City leaders look to future
• Garbage bills could increase.
• The city plans to start hiring temporary workers to help deal with large influxes of seaweed on the beach.
• And the city council might look at results of a survey that possibly will be taken next year to see whether residents and visitors want additional commercial activity, such as food and beverage sales, on the beach.
These and many other topics were under discussion when the Port Aransas City Council met during a goals workshop on Wednesday, July 6.
The workshop discussion laid some groundwork that is helping city staff and the council itself hammer out a budget for the upcoming year. A final vote on a city budget is expected around the end of the summer.
Mayor Keith McMullin discussed results of the workshop last week in an interview with the South Jetty.
• City finances. McMullin said the city is in “very good financial shape,” with a double A-minus bond rating. There’s a chance, he said, that city officials will seek to have the Standard and Poor’s financial services company rate the city even more highly before the end of the year.
• Beach vending. Council members believe that one of the next steps toward deciding whether to allow additional commercial activity on the beach, such as food and beverage sales, could be to look at results of a survey that might be done by the Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau, McMullin said. Ann Bracher Vaughan, president and CEO of the chamber, said it’s not a sure thing that the survey will happen, and even if it is, no decisions have been made on exactly what will be studied. However, she said it’s possible that visitors will be surveyed next summer “on visitor demographics and future needs or desires, what future economic development needs there are to serve our visitors.” Residents also might be surveyed, she said. The council is scheduled on July 21 to consider a third and final reading on changes to the city’s Coastal Management Plan, which would give the city the power to enact ordinances allowing additional commercial activity on the beach. The council would have to take further action later if it wants to establish an ordinance permitting more vendors on the beach. A new ordinance would require readings at three meetings to become a reality.
• Beach maintenance. The council asked staff to develop a plan to hire seasonal workers to more effectively get sargassum seaweed off the beach when especially large masses of it wash up on the beach. The seasonal workers would supplement regular employees in the city’s public works department. “When it’s an average year, we’re appropriately staffed,” McMullin said. “But when it’s a heavy year, like this year, we have to pull people off other duties, and it’s at the expense of other parts of town.” The council also talked about possibly adding more portable restrooms and trash cans on the beach.
• Garbage pickup. The city has been dealing with rate increases from the contractor that provides garbage pickup in Port Aransas, but the city hasn’t passed those increased costs on to residents for quite a while now, McMullin said. Something’s going to have to give in order for the numbers to crunch correctly at city hall, the mayor said, and that could mean raising garbage rates, he said. No specific proposals for new rates were available by deadline, but McMullin said the hike “would probably be on the order of a couple dollars a month.”
• Police employee retention. The council is looking at the pay scale at the Port Aransas Police Department with an eye toward retaining employees there by offering better pay. “We think that’s something we’re interested in, and we’d like the budget to reflect that,” McMullin said.
• City employee pay. “There is interest (by) council and understanding that we need to be competitive with other communities,” McMullin said. “If the budget is such that we can do it, there is a willingness by council to assist.” Part of that is going to mean taking another look at the medical insurance that the city provides its employees, to make sure the city is getting the best bang for its buck, the mayor said. “Our dependent care levels are considerably more than other communities,” he said.
• Tourism. The council talked about ways to improve tourism during off-peak periods of the year. The Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce-Visitors Bureau has said many folks from outside town inquire about conference facilities. There are no plans by city government to establish such a facility, but the council would like to see a private developer come in with a plan, McMullin said. “We agreed that a conference center would be a huge asset to the community, and in the event that someone came to us with something like that, we would entertain … some sort of incentives, or some sort of involvement from local government,” McMullin said.
• The dump. Because the state classifies the city dump as a “citizens’ collection station,” the dump is restricted to only certain kinds of waste disposal activities. As a result, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) doesn’t want the city to continue allowing people to dispose of fish carcasses at the city dump. The state also says the city isn’t authorized to allow contractors to dispose of construction materials at the dump. City officials are hoping to work out an agreement in which the TCEQ would allow those practices to continue, McMullin said. But, he said, if no agreement takes place, the city likely will have to take measures to be classified as a “transfer station.” Becoming a transfer station would mean that commercial waste could be placed at the dump and then hauled to Corpus Christi, according to Deputy City Manager Dave Parsons. That will mean creating a large concrete area that can be washed down periodically, Parsons said. Construction costs likely would be about $350,000 to $500,000, which would include getting permits, undergoing design and actual construction, he said. The permitting process probably would take 18 to 24 months, he said.
• Streets. The council asked staff to update the city’s inventory of street work that needs doing. The idea, McMullin said, is to see what money in the general fund is available for small street projects. The council has no plans to offer up another bond issue, largely because voters just this past May approved a $6.4 million bond issue for improvements to 11th Street.
• Mustang Beach Airport. The council is looking at spending $55,000 in the city’s general fund to help provide matching funds for state grant money that could become available for improvements such as lengthening the runway, building security fences and putting together plans for new hangars. McMullin said he will be working over the next few years to find the rest of the money that the city will need for matching amounts. The money could come from the private, county, state or federal levels, he said.
• City facilities. City facilities such as the city hall building and the parks and recreation department’s headquarters are badly in need of repair or replacement, but the city doesn’t have the money to fund large-scale projects like that right now, McMullin said. “We don’t think there’s any appetite among voters” for a bond issue on that, due partly to the fact that the city only recently passed the 11th Street bond issue, he said.
• Dennis Dreyer Municipal Marina. The city council wants to discontinue the city’s practice of providing large tents for events at Roberts Point Park, McMullin said. Setting up the tents is a big drain on manpower, he said. The city won’t leave anyone hanging who has already made arrangements for the tents, but the setups eventually will be phased out, he said.
• The Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture. Phase Two of public improvements, including a new road and boardwalk, are underway, and the council wants to see cosmetic work such as signage completed in phases one and two before specific planning for phase three gets underway, McMullin said. The city also will be looking at using money earmarked for the nature preserve to help fund eventual construction of a concrete pier to replace the wooden one at the nature preserve, McMullin said. The city also would need to find grant money to completely pay for such a project, he said.
• Animal control. “No interest” exists on the council in using general fund money to pay for construction the dog park that has been planned for an area between the animal shelter and the city library, McMullin said. The council will look for money from the Recreational Development Corporation or park dedication fees, he said.
• Written material. The council asked that each department pull together all of its master plans, studies and similar written material and put them all into one document. The point is to give council members – especially new ones – easily consumed breakdowns on some of the continuing issues facing each city department, McMullin said.
Questions? Comments? Contact Dan Parker at (361) 749-5131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.