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Two meetings held this week
By Jackie Zimmerman
CHILDRESS – A special called city council meeting was held Friday to vote on amending the water rates Ordinance 887 that was up for a vote at the Monday, Sept. 28, meeting.
City Manager Kevin Hodges said he was mistaken during Monday’s meeting when he thought the council did not have the 60-percent vote needed to pass a water rate resolution following the resignation of Place 5 Alderman Mike Dietrich.
“We had this on the agenda Monday but in my mind when I came to the meeting, we were one down, and I thought we did not have enough for a vote,” Hodges said. “We do have the 60-percent needed. My apologies.”
The amendment to Ordinance 887 raises water rates for those living in the RRS Saied Addition. The ordinance provides a $90 base rate for the first 5,000 gallons and a new rate of $5.15 per 1,000 gallons of water after the first 5,000. The cost is up from $4 per 1,000.
Hodges and City Secretary D’Linda Dockery told the council in revising the ordinance they wanted to increase rates for those living outside the city limits without affecting those on fixed incomes.
“This adjustment will make up revenue needed,” Hodges said. “Some of these folks living outside the city limits are getting the same services as city folks but not paying any taxes on the services. That is what we looked at.”
During the discussion, Childress resident Larry Johnson pointed out the unfairness of the water rates for those living inside the city limits as compared to those outside the city limits.
Johnson compared what he has paid in water rates over several months to what residents living outside the city limits would have paid for the same amount of water.
“Over a four-month period, I would have paid $530 more than they would have paid, and they are not paying taxes on their home. They are paying nothing. On 50,000 gallons I pay $630 and those living in the RRS Saied Addition would pay $230. Does not seem right,” Johnson said.
The council passed the ordinance as presented by city staff but agreed to look further into the issue.
During the regular council meeting Monday, Sept. 30, three citizens spoke about former Alderman Mike Dietrich and the discussions that occurred at the Sept. 14 meeting.
Robert Higgins, an employee of Witt Machine & Tool, said he had some comments for Dietrich but since he was absent from the meeting, there was no need to make the comments.
“All of us who work for Witt Machine really do appreciate the welcome that you guys have given us so far,” Higgins said. “Everywhere we go we are feeling very welcome. Everywhere we go we get apologizes that are unnecessary,” he said. “We are being apologized to by you folks for the way we are being treated within the community. You do not have to make apologizes. We recognize it’s not the community that feels that way. It’s a small group of individuals lead by one absent jack…”
Higgins added the team at Witt Machine feels honored to be in Childress.
Johnson said he wanted to formally welcome Witt Machine to the community. He said he was not in attendance at the Sept. 14 meeting since he was in Fort Garland, Colo., the city from where Witt Machine moved.
“If you have ever been to Fort Garland, Colo., you will understand why they came to Childress, Texas. The workforce in Fort Garland has probably changed over the past 10 years. From what I saw, it’s not near the quality workforce we have in our community. So, I made the trip up there to look at where they come from.
“I want to formally welcome them to our community,” Johnson said. “This is the first industry to move into Childress since Ozark Materials moved in at the airport. This is a big deal for our community. They will be an asset to our community for many years to come.”
In addressing the council and the audience, resident Linda Reese said she was appalled that someone would call a man a “jack…” , referring to Higgins comments about Dietrich.
“He is a very intelligent man,” Reese said about Dietrich. “You do not know him.” She added, “I don’t appreciate you laughing while I am trying to talk.”
Reese said she has known Dietrich for 10 years, and she does not think it’s OK to make fun of people.
“And that is what is happening. I also do not appreciate you making fun of his father who is 82 years old. Y’all may do that. We don’t do that. I am disgusted with this town. I was raised here and have been back here in the same house for 44 years.”
Higgins asked Reese, “do you think I rolled into Childress and decided to attack Mike Dietrich?” To which Reese said no but added she did not appreciate the things he said.
Reese added that Dietrich has had people against him because he asks questions.
“Mike was all for helping Childress,” she said. “He was for new investors, new businesses coming into town. I was excited when I read in the paper that y’all were coming. Maybe his questions were not answered up here, but I think business can be done without name calling.”
Reese added she did not appreciate the name calling and laughing about Dietrich’s father.
“You don’t know anything about his father. What if he had Alzheimer’s? What if he did not know he had been out there?
“I did not appreciate you attacking him. I thought the city council worked together. Mike just asked questions. I think what we have had is a bunch of good ol’ boys that just let it go. And that’s not right.”
On a separate topic, Reese asked the council to look into political signs being placed on a grave in the cemetery.
“Scott Stark is putting his political signs on his step-son’s grave,” she said. “Friday, I went over and pulled it down and laid it on the grave. A friend of mine went out there Sunday, and there was another one. He went out today at noon and there was another one.
“I am sorry, but the cemetery is not a place to have political signs. It’s a disgrace. I think it’s not only a disgrace for him but for anybody. It’s not the place for that.”
In other business during Monday’s meeting, the council approved the annual renewal of the city’s line of credit with First Bank & Trust. Johnson, who is president of First Bank & Trust, explained the line of credit is secured by the 3,000-acre lake property.
The city met its obligation on the $100,000 but owes interest from mid-August through Sept. 14, a total of $2,961.40. Johnson said the bank will extend the line of credit to $700,000 with a balance of $457,280 to be available for emergencies and unanticipated budget shortfalls.
The interest rate is national prime plus .25 percent, which equates to 3.5 percent, Johnson said.
First Bank & Trust’s depository contract expires in 2022.
The council also approved the police department’s request to use approximately $69,000 in forfeiture funds for training, new vests, uniforms and other needs. Chief Shade Miller said he did not plan on using the entire amount requested. The department will use $3,000 for K-9 food, training and medical bills and $18,000 for training of eight officers and three supervisors.
Johnson told the council First Bank & Trust will pay for the K-9’s food for the next year, so the department can use those funds for other necessities. “We have done that in the past and will continue to do it.”
Hodges presented the final look at the budget for fiscal year 2020, which ended Sept. 30.
“The first thing I want to mention, back in May when the virus was roaring its head, the council made some budget cuts. The $180,000 in cuts was definitely a wise thing to do,” Hodges said. “The bottom line is $105,017.”
Hodges said the city took lot of hits in revenue, including the Hotel Occupancy Tax, which also took a budget hit. Also, water usage and sewer rates, which are based on consumption, were lower.
“I think about other towns that are destination cities and can only imagine how they are impacted. We have a pretty good bottom line.”
The city’s sales tax is great, Hodges said, adding the city budgeted to receive $850,000 in sales tax revenues, and by the end of September, the city will have collected $982,580.
Hodges discussed each department’s budget, noting how well each department head closely managed their budgets despite the impacts COVID-19 had on the city. The street, health, parks, airport, auditorium, municipal courthouse, ATV park, golf course, water and trash departments each closely monitored and managed the revenues and expenditures through the virus issues.
“We have a total revenue this current budget year of $7,633,667 and total expenses of $7,453,650. That leaves us a balance, after adding $75,000 in cost of living raises, of $105,017 as a budget net total.”
Hodges also discussed the city’s debt, stating last year the council discussed lowering the city’s debt. To do that, the city’s administration began looking at some vehicles payments that were one to three payments away from being paid off. So, the city paid off the vehicles, which lowered the debt significantly, Hodges said.
The city has paid $1,018,064.84 toward the debt for 2020.
In the final item on the agenda, the council approved moving forward with repairs to the auditorium. Hodges said he has discussed the two-phase project with local companies and both phases can be accomplished for less than $50,000 each. At that project cost level, the city will not have to go out for bids on either project.
Phase I is repair to the exterior. He said a local contractor looked at the work needing to be done to the exterior of the building and said it could be accomplished at a cost of less than $50,000.
Phase II is repairing the roof above the kitchen. There are areas on the roof near the HVAC unit where water is standing. The repair work will involve devising a water shed to make sure the water runs off. Currently, the standing water is creating a leak, Hodges said.
The funds to pay for the repairs will come from the Hotel Occupancy Tax fund, and repairs are expected to begin in the next two to three weeks.
Prior to closing the meeting, the mayor asked the council for any last comments, to which Alderperson 1 Gary Clark said he would like to address comments made at the beginning of the meeting.
“For those who were not here last week, she (Linda Reese) is claiming I attacked Mr. Dietrich. All I did was ask a question or two. Yes, it was heated. If I attacked him, I apologize.
“This is not a poor Mike thing. Mike brought this on himself. He did not communicate anything with us. She is asking why I did not stick up for him. Well, he is the lone ranger in this. I had no idea he was going to have all of that information. He was supposed to share it with us, and he did not. This is a fight he picked. How can we support that if he will not ask us to support that.
“This is just my point of view. If I attacked him publicly, I apologize. I believe it was questions and it was a heated exchange.”
While an audience member said Clark had nothing to apologize for, Clark said he does not want the public to think he attacked Dietrich. “I will stand up for myself. I don’t think I attacked him, but there are people out there who think I did. So, I apologize.”