By Andre James, Correspondent
The Belton City Council Meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13 started off with the Bell County Tax Assessor-Collector, Shay Luedeke, presenting the council this year’s Child Safety Fee check of $22,233.77. The Child Safety Fee is an additional $0.50 to $1.50 fee collected by the County Tax Assessor-Collector from nonexempt vehicle registrations. This money is then used to fund local school districts’ crossing guard programs, or if none exist, the funds can be used for the district’s health, nutrition, child-abuse prevention and intervention, or drug abuse prevention.
“Since the program started in 2001, we’ve allocated $319,041.19 to the city of Belton,” said Luedeke.
“We will pass it on to the school district so they can take care of our young children and school crossings, so thank you so much,” said Mayor Marion Grayson.
Next, the council discussed authorizing the City Manager to enter into a professional services agreement with Kasberg, Patrick and Associates for the East 6th Ave. Gateway Project. The goal of this project would be to clean up and make 6th Ave more presentable, like what was done with East Central Ave, and would cover from IH-35 to Main St. This would include obtaining new easements and right-of-ways, putting down and replacing sidewalks and lights, and also relocating both wet and dry utilities, which alone is estimated to cost between three to five million dollars. The City Staff’s recommendation to the council was to approve the agreement and start the Preliminary Engineering Services which would cost $67,910 and be funded by the FY18 TIRZ funds. However, while the council agreed that the area needs to be cleaned up, and have its utilities replaced, ultimately felt that the scope of the project was too large for its level of importance, and unanimously voted against it, and to have the plan scaled down and brought back to the council at a later date.
“I think in reality if we’re looking at a $3 to 5 million dollar price tag, and especially with relocating utilities and potentially having to do a lot of infrastructure improvements, that the price tag is maybe going to grow north of $5 million, and that’s probably not going to be the most critical thing for Belton,” said David Leigh. “I think that we get a better product from the engineering services if we decrease the scope at this time instead of study the whole thing because the reality is that from I-35 to about where the old school property is, is a hot mess.”
Next, the council received a presentation from the City Manager about a redesign of the City’s Construction Design Manual which has been unchanged since June 2002. City staff has been working on these revisions for the past two years with the main focuses being to bring the Design Manual up to industry standards and regulatory requirements, on par with other local cities, and striking a balance and compromise between infrastructure preservation and developer costs.
“It’s been about two years of internal and external reviews”, said Angellia Points. ”We’ve worked with KPA (Kasberg, Patrick and Associates) to update this as they have done with other cities. We have had three major reviews with our stakeholder community, with contractors, builders, TABA, engineers, and etc. We want to encourage development, we definitely don’t want to make the price of development just outrageous, but we also need to keep in mind the preservation and the protection of city infrastructure.”
Some of the areas included in these changes include requirements for enforcement of a maintenance bond during Warranty Periods, and new requirements for pavement, drainage, general utilities, water, and wastewater their facilities such as offsite manholes and lift stations. The city council agreed to proceed with the next steps, which is to hold a workshop and public hearing which will be decided on next month.
Last, the council members received a presentation on the Hunden and Partners’ report regarding a potential conference center and hotel. The report looked at three different sites: Bell County Expo Center, Downtown Belton, and Lake Belton. Of the three, the Expo Center was the strongest candidate with its proximity to IH-35 and expo events, and its only weakness is how far it is from restaurants and food chains, and had an outlook of development in the near future. However, due to the market and demographics, none of the development scenarios seemed feasible, with the report saying that the market may not yet be mature for any of the business model options. When the council members were asked if they would be open to incentivizing developers to build a new hotel or conference center through tax abatements or other funding mechanisms, the council seemed to agree they could be possible options if a developer is serious, but if demand is high enough business will come.
“I think this report has a lot of good information in it”, said Mayor Grayson. ”I think having it out there, if any businesses are interested in putting something up in our community, this is going to valuable to them.”
“As far as incentives, I think that if it makes sense for business, businesses will make it work”, said Leigh. “I think a lot of times communities incentivize for failure. A community can give so many incentives, that the incentive is to move in there but not to stay there.”