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Requests for new development and aging parks

By Bev Barr BCC Editor

The Commissioners Court plate overflowed Sept. 14, with 22 agenda items in a meeting that lasted about 3 hours. Among the usual items involving lot replats and consent agenda items, the commissioners set the date for public hearings for the proposed tax rate and proposed budget at 7 pm, Thursday, Sept. 21.
The commissioners court listened to constituents and took action as necessary on the following subjects:
International Diplomacy
Elenora Goodley reported to the commissioners on her trip to Tysmenytsia, Ukraine, to celebrate the Ukraine's independence in Bandera’s Sister City-County. She presented the commissioners with a plaque, a gift from Goodley’s Ukrainian counterparts.
Sandidge Park
Rochelle Hunt provided the commissioners with a plan to improve the safety and appearance of Sandidge Park, which sits on property within the city limits but is owned by the county. The Optimist Club built the park more than 30 years ago and has, traditionally, maintained it. But no formal agreements were ever made between the Optimist Club and county or city officials, and the park has suffered the ravages of time and weather. It’s in a state of disrepair. The city picks up the trash from the receptacles in the park and is willing to continue doing so, Hunt said.
The Sandidge Park improvement plan is “a work in progress” according to Hunt. It was developed by the all-volunteer citizen action group, Vision For Bandera, with Jana Camp Herrera serving as chairman for the park’s restoration committee.
Hunt said that the goal is to restore what is salvageable — to get rid of the splinters and rust and cut the grass. Vision For Bandera volunteers are prepared to put in the sweat-equity required to take apart equipment and refurbish it, to clean, sand, paint and replace splitting boards or pieces of equipment, a tire swing for example, as needed. The plan does not include making design and structural changes or improvements that would bring the park up to standards contatined in the American With Disabilities Act (ADA). This volunteer work would be accomplished at no cost to the county, if the commissioners approve and give the group “it’s blessing.”
There was general agreement that if the volunteers performed the work to existing equipment and landscape, there needed to be a real plan in place for its continued maintenance. That plan is not in place yet.
The county attorney, commissioners and county judge also acknowledged obvious potential liability issues. A motion was made to approve Vision For Bandera’s Sandidge Park plan, subject to liability issues being resolved and a maintenance plan developed.
Hotel developer requests the use of Hotel Occupancy Tax
Art Crawford presented on behalf of the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation and hotel developer Gene Liquori a 136-page feasibility study by Source Strategic Inc., for “Best Western Bandera” to support a request for a 381 agreement with the county to secure a long-term incentive package for the developer. Real County Judge Barrett was available as an expert to answer questions primarily about 381 agreements.
According to Crawford, the hotel project needs $38,000 “to make it work” and the business plan is not viable without a 381 agreement. They came (to the commissioners court) asking for $60,000, Crawford said, and would settle for $30,000, leaving Liquori to somehow come up with the $8,000 difference.
The benefit of a 381-Agreement, according to the presenters, is the flexibility of structuring the agreement to reflect the specific requirements or limitations of Bandera. In this case, the 381-Agreement would tap into hotel occupancy taxes and property taxes for a proposed $60,000 per year to offset the cost of marketing for the proposed Best Western hotel. The marketing budget for the proposed chain hotel is $110,000 per year. This is the amount that Best Western has determined is necessary to make this location a viable location for the franchise.
Judge Evans asked Liquori to clarify whether the $110,000 was an assessment of a marketing recommendation expense or a requirement of the franchise. Liquori answered with circular statements and never clarified the distinction.
Evans said he preferred the idea of a contract for advertising, in general, using a 352 Agreement similar to the one with the county has with Convention and Visitors Bureau, instead of entering into a long-term 381-Agreement.
The advantage of 381 Agreements, according to Crawford and Judge Barrett, is to secure the investment for the developer’s lenders.
Crawford compared the potential tax revenue of the hotel investment -- $23,500 based on 64 percent occupancy versus the $19 that is collected on a vacant lot — and surmised that it’s worth the investment. (The current hotel occupancy rate is 30 percent, according to Crawford, a number not reflected in the feasibility report.) Crawford acknowledged that the court hadn’t had time to examine the feasibility study to assess the veracity of the projected numbers.
Commissioner Eliker asked about the impact the hotel would have on the existing hotels, or what is known as “displaced demand.”
Liquori answered by stating that “competition is good” and that it was his opinion that the occupancy rate for existing hotels “will stay the same or realistically increase.” He said, “They have to improve their product,” and described it as a “win-win” situation. It should be noted that Liquori’s stated opinion was not supported by anything reflected in the feasibility study.
A brief discussion about the hotel’s parking began when one of the presenters said, “Parking is tight.” Judge Evans responded, “I think it’s non existent.”
According to Crawford, the city has agreed to make Oak Street into a one-way street if the development goes through, and allow the hotel to count parking on both sides of the street as 14 compact parking spaces for its business. Judge Evans said that street parking is public parking and asked what would happen to that count if the Cabaret were reopened. Crawford replied that they were still working on other parking solutions and that offers were being made for parking on adjacent land, and that they should have answers to that question soon.
Judge Barrett quipped, “That’s the kind of problem to have – more business than you can park.”
The smoking gun in all this is a Nov. 27 deadline to break ground in order to receive a $225,000 Texas Fund Grant.
The commissioners agreed to schedule a 1 to 2-hour workshop with the operator and developer of the hotel to discuss possible 352 and 381 agreements. The date for the workshop has not been set.
Bids for properties accepted, some rejected
Seven people placed bids to purchase 19 properties from the county. Six of the bids were accepted and 13 bids were rejected. Two properties were accepted as gifts deeded to the county.
September declared Hunger Action Month
Wearing an entirely different hat, Art Crawford, executive director of operations of Silver Sage Corral, introduced the good people from the San Antonio Food Bank, which serves 16 counties in southwest Texas. Crawford said that because of the San Antonio Food Bank, the Silver Sage serves twice as many people as it did two years ago and has cut its cost by about $5,000. Silver Sage volunteers drive 381 miles a day to deliver meals throughout Bandera County. About 15 percent of Bandera County’s population is officially “food insecure.”
Hurricane Harvey and Bandera County EMS
EMS Director Calvin Plummer reported that the EMS received a $50,000 grant from Hal and Charlie Peterson to assist with the purchase of an ambulance. He is in the process of requesting another grant, too.
Plummer reported that Bandera County supplied one ambulance (out of four) and a full crew for 7 days as part of the state’s emergency mobilized response to Hurricane Harvey. Plummer said the strike team was originally sent to San Antonio and then deployed to Victoria and Cuero, and then Beaumont, where they were performed medical triage. Commissioner Rutherford said that he got a phone call asking if he knew one of our ambulances was down there. He replied, “Yes, and we’re proud of them!”
Plummer said that the department would be reimbursed for the cost of 190 hours at $57.92 an hour. “Even if not reimbursed, it’s the right thing to do,” said Judge Evans.
Mansfield Park rental fees
The Honorable Jack Moseley, Commissioner of Precinct 3, requested that the court approve an increase in rental fees and a different pricing structure for renting the facilities at Mansfield Park. Commissioner Moseley said there hadn’t been an increase since 2008. He compared rental costs for similar facilities in San Angelo, Sonoma, Kerrville, Uvalde and other places and came to the conclusion that it was time to increase prices, not by much, but at least enough to help pay the electric bill.
The Honorable Janna Lindig, county attorney, shared her perspective as president of the Pro Rodeo Association. She essentially agreed with the need to increase the rental prices, but emphasized the need for a maintenance plan for the facility. “Users shouldn’t have to spend a week pulling maintenance before an event,” she said. Commissioner Moseley said he had a plan to make repairs and the court approved the changes in price structure.