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After last week’s fireworks at the Paris City Council meeting over Rebecca Clifford’s presentation on the PEDC investigation, last night’s meeting was more restrained.
However, there was quite a line of citizens ready to speak during the Citizen’s Forum, most addressing the PEDC investigation. Former councilman Bill Strathern informed the council that he had made a request to the Attorney General’s office that none of the PEDC forensic investigation reports be revealed in executive session either by the PEDC board or the city council.
Before moving on to other business, a proclamation was read by mayor pro tem Dr. Richard Grossnickle, proclaiming June 27 & 28, 2014 “Relay for Life Days” in the city of Paris, in support of the American Cancer Society.
Next on the agenda was Melissa Cook, executive director of the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce, who made a presentation on next year’s budgets for the Visitor & Convention Council (V&CC) and the Love Civic Center (LCC).
Ms. Cook stated that the total direct spending on tourism in Paris is $69,700,000, and 730 jobs are related to tourism. Visitor spending in Paris since 2009 has increased 19% and the important hotel/motel tax has continued to rise. The two main events that have contributed to this increase are the Tour de Paris and the ASA archery tournament. According to the V&CC Economic Impact Study, these two events have resulted in total spending in Paris of $1,223,959.
She then proceeded to the LCC budget that showed an increase in rental income of 100% between 2011 and 2013, which is mainly due to increased rental rates. However, Ms. Cook explained that after researching other cities and venues, the raise is in line with other civic centers.
Most notable in the LCC budget is an increase in the building maintenance expense, which has risen from $20,000 to $60,000. Ms. Cook informed the council this was due to the need to begin replacing old air conditioning units.
Ms. Cook concluded her presentation with the announcement that the V&CC has formed two new committees. The first is a special events committee, whose purpose is to find the “next big thing” similar to the archery tournament that will put “heads in beds” in Paris. The second committee is a covered arena committee. For the latter, they have commissioned Texas A&M – Commerce to conduct a feasibility study on a covered arena.
Dr. Grossnickle asked what the arena would be used for. Ms. Cook stated it would be a multi-purpose facility that could host concerts, rodeos, etc. – anything that would grow the hotel tax.
Dr. Hashmi then questioned if the $69,700,000 figure was accurate. He also asked if the V&CC was separate from the Chamber, would the Chamber be hurt. Ms. Cook said, it would take a minor hit financially, but the Chamber has been positioning itself to be a separate entity. Dr. Hashmi then questioned the net income from the LCC – “what happens to that money?” Ms. Cook said it goes back in the general fund to do repairs or events.
Councilman Edwin Pickle had questions over the payroll expenses and the role of the chamber. He wanted to know how much time Chamber employees spend on the LCC and if there was a “double dip in there.” Ms. Cook said she was responsible for the oversight and management and did all the books, run the meetings, and spends a lot of time at the LCC.
Next on the agenda was a presentation by Chief of Police, Bob Hundley , on the Justice Assistance Grant Program. Chief Hundley was seeking an interlocal agreement for the $12,883 grant that would be split with the Lamar County Sheriff Department to purchase a hostage negotiation rescue phone. There was no public opposition. Dr. Hashmi made a motion to accept, seconded by Mr. Pickle and the motion passed.
Two representatives from the Veteran’s Memorial spoke about the need for an additional acre. The next phase of the Memorial includes an exhibit of aircraft, extra walkways and a Memorial Niche Garden, where cremated veterans and their spouses could be buried. Mr. Pickle had concerns that PJC needed to be contacted, since they originally donated the land. Dr. Grossnickle said “a consensus of the council is for the city attorney to proceed with the necessary lease agreements.”
A presentation on water rates revealed that the city has contracts with four industry users and those users have become very efficient at water usage. Therefore, the current retail rates are insufficient to cover the costs. It was recommended that retail rates be raised, since the Rate Maintenance Policy adopted in 2010 states that the rates must be sufficient to meet coverage requirements on the Reserve Fund. Failure to do so could lower the city’s bond rating.
The contracted water rates automatically go into effect on June 1st and those were given to the four contracted customers in May.
The proposed rate hike would raise the average customer’s monthly water bill $5.69. The proposed rate increase for the average commercial user would see a $4.96 monthly increase.
Dr. Hashmi questioned why the rate increase couldn’t affect all of Lamar County? Gene Anderson explained that can’t be done because the city has a contract with the Lamar County Water Supply. Then Dr. Hashmi asked why the council couldn’t just raise rates on commercial users and not households? It was explained that whatever costumer class is causing the expense, must take responsibility for the expense. Dr. Hashmi then questioned why they couldn’t just transfer less money to the general fund? It was then explained that you “can’t just move money around” and that the Rate Maintenance Policy states that the city must generate the money rates. Mr. Anderson added that the council did just that in the early 2000’s and it actually ended up raising the residential rates and lowered the industrial rates.
Dr. Grossnickle questioned why it seems like private industry is getting a break and wondered what they could do to raise the contract rates. Mr. Anderson explained that you can always try but the industry that comes to Paris looks at water costs compared to other cities and if we raise the rates, a private industry firm like Campbell’s could close down the Paris plant and relocate. This would result in loss of jobs and tax revenue, but the same infrastructure costs.
Benny Plata asked about Skinner Bakery, but they currently do not have a contract with the city. Pickle questioned the water usage of Daisy Dairy. The contract with Daisy Dairy, part of their incentive package to locate in Paris was a fixed rate for 10 years. The anticipated peak demand for the dairy is a million gallons a day, but they are not there yet. Currently they are using 159 million gallons a year and their usage is continuing to increase.
Mr. Pickle then wanted to know why we couldn’t negotiate with Reno. Dr. Hashmi disagreed with Pickle stating that if Reno has a problem in the long run, that the city of Paris would be legally responsible.
Mr. Plata then made a motion requesting that the issue be tabled until he had more time to look at the budget. Motion was seconded by Edwin Pickle and the motion passed.
City Manager John Godwin then introduced his pick for the new Public Works Director, Jerry McDaniel. Dr. Hashmi asked to see the job description and the job posting. Dr. Hashmi stated “your ad was not what you hired.” Dr. Hashmi went on to claim that the position that was posted “had different qualifications than this person you like.” Dr. Hashmi was concerned that candidates that didn’t have the qualifications listed might have been eliminated from applying for the
position. He said, “I am perfectly fine with him but the job posting needs to be reposted.”
Mr. Godwin explained that it was generally accepted HR practice to hire based on knowledge, skills and work experience rather than education requirements. He went on further to state that “we didn’t reject anyone who didn’t have all qualifications. We interviewed others who didn’t have all the qualifications.”
Mr. McDaniel then listed all of his licenses that he held. Dr. Hashmi insisted, “I am not opposed to you, I have no issue, just change the job description.”
Benny Plata asked, “Aren’t you the acting director in Greenville?” Mr. McDaniel said he was the acting director in Greenville, since the former director had moved up to city manager. He was also the assistant director of public works for the city of Commerce prior. Sue Lancaster asked him if he planned to move to Paris. Mr. McDaniel replied, “Yes, ma’am. Start date is June 23.”
Mr. Pickle then made a motion to ratify Jerry McDaniel as the new public works director and Benny Plata seconded the motion. Motion passed 5-1, with Dr. Hashmi opposed.
The final item on the agenda before the council went into executive session was a presentation by Shawn Napier regarding the sidewalk replacement project in downtown. The council voted to hire Kim Lacey for grant administrative services in the amount of $15,000. And they also voted to hire Birkhoff, Hendricks and Carter to provide engineering services in the amount of $24,300.