By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – In the 2000 movie “The Patriot,” the character of Benjamin Martin – played by Mel Gibson – stated, “I have long feared that my sins would return to haunt me, and the cost would be more than I could bear.”
After several budget workshops, an executive session, a city council meeting and two public hearings, the City Council of Grapeland adopted a balanced budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 on Thursday, June 15 by a vote of 4-1. Councilman Will Watson cast the dissenting vote.
And while the budget may be balanced, decreased revenue streams, poor bond management, a crumbling infrastructure and other mitigating factors forced the council to take drastic measures to keep the city afloat.
Even though all departments were affected, the budget axe fell hardest on two areas in particular. Funding for the salary of Grapeland Police Chief Don Myers as well as funding for the Grapeland Public Library were severed from the budget.
To their credit, Grapeland Mayor Balis Dailey and the five member council worked diligently to avoid the draconian cuts, but when it
came time for approval, the city’s past fiscal transgressions came back to haunt it, like a phantom in the night.
In part one of this two part article, a vote taken after an executive session held on Tuesday, June 13 along with the regularly scheduled meeting convened immediately afterwards will be covered. Part two will focus on the immediate aftermath of the meeting and the two public hearings on the approved budget.
The council’s week began on Tuesday, June 13 with a budget workshop held in executive session as the city leaders worked to hammer out the final details of the FY 2017-2018 proposed budget.
Following an hour behind closed doors, the council reconvened in open session. Councilperson Velda Parker made a motion “… to accept the budget as the mayor has presented and the mayor will make the appropriate notifications.”
With no further discussion, the motion was seconded and approved by a 3-1 margin. Councilman Michael Chapman was absent from the meeting and Watson voted against the proposal.
Once the vote had been taken, the budget workshop was adjourned and the regularly scheduled meeting was convened.
Following the approval of previous meeting minutes, the council was given a presentation by Ken Morris with Johnson Controls in regard to ways the city could save money towards infrastructure improvements.
“What we do is specialize in helping cities and counties which have infrastructure needs, but don’t have the cash to pay for these needs or are resistant to going up on taxes,” Morris explained.
“What we do is gather utility bills – usually three years of them – and look at look at how much money is spent on maintenance and operations, along with capital expenditures, analyze it to see what you are spending your money on and then we run a financial model on the city,” he said.
Morris said after the analysis was complete, team members from his group in Johnson Controls would come to Grapeland and assess the various infrastructure needs in order to prepare a feasibility study to see if there was a way to help the city.
As he continued, Morris explained if the results of the feasibility study were positive, the company would conduct a detailed audit and implement a program of repairs/upgrades to current city equipment. The money saved could then be used to pay for the program over a span of up to 20 years.
“I know it sounds too good to be true, but what I do is extract capital out of an operating budget,” he said.
Because it was for discussion purposes only, no action was taken on the matter. However, a workshop was scheduled for the city council meeting in July for further consideration on the Johnson Controls program.
At the conclusion of Morris’ presentation, Tammy Hassell with the Grapeland Chamber of Commerce, gave a presentation on the current fee schedule charged by the chamber. Following a lengthy discussion, the fee schedule was amended by a vote of 3-0-1 with Councilman George Pierson abstaining.
In other matters brought before the council on June 13:
- Consent Agenda items were approved by the council.
- Councilman George Pierson was nominated to fill the vacancy on the Houston County Appraisal District Board of Directors.
- The Municipal Court collected a total of $6,620.21, comprised of $3,570.21 in city revenue, $2,819 in state revenue and $295.71 in delinquent fees. There were 27 citations written, 11 total dispositions, 2 warrants issued and 2 magistrations at the Houston County Jail.
- Grapeland Police Chief Don Myers reported his department had 42 dispatch calls. There were 64 contacts made during the month of May with 26 citations issued and 38 warnings. He also provided the racial profiling report from January to May which showed contact with 75 African-Americans, one Asian, 153 Caucasians, 24 Hispanics, one Middle Easterner and one Native American.
- Houston County Fire Marshal and Grapeland Fire Chief Roger Dickey said the fire department responded to a total of 14 fire alarms for the month of May which brought the year-to-date total to 44. He added there were 23 EMS calls for the month which brought the year-to-date total to 65.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.