” Hashmi said.
As for the tax abatements that are routinely brought as incentives for companies to locate in a community, the mayor noted a recent article in The Dallas Morning News concerning Congress looking into tax abatements and incentives provided to companies.
“It said that 80 percent of those companies that were provided with those incentives were closed within five years and all that money was lost,” Hashmi said.
“In our executive sessions (of the council with the PEDC), we have discussed the fact that if you are going to give tax abatements, we should have a clause in there that in case the company decides to close and move someplace else that they retroactively be obligated to pay those taxes. Please remember that when you come up with abatements,” Hashmi said.
Several council members added their appreciation for the PEDC’s work in attracting potential new companies to Paris.
Regarding Triton, Gilbert said the PEDC provided some funding for a market assessment, and Triton has agreed “to reimburse us and make us whole on all of the out-of-pocket expenses for that project.”
The PEDC proposed 2013-2014 budget includes reimbursements from Triton totaling $58,252.
Gilbert led off his quarterly report to the city council by telling of a prospect that got away.
“I got contacted early this year by a site consultant, and they had a major manufacturing project that was interested in Paris. That company wanted a 275,000-square-foot existing building, and we had only one building that maybe fit into that criteria,” Gilbert said.
“We connected with the owner of that building, and the deal didn’t work out, so we lost the project. It was a very competitive project, and that was pretty early on in the competition, but the point is that at this point the lack of available industrial buildings is a constraint for us,” Gilbert said.
That was an apparent reference to the former Paris Industries building on the northwest loop and Farm Road 79 for which We Pack Logistics last month obtained a $591,000 building permit to renovate.
Gilbert said he has talked with city manager John Godwin about three vacant buildings – the Philips Lighting plant on Clarksville Street that closed several years ago and two dilapidated structures on the northwest loop – the Superior Swift and Oliver Rubber buildings.
“We’re trying to start a discussion to say what our community should do about a few older dilapidated buildings. And of course, we have the industrial park, and one of the things we’re promoting to companies is that we have available land, and that we would put land into a project,” Gilbert said.
“The same goes for the airport. That is a big opportunity. There is ample land for a company that might be in the aerospace industry. So we continue to market to industrial prospects.”
Hashmi noted that for years the one building the PEDC owned in the city’s industrial park remained empty.
“It just recently got occupied, and so as much as one wants to have things ready, just because one project wanted to come and you didn’t have a building ready, to say that now we should get all buildings prepared, I don’t think that is necessarily a very feasible thing to do,” the mayor said.
Hashmi said he is all in favor of improving the available buildings.
“If there is a possibility to fix them, certainly we should try our best to do that and make them usable,” he said.
The mayor said he had looked into the Philips Lighting building for use by industrial prospects and was told that the building’s owners “have a lot of contingencies as to what would be allowed to come into that building.”
“We almost had someone for that building, and it’s kind of sad that they don’t want to pay to maintain it, but they have deed restrictions that really put us at a disadvantage.
“And so, I would request code enforcement to enforce all the codes, so that if we are not allowed to let anyone buy that building, we at least force the owner to maintain it properly on Clarksville Street so we have a halfway decent building.”
District 3 councilman John Wright asked if the environmental problems at the two dilapidated structures on the loop “aren’t covered under some code?”
Godwin said: “I don’t know if they are under the city code, but they certainly are under state codes. We’ve talked recently about both of those projects and given them to the fire department to address.”
District 5 councilman Matt Frierson said: “Another issue as simple as beautification – you drive around the loop, you’re looking at a couple of eyesores.”
Hashmi concluded the discussion by saying, “I think we have discussed that, and I really think we should enforce our building codes around those areas.”
By CHARLES RICHARDS
The Paris Economic Development Corporation on Tuesday postponed until June 11 its discussion on a proposed 2012-2013 budget, saying it needs an attorney general’s opinion on whether it can legally fund the R3bi Incubator and other incentives for small business.
“I really have a problem with whether we can do that under 4A,” said the board’s newest member, Rebecca Clifford, who joined the PEDC in April.
“I’m not against small business. I believe in small business, and I realize that small businesses are the backbone of a community, and I’m not opposed to that,” Clifford said.
“But the list I saw in the paper (of small businesses being helped through the business incubator), none of them are manufacturing or industry,” she added. “I think we could do it if we were a 4B corporation, but not as a 4A corporation,” she said, referring to the two different set-ups.
“It’s a matter of semantics, isn’t it?” board member Toni Clem asked.
Under either a 4A or 4B corporation, the PEDC would get about $1.2 million a year from the sales tax, but Clifford said her understanding after poring through the attorney general’s economic development guide is that Paris’ focus must be on manufacturing or industry.
“I think we are all in agreement with you that we don’t want to break the law,” Clem said. “We need to figure that out.”
In past meetings, PEDC members Kenny Dority, now the board chairman, and Bruce Carr questioned whether the board was getting its money out of what it was paying consultant Richard Seline, who helped set up the recent Lamar County Days in Austin, and consultant Rickey Hayes, who through his company, Retail Attractions., sells Paris as a good place to do business.City attorney Kent McIlyar said he believes the PEDC is OK because of a 10 percent marketing promotion exception for Type 4A corporations.
“The times I’ve seen Rickey Hayes, it does seem that what he was doing was lifting up the city of Paris as a retail site, a shopping center, that type of thing. As long as he stays within the 10 percent limit in your annual budget, I think it’s OK.”
Carr suggested: “Why don’t we write the attorney general and ask him for an opinion on our specific situation? I’m really struggling with this thing. We need to flush this thing out, and probably we could do that through a request for an attorney general’s opinion.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” Dority said.
“For me, my main concern is I just don’t think it fits into our scope of work, what we’re trying to accomplish as a board. I think we have many other worthwhile things we could do that will have a by-product of what we do hopefully, and so I think we ought to narrow our focus a little more.”
Clem made a motion, quickly seconded by Carr, to table the budget and scheduled a budget workshop in June for further talk.
The board, which has only four members at present because of the death earlier this year of chairman Doug Wehrman, approved the motion 4-0.
The PEDC will meet again on June 11 at 3 p.m., preceded by a budget workshop the same day at 1 p.m.
McIlyar cautioned the board that the attorney general’s office typically takes six months to come back with an opinion. That means the board probably is facing the likelihood it must make a decision about the budget without an answer on the legality issue.
PEDC executive director Steve Gilbert’s proposed $600,000 budget includes $89,980 in operating support to R3bi and $33,000 to renew for another year a $33,000 contract with Retail Attractions. Between the two, that is more than 20 percent of the entire budget.
Gilbert said Clifford, in an effort to “get up to speed,” asked him several “very good questions” – including a question about how much money the PEDC had spent over the past two years and in the current year with Hayes and Seline.
“I’m putting together a written memo in response to her questions, and I’ll get that to all of you,” Gilbert said.
He added: “I’ve heard from all of you, I think, questions about whether we’re getting our money’s worth” from the two consultants.
Gilbert sat quietly through most of the discussion on the merits of the business incubator and of the PEDC’s doing business with consultants.
Finally, Clem commented: “Steve, you’ve been quiet. What’s your take?”
Gilbert said he agreed with what the city attorney said about the permissibility of helping small businesses through a 10 percent marketing promotion exception..
“I think it does fall under that marketing 10 percent. If it comes right down to it, I think it comes down to whether you want to spend that money to do that or not,” he said.
“On the question of the incubator, that one concerns me. There are several Type A communities who operate incubators through the Type A funds. That’s not something that’s out of the ordinary.”
Then he launched into a strong defense of the PEDC’s “program of work – our two-year business plan.”
“We didn’t lightly arrive at the action steps in that business plan. We went through a pretty rich community involvement, a community engagement process. And the business plan was contemplated by this board and approved by this board, and I think it’s been embraced by our community,” he said.
“So if y’all want to eliminate or reduce significantly, or not support the incubator, that’s a decision you can make. And certainly, if it’s illegal, none of us wants to be a part of that. So that’s something we’ve got to figure out pretty quickly.”
The bigger issue for him, Gilbert said, is abandoning the PEDC’s business plan.
“If we make significant changes to what we’re doing, we’ve got to not only look at our budget but we’ve got to go back to that business plan, and we basically can toss out 40 percent of it,” he said.
“Two of the five strategies that we’re pursuing are related to small business entrepreneurs. That’s fine; you all set the policy, and I’ll move that ball forward, however you decide. But I think there are some bigger considerations that we all need to think about,” Gilbert said.
“The other thing is, in a fairly short time frame, with our business plan, we’ve seen great success. If you read about the latest in economic development, we’re doing what we ought to be doing.”
By CHARLES RICHARDS
A special community event will take place Saturday at a little-known, all-but-extinct cemetery hidden away in the Johnson Woods subdivision in southeast Paris.
District 6 city councilwoman Cleonne Drake is heading a volunteer effort to clean up and restore the Pride Cemetery, starting at 8:30 a.m. The City of Paris and the Lamar County adult probation office will lend their help, she said.
Access to the cemetery is off Pride Circle.
The cemetery — which is bounded by Johnson Woods, Pride Circle, Southeast 31st Street and Abbott Street — is in Drake’s council district, but Drake did not know about it until Lamar County Sheriff Scott Cass told her about it a couple of months ago, she said.
“The Pride Cemetery has been neglected, and time has obscured it. Many do not even know it exists – including nearby neighbors. According to records, a Union soldier supposedly was buried there,” she said.
“The oldest grave dates back to 1843, and at one time there were 39 identified graves in the cemetery,” she added.
Now, a committee has been formed to lead the clean-up and restoration effort.
On the committee are Drake, Cass, District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster, Paris fire chief Larry Wright, city manager John Godwin, city finance director Gene Anderson, county adult probation community service program director Jimmy Don Nicholson, and J. B. and Doris Bankhead, who are descendants of Louisa A. Cass.
“We are going to do everything we can to not disturb the neighbors that surround the cemetery and in the immediate area,” Drake said.
“There will be heavy equipment and power tools used, but we will not be blocking driveways or streets,” she said.
Drake said she has either contacted neighbors in the immediate area or left information on their doors informing them of the upcoming event.
Anyone with questions or concerns is asked to contact Drake (903-783-1202) or fire chief Wright (903-784-9225). Drake can also be reached via email at email@example.com.
An Open Letter to eParisExtra.com from Rick Browning (who, incidentally is the assistant fire chief for the Faught Volunteer Fire Department):
My brother-in-law and sister, David and Teresa Palmer (of Houston), and their daughter Sophie, are visiting us this weekend in Paris.
While David, Teresa and Sophie were enjoying our beautiful Downtown Paris, it seems that David lost his wallet.
You can imagine his anxiety, knowing that all his money, credit cards and driver license “were gone forever.” Well, not necessarily in Paris. ….
I called the Paris police department. The dispatchers told me that someone from the Paris-Lamar County Chamber of Commerce had reported that a wallet was found by one of our numerous honest citizens.
The wallet was waiting at the Chamber. Becky Semple (tourism director of the Paris Visitors and Convention Center) offered to come meet us at TEN O’CLOCK at NIGHT on Saturday!
David got his wallet back, WITH ALL THE MONEY STILL IN IT!!!!
Paris is the ONLY place where this would have happened. What a wonderful town we have!
– Rick Browning