On Wednesday, November 8, 2017, at the regular monthly meeting of the Flour Bluff Business Association, District 4 Councilman Greg Smith shared what has been happening at the city level. The citizens elected Smith their council member last November. “I am a Flour Bluffian, Class of 1970, and the first person who actually grew up in Flour Bluff to be elected to city council,” said Smith.
Smith started his presentation by discussing the effects of Harvey on Flour Bluff. “We really got a pass on this one. We had mostly roof and fence damage, and overall it was not too bad,” said Smith. “That said, the condos and hotels on Mustang Island within the city limits were severely damaged. About 20%, our HOT (Hotel Occupancy Tax) funds come from there. None of those condominiums today are operating. The water was about 10 feet above sea level on Mustang Island. It came out of Corpus Christi Bay, pushed up against those dunes, and really caused severe flooding.”
The councilman went on to explain the issue with the brush and debris pickup, something that Judge Loyd Neal criticized publicly just last month. “For all of us in the Bluff and on the island, don’t put any more out. The city’s not picking it up. If you do, you will get a $75 bill,” said Smith. “In 45 days, the city hauled more brush than they do in two years. Corpus Christi is about 100 times the size of Port Aransas, which has more debris coming out of it than all of Corpus Christi.”
Smith cautioned people about thinking we would not have another storm for many years. He reminded everyone of the 1916 and 1919 storms of Carla, Beulah, and Celia that came within the same 9 years. “We need to take what we learned from all these storms and apply it to the future. The odds are we are going to have a storm much sooner than 47 years,” he said referring to the August 3, 1970, Celia that hit Corpus Christi directly.
“I am going to be pushing for several things. One is our roofs and the composition shingles. Right now we’re required to have a 120 mph shingle that sells for $65 a square. For $75 a square, you can buy a 150 mph shingle. And, it will last nearly twice as long. Instead of a 30-year shingle, you’ll get a 50-year shingle,” said Smith.
“Flour Bluff – like Port Aransas – floods. If the conditions are right, we could see the flooding here that Mustang Island saw. If we increase the BFE (base flood elevation) to one foot above, everybody in Corpus Christi who is paying flood insurance will see a 5% reduction. Anybody who builds at that standard will save money on their flood policy,” said Smith. “Both of these things can save us money in the long run.”
Smith spoke of how some of the local haulers had upped their prices after Harvey but took the time to point out the Matt Eckstrom of Killian Calderon Disposal, was not one of them. “I want to give a shout-out to Matt,” said Smith. “He is a good local citizen who didn’t take advantage of his customers.” Smith encouraged those in attendance to call on Eckstrom if they have need for his services.
Smith then talked about various aspects of city government, beginning with the budget that went into effect October 1, 2017. “Most of us on the council are new to the process, so it’s been a learning year. We basically received a staff budget,” Smith said. Mayor Joe McComb and Smith asked that staff cut 1% across the board so that there would be money to put into streets. When Council was told that there was no way to do that, Smith said, “When they told me they could not save one cent on the dollar, I had trouble with that. We did get a half-cent on there, which was $3.4 million to go to our residential streets, not our arterials and collectors.”
“Thirty years ago, all of our ad valorem taxes went to support our public safety, police and fire. Our sales tax went to the other areas. Today, all of our ad valorem goes to support police, and all of our sales tax goes to support fire. I’m not saying these are dedicated funds. We get $77 million in ad valorem, and our police budget is $77 million. Our fire budget is $52 million, and we get around $54 million in sales tax. Monies that were going elsewhere historically have gradually been shifted over to public safety. I think our fire and police have excellent people there, and we are understaffed, more so in the police than fire. We do have issues right now,” said Smith.
Smith explained that increased evaluations did bring in extra ad valorem dollars. “That money went to satisfy our contractual obligations to our police and fire departments. We didn’t have anything left over at the end of the day. We received an increase of $4 million in ad valorem increases, but we had $4 million obligated to raises to police and fire.” He said that they are looking at different ways to address the issue. “To put one more officer on the force, it costs the taxpayers $125,000 for each officer.” If they increase by eight officers, it will cost $1 million. “Right now we have about 400 officers,” said Smith.
“We have way too much debt, and we’re not in favor of that. This council, with five new members, is a much more questioning council than our last councils have been,” said Smith. “We’ve got to do better as a city, and we’ve got to bring our services in cheaper. For example, we have a wall behind the museum that needs to be re-built, and I agree with that. The estimate came in at $10,000 a linear foot for the 200-foot wall. That’s $2 million dollars. When we build the Packery Channel bridge and the approaches to it, it will cost $4,000 a linear foot, and I asked why we would do this. These are the kinds of things we’re addressing.
The councilman addressed wastewater next. “It’s kind of a silent thing. We don’t often think about that, except maybe a couple of times a day,” Smith said, which was followed by a chuckle from the crowd. He addressed the consolidation of the treatment plans that has been debated for months, an expensive fix that Smith did not deem necessary. “All we have to do is repair and maintain what we have.” This direction will allow the system made up of six plants to work and meet regulatory standards without costing the rate payer $220 million dollars more than repairing the existing plants. “That comes out of our pockets, and there’s no reason for it,” said Smith. “We have instructed staff to move forward and fix the plants we have to make them fully operational and efficient.” This drew a round of applause from the audience members.
Smith then addressed the water system. “Our peak year in water usage as 1989,” he said. “We are using about 30% less water today, and we’ve added two sources of supply. We have plenty of water. We are trying to make everyone aware of that, particularly industry.” Smith said that industry is a big consumer of water but there is still plenty. “We are moving forward on desalination even though we have water. We just authorized permitting for a desalination plant,” Smith said. “One thing this council will not do is build that plant until we have the demand. “However, we want to be ready in case we get a lot of industry come in, and we need the water.” Smith sees Corpus Christi as a frontrunner in desalination, which will make the city known to industry both nationally and internationally.
Smith explained that the state loaned the $2.75 million for desalination, which must be paid back at no interest in eight years. “We will be adding a little to the industry rate since they’re the ones who really want this. We’re not going to put this on the ordinary rate payer,” Smith said.
Smith then moved to the topic of streets. “The big one is streets, which is strictly a money issue. For residential streets, we have a program in place, and it’s funded to maintain the good streets,” said Smith. He explained that all streets in the city have been rated according to the PCI (Pavement Condition Index), a rating system of 1 to 100. “Any street with a PCI of 55 or above is on a funded maintenance program,” he said in reference to the SPMP (Street Preventative Maintenance Program) started in January 2014 and funded by the SMF (Street Maintenance Fund) to pay most of the construction costs. Streets that meet the 55+ requirement are eligible for maintenance work through either a seal coat or overlay every seven years. According to the 2017 SPMP Work Plan, Waldron Road, which has a PCI of 57 from Caribbean to Yorktown, will receive an overlay in 2017.
“The next classification of streets, which a lot of the Bluff streets are, is PCI 35-55. We just approved $8 million dollars on addressing these streets,” said Smith. He explained that this program is based strictly on PCI rating and has nothing to do with amount of tax dollars collected from a particular area. Only one Bluff street will fall under this program. “I was disappointed to see that, but it takes a million dollars a mile. The City of Corpus Christi is going to recondition eight miles of streets city-wide,” said Smith.
“The last tier is a PCI of 35 and below. It costs $4 million a mile to fix those streets. With over 400 miles of bad streets, that’s $1.6 billion. We don’t have $1.6 billion. We don’t have anywhere near that amount,” Smith said. He said that only two streets in the city with this rating are targeted for reconstruction, Ralston and Rogerson, neither of which is a Bluff street. “It’s going to be a long, long time before we can get to the other streets. Again, it boils down to money.”
Smith later talked about the way that street repair is done currently. “We are repairing streets today the same we did 75 years ago,” he said adding that it is not the most efficient way of getting the job done. He said the city is testing a machine called an asphalt zipper that uses less labor, takes less time, and may do a better job than what the city street crews do now. “This machine does it all and has the proper tamping required to keep the asphalt in place,” Smith said.
Part of the issue with streets is that developers, though required to do so, may not actually build a 30-year street. “I asked how many streets have problems that are one- or two-year streets. Currently, we have eleven streets that are supposedly 30-year streets that are now owned by the taxpayers that are already having to be patched. Carolyn Vaughn and I want to require a two-year warranty instead of a one-year warranty on those streets,” Smith said. “If they’re truly building 30-year streets, we should be able to get a two-year warranty.”
Monette Bright, local businesswoman, asked, “Why are utilities not put in for an entire subdivision when it goes in? Why are they allowed to put in gas and water taps after the street has already gone in? Doesn’t digging into the pavement destroy the integrity of the street?”
“That has definitely been the case in the past. With the newer subdivisions, the taps are now put in place before the paving begins.
“This is something that affects us all, especially in the Bluff. The Flour Bluff Citizens Council and the Flour Bluff Business Association have done great work. I think if the city had done that, it would be terrific,” said Smith in reference to an FBCC Town Hall meeting on October 16, 2017, where the citizens were educated on the state of homelessness in Corpus Christi and Flour Bluff. “We are looking for a way to know where these folks are,” said Smith, referring to the proposed Coordinated Entry plan for the city, which helps keep track of the homeless as they move in and around the area. Smith said that the city is looking at helping reunite individuals with their families. Two other proposals include a work program and a housing program.
“Personally, I think I have a lot of support on council with this. We have to be compassionate. People have issues that we have to help take care of. We have to take care of the people who need and want help,” said Smith. He added that in doing so that we be careful not want to create an environment where Corpus Christi becomes a destination spot for homeless. “It’s a balancing act. Citizens in Flour Bluff are concerned about safety and sanitary issues when they go to Parker Park,” said Smith, something that he said is a concern in most parks in the city. Smith went on to describe a homeless person becoming physical with a woman who was serving attendees at a local function.
“From a policing standpoint, currently our department’s attitude is that we cannot solve homelessness. However, when we have someone who is physically aggressive, as a city, we need to strengthen that,” said Smith.
Dan Hogan addressed petty theft around the neighborhood and its relationship to homelessness. “I call this a revolving door problem. We have these homeless people who get on drugs and become a nuisance to themselves and our community. When they get arrested, they get put right back out on the street,” said Hogan. “There has to be a solution in some city somewhere. Let’s figure out what to do about this,” said Hogan. “Let’s find out where those bus tickets are coming from and buy return tickets.” This drew many comments of agreement from the audience.
Election Year Coming
Smith reminded everyone that we are coming upon an election year in 2018. “Council members are elected for two year terms,” said Smith. He cautioned everyone to be aware of candidates making promises that they cannot keep in order to get votes. “Usually, you get votes by spending money. When you cut, you lose a lot of votes. Commissioner Chesney is like I am. He stands firm on the budget. We have to make the hard decisions. It irritates people when you cut programs out, but sometimes these cuts are necessary. I will continue to ask those hard questions and make cuts where necessary,” said Smith.
Joe Lynch, resident and local businessman, voiced a safety concern about the Laguna Shores SPID intersection. “Even a small vehicle has difficulty making that right-hand turn onto Laguna Shores without swinging out into the lane that goes up on the freeway,” Lynch said. “Sometimes the driver comes to a complete stop to let the Laguna Shores traffic go, which is dangerous for the driver pulling onto SPID because he doesn’t have a clear view.” Lynch suggested that the right turn lane on Laguna Shores be moved more toward the Laguna Madre to allow for the necessary space for safe turning. Lynch was concerned that someone was preparing to build on that property, which might prevent the movement of the lane.
Smith thanked Lynch for his comments and said that Laguna Shores improvements will be on the 2018 Bond that will go to the voters next November. “That’s the kind of thing we need to catch before the design. You’re right. It is a problem,” responded Smith.
Jennifer Welp asked about what seems to be a new fee implemented by the City Solid Waste Department right after Harvey. “It severely affects roofers and remodelers who have to haul debris or building materials,” said Welp.
“You’re referring to the MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) fee. It’s been in effect since 2001. If a hauler like Matt, let’s say, is called by a roofer to haul the material, and he takes it to the city landfill, he pays the fee, a fee that is for street maintenance. If the roofer takes it himself to a private landfill, the fee doesn’t get paid. If Matt takes it to a private landfill, it was already in his bill, and the fee gets paid. Again, it was started in 2001, and the city staff picked right after Harvey to implement it, so it looks terrible. We’ve had a lot of complaints from the roofers who are paying about $200 when they ought to pay about $20. Staff is now going back and looking at what was charged and bringing those charges in line to what they ought to be,” said Smith.
Matt Eckstrom asked, “When you enact that MSW fee on the roofers, are they going to do that through the building permits that they pull?”
“Yes, it has been switched to the building permits from the landfill bill. They were supposed to be paying that at that time. We’ve heard a lot of justified concerns about it,” responded Smith.
Another business owner asked, “Do those fees go into a street maintenance fund, or do they just go wherever?” Smith said that the 400-page budget has 66 different funds, which makes it very difficult to track where those dollars go. “It’s like the convention center. The taxpayers spend $10 million a year on it, but there are so many funds that the money comes out of that nobody knows what the actual number is. So, with this fund, it’s supposed to go to the streets, but it goes a little here and a little there. When the mayor asked that question about what adds up to around $300,000 a year, staff said the money was being spent on multiple city programs. We are watching that.”
FBBA President Jennifer Welp thanked the councilman for addressing the FBBA and awarded him with a Keep It in the Bluff Certificate of Appreciation.
Other FBBA Business
- FBBA elections were held at the November general meeting. Jonathan Vela of Dani’s Lock and Key, Javier Wiley with HEB Plus, and Roshan Bhakta of Candlewood Suites are candidates for the three open positions. Tom Hollingsworth and Cliff Zarbock will be stepping down from the board. President Jennifer Welp thanked them for their service and gave each one a certificate of appreciation.
- President Jennifer Welp welcomed three local businesses to the FBBA: Matt Eckstrom of Killian Calderon Disposal, Susan Chandler of SCC Jewelry, and Vandana Andrews of Andrews Flowers.
- Tire Recycling Program Recap: The FBBA partnered with Nueces County Commissioner Brent Chesney and DEGOLA Resource Conservation and Development District to offer a free tire recycling event on November 4, 2017, from 9 to 5. Lots of tires were collected, which really made an impact on the Flour Bluff community. The FBBA would like to thank Wes Womack and his 4-wheel-drive club for helping with collection of dumped tires. Another free tire-recycling event is planned for early next year.
- The FBBA Membership Drive is still going on. The FBBA thanked all who are members. All local business owners are encouraged to join in the last quarter of the year. The annual dues is $65.00, which can be paid online at https://www.flourbluffbusinessassociation.com/application .
C’est Bon Mixes It Up with FBBA Members December 13
On Wednesday, December 13, 2017, the Flour Bluff Business Association will have their December Mixer at C’est Bon Seafood located at 10210 S. Padre Island Dr, Corpus Christi, Texas, from noon to 1:00 p.m. Come join us as we introduce the newly-elected FBBA board members and enjoy some good seafood while mixing and mingling with other Flour Bluff business owners. If you or your business would like to sponsor our mixer next month, please let us know.
Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day. She also writes and edits for The Texas Shoreline News, a Corpus Christi print newspaper.