By Devin Corbitt, The Belton Journal
This week’s Belton City Council Meeting ended on a high note, as the council approved an application for a matching grant that will extend the city’s Hike and Bike Trail from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor to Sparta Elementary School.
“This is a unique opportunity for us,” Aaron Harris, Grants and Special Projects Coordinator for the city, said. “What makes this unique and why we thought this was an important project for us was we’ve been looking at the map and how we can get from X to Z, but we’ve come up against creeks and railroads. That’s the challenge: getting pedestrians across the obstacles. I think it will be very competitive when we submit it.”
The trail will extend 1.4 miles north of the current end point and will have to jump the railroad tracks to get to Sparta Elementary.
“We’re talking about doing a railroad crossing at grade there at Crusader Way. That’s the best cost-feasible path we looked at,” Harris said. “We looked at going over the railroad with a pedestrian bridge; we looked at going under the railroad with a tunnel. But this (grade crossing) is the best bet for right now.”
The grant will come from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) through their 2015 Transportation Alternatives Program and will provide 80 percent of the funding for the project. The total budget for the project is $1,665,000, but if Belton is awarded the grant, the city will only spend $321,000.
“Quality of life has come up very high on all of our considerations, and I think we’ve worked really hard at making things like this accessible to our neighbors and families,” Councilmember Dan Kirkley said. “It seems to me that where the trail begins down near (Interstate) 35 and where it can go is an incredible draw. I think it’s a remarkable effort.”
“This is very significant,” Mayor Pro Tem David K. Leigh said. “It allows students to get over close to Wal-Mart on a fairly good trail. And being able to connect Sparta Elementary and the high school effectively connects Belton from Lake Belton all the way to Chisholm Trail. While it is $321,000, the value is multiplied. It’s not trivial at all, but I think, if it can be done, it’s a project that’s warranted.”
The resolution to support both the project and the grant submission passed 6-1 with Jerri Gauntt opposing. Gauntt cited the last grant received from the federal government to extend the Ninth Avenue Bridge, which she feels “didn’t connect” different parts of Belton.
“I think this is a great project, but I feel like we’ve already blown our money on a trail project that doesn’t go anywhere,” she said. “I think we need to stop somewhere, and this is where we have to stop.”
However, her fellow councilmembers disagreed.
“We hear a lot of compliments about our trails, and its kind of becoming our thing as a city,” Councilmember Guy O’Banion said. “We’ve got a lot (invested) in the overall project, and I think to just stop when we’ve got an opportunity for another big section that has a whole lot more connectivity would be a mistake. (If) it just made no financial sense and we were in dire straights, we wouldn’t do this. But we can afford it, and I think it’s a good investment. You’re going to improve the quality of life for a whole lot more people with this extension.”
This week’s consent agenda was highlighted by the authorization to purchase of a 10-yard dump truck and a Hot Crack Sealer. Funding for both was already worked into the FY 2015 budget. The city’s current dump truck was purchased in 1989.
The council then heard a presentation of the Comprehensive Auunal Financial Report for FY 2014 from Mike Abel, representing Jaynes, Reitmeier, Boyd and Therrell (JRBT). The company began an audit of the city’s finances in December 2014, and brought the results of that audit to the council Tuesday night.
According to Abel, both the financial statements and regulation compliances are in good standing.
“The financial statements do present fairly, in all material respect, the financial position at September 30, 2014, and the changes in financial position and cash flows for the year,” Abel said. “So this is a clean report, an unmodified report. That’s a big thumbs up. I’m also happy to report we (found) no material weaknesses in the internal accounting controls.”
The council then received a mid-year update on the FY 2015 budget from Finance Director Brandon Bozon. According to Bozon, all departments are on track to stay within budget for the year. The city is also ahead on bill collections, such as warrants and property taxes.
The city has spent about $5.1 million so far this year, which is about 41 percent of the total budget.
The update included an amendment to the budget, including $15,481 in revenues and $73,166 in expenditures. Revenues included sales of city property, a state grant and insurance proceeds. Expenditures included the allocation of the revenues and payments on 2015 CO debt services.
“On the general fund side, everything is paying for itself,” Bozon said. “We sold some fire department equipment as well as a parks truck, which will go toward repairing and maintaining existing equipment in those departments.”
Bozon then presented council with a preliminary Meter Replacement Plan.
“We’re going to at least lay out a scheduling and reporting framework so that it’s expected every year that we come to council and provide and update to make sure there’s money there,” Bozon said. “In the resolution, it calls for a set up of a meter replacement fund that will basically just be a transfer of whatever gets approved.”’
The resolution was approved unanimously.
The council also approved several zoning changes in Tuesday night’s meeting, including one at 108 Lake Road from Single Family-1 to Retail Zoning District to allow That Art Place to relocate to a larger facility.
The next zoning change involved a 7.997-acre tract of land on the west side of North Main Street to allow the construction of Phase I of an apartment complex. The applicant will now begin drawing up a preliminary plat for the council’s consideration at a future date.
The third zoning change will allow for a 182-lot subdivision west of Chisholm Trail Elementary School on a property that was voluntarily annexed into the city in February 2015.
The next item on the agenda encompassed the construction of a CEFCO on North Main Street just north of CVS. The applicant has proposed construction two buildings. The main building will consist of the gas station’s convenient store, as well as a retail lease space. The second building will sit east of the main building and will be available for lease. The property will have cross access from North Estate Drive and Guthrie Drive.
The city received one letter in opposition because the property adjoins a residential neighborhood. However, the council felt that CEFCO had taken steps to eliminate light and sound disturbances with the construction of the additional office space buildings north of the gas station.
The item was approved.
The final item on the Planning and Development portion of the agenda detailed a preliminary plat for River Place Estates, Phase VII, located north of River Fair Boulevard and east of Red River Road. The subdivision will include 53 lots with single-family residences.
The council also Sunbright Disposal Services granted a commercial solid waste collection franchise within the city. Sunbright is the seventh solid waste collector in the city.
The council will reconvene May 12 at 5:30 p.m. in the Harris Community Center, 401 N. Alexander in Belton.