The Tomball City Council took another step towards approving a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, during a long evening of successive meetings July 16.
First up for the evening was a budget workshop, consisting of city council members and department heads.
City manager George Shackelford updated council on requested changes from the previous workshop, including a large sidewalk improvement project. Funds collected from red-light traffic camera violations will be used to build a new web of sidewalks around the hospital area.
“We got together and are recommending the area around the hospital,” he said. “We can connect a large spoke around that area and thought that is where we’d get our biggest bang for the buck.”
Shackelford said the budget will also consist of a new monitored fire alarm system for city hall, which it is currently lacking. Shackelford said the budget can handle the estimated $40,000 cost, without affecting the bottom line.
During the group’s first workshop a few weeks ago, councilman Field Hudgens proposed looking into putting aside city funds to pay off debt early. City finance director Glenn Windsor said he talked to several people who had not heard of an idea like this before. Windsor said the penalties for paying off a bond early can outweigh the benefits sometimes and that usually refinancing the debt is the best option for saving money.
Windsor also said that a 2003 bond issue can be refinanced later this year and with interest rates remaining low, could save the city around $300,000.
After hearing the explanations, Hudgens and the other councilman agreed that the idea may best be put on hold for further study.
The group then discussed setting aside money so city officials could attend Tomball’s sister city’s anniversary ceremonies. Telgte, Germany will celebrate more than 700 years since its initial settlement, later this year.
“Whoever is available should go to this,” Mayor Pro Tem Rick Brown said.
The council decided to set aside more than $20,000 for the occasion.
“They have supported all of our special functions and I think we should reciprocate,” Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan said.
To round out the first meeting the group also approved setting aside $70,000 to clean and put a new clear coat on the water tower.
Remodeling old Kroger site
The council followed the workshop with a joint meeting with the Tomball Economic Development Corporation. The meeting was to talk about a proposal to help redevelop much of the old Kroger shopping center.
Kenneth Katz, of BK 2920 Ltd., the group proposing the redevelopment, spoke to the combined group about concerns aired during a previous executive session. Meetings for the proposed 380 agreement between TEDC and the developers have been in closed session, so it isn’t clear as to how much the TEDC or Tomball has been asked to either kick in, or credit, however, several line item numbers came out at the open portion of this meeting.
Katz said he was there to answer three concerns council members previously expressed. He said the council expressed concerns about commissions to real estate brokers, the fee to developers and contingency costs. From information made public the construction costs of the redevelopment and remodel are expected to be just less than $5 million.
Katz also suggested that a council concern about the types of retailers in the development could be alleviated with a list of what types of retailers are not allowed.
“The catalyst to good retail development is a great retail store,” Katz said, who said that Party City is one of the possible tenants they have reached out to, as well as Spec’s.
The group then moved into executive session to discuss the matter further.
Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs
After the joint session adjourned, the council members and the mayor gathered for the regular council meeting.
New city planner Rebeca Guerra talked about her review of the city’s sign regulations and presented recommendations to the council. She also sought council input on several items as well.
Guerra suggested adding 12 new categories to the sign ordinance, which included aircraft signs, awning, banner, billboard, flag, inflatable, living or human, message board, premise, temporary, window and wayfinding.
Revisions suggested were that organized community events not be forced to get a permit for event signs, as well as several others. The new category for flag signs drew some heated conversation. This revision would exempt government flags from ordinance requirements, but restrict all other flags.
“Religious flags should also be allowed (exempt),” Councilman Derek Townsend said.
“If we start limiting people to what flags they can fly we will have big problems,” Councilman Mark Stoll added.
“This is one of the issues that staff is looking for council guidance on where you want to go,” Guerra said.
The conversation about the sign ordinance was long, but lead to the new planner learning what direction the council would like to take.
“It was very productive,” she said.
In other business the council approved, on first reading, a proposal to place a feed store on the east side of SH 249 north of Hirschfield Road. The property currently has an automotive shop on the premises.
Finally the council approved public hearing dates for the 2013-14 budget. The hearings will be held during the Aug. 6 and Aug. 20 council meetings.