So . . . yes, I read the column in Sunday’s paper from Senator Glasgow wherein he expresses his amazement at my “continued critical rhetoric against Tarleton.” If you have not read it, you may wish to do so to give context to this post (column can be found here).
Obviously, I am far less politically experienced than Senator Glasgow and there is much for me to learn. I continually appreciate his willingness to address me directly when he has a different opinion. And that’s just it:
We have a difference of opinion. That is okay.
According to his column, Senator Glasgow thinks: that if Tarleton asks for Farm annexation it is a no-brainer that the Farm should be annexed; public evaluation of Farm annexation threatens the very foundations of the university’s stature, funding, and future; and “it should be the responsibility of the elected officials to work out the problems in a reasonable and rational manner without someone running to the newspaper to express continued complaints whenever TSU needs some action by local governments.” (That newspaper-running someone being little ol’ me, I presume.)
After weeks and weeks of attending city council meetings and work sessions, I think: that Tarleton has asked for water service to the Farm (but has not petitioned for annexation); the city prematurely pushed the annexation button; there are a cluster of unresolved annexation issues; our leaders are working diligently to sort out the cluster; the annexation should be tabled; the cluster should be resolved; the council should re-strategize the annexation plan for a larger portion of the area; Tarleton should petition for annexation of the Farm; and if Tarleton insists it cannot go on without city water in the meantime, the council can sell water to the Farm through the Water Service Agreement available for that purpose.
Oh – and I also think the notion that no one should be “running to the newspaper” sounds like ‘the big boys can sort it out just fine, no need to alert the public.’
But it is the responsibility of the public to seek information on topics of importance to them, to engage in their community, to participate in their government, and to communicate with their neighbors through any available forum of public discussion they wish to pursue.
And by “the public” I don’t mean just the ‘elite’ business leaders referred to in Senator Glasgow’s letter as being the voices who should speak on issues of community importance—I also mean contractors, shop workers, small business owners, stay-at-home moms, teachers, professors, clerks, emergency responders, postal workers, administrative assistants, coaches, loan officers, cosmetologists, accountants, city staff, legal assistants, nurses, realtors, librarians, physicians, students, wait staff, tellers, attorneys, customer service reps, retirees, and you know . . . just, all of us.
Nobody disputes the value of Tarleton.
And nobody should dismiss or diminish the value of public participation in the processes of our government.
It’s a Multi-Brainer
Senator Glasgow’s column states that “the annexation requested by Tarleton . . . is simply a ‘no brainer.’” To the contrary, it is a multi-brainer.
For weeks now, the council members, mayor, and city administrator have vigorously discussed a variety of logistical aspects related to annexation and the provision of city services to College Farm. Also present at most (if not all) of those work sessions have been: the Public Works Director, the Director of Community Development, the Chief of Police, and the Fire Chief. (Plus me and 1-3 other concerned citizens.)
At any given work session or meeting there has been a concentration of intelligent, experienced minds actively engaged in a substantive, thought-provoking pursuit of the city’s best interest in this matter.
The question of “what’s best for Tarleton?” is a narrowly-focused inquiry, following which the fulfillment of whatever request Tarleton makes is a ‘no brainer’ because the only interest that need be considered is the university’s.
However, the question of “what’s best for Stephenville?” is a broadly-focused inquiry, following which the fulfillment (or not) of a request from any citizen, group, entity, or institution must necessarily involve consideration of a host of competing needs/wants/ideas against finite resources.
We have representatives willing to roll up their sleeves, engage their thinkers, and commit to the long (LONG) hours required for the guidance of our city. Thank goodness.
9 Specific Questions
Senator Glasgow’s column states that “Ms. Slawson and others have opposed this annexation because of the costs to the City of Stephenville for water, police, and fire protection.”
I did not see Senator Glasgow in attendance at the public hearing in which I spoke, so perhaps he is unaware of what I actually said. (City video from the hearing and a copy of the written version of my comments as submitted to the council are available here.)
Costs of water, police, and fire protection of course matter, but when I addressed the council, it was with nine specific questions. Those questions, underlined below, were asked for the particular reasons below each question. They may not be of interest to you or to Senator Glasgow, but they are anything but fluffy disguise of some kind of self-defeating anti-TSUism. So here they are:
1. Would the annexation, if approved, count against the city’s annual 10% limit? Or is it treated as state-owned and excluded?
With certain exceptions, the city is limited by statute to annexation of no more than 10% of its incorporated area per calendar year. [Local Govt Code 43.055(a)]
One exception where the 10% limitation does not apply is when the area to be annexed is state-owned and used for a public purpose. [Local Govt Code 43.055(a)(2)]
Another exception where the 10% limitation does not apply is when the area is annexed at the request of the owners of the area. [Local Govt Code 43.055(a)(4)]
When a city does not annex its 10% allocation in a calendar year, it may carry the unused allocation forward for use in future years, up to a maximum of 30%. [Local Govt Code 43.055(b),(c)]
Why does this matter? Because:
• The city contains 7,542 acres.
• The city has not annexed any areas for more than three years, so it has the ability to annex up to 30% of its incorporated area, or up to 2,262 acres.
• There are some other development and growth ideas on the horizon that may involve annexation of additional areas and it would be good for the city to use its 30% allocation as strategically as possible.
• If the 420 acres of College Farm are considered state-owned and used for a public purpose, those 420 acres will not count against the city’s allotment. (I’m not sure the Farm will meet both prongs of ‘state owned’ and ‘public purpose’ but this is a question worthy of council and city attorney consideration.)
• And here’s a kicker: my understanding is that if Tarleton was petitioning for the annexation, the 420 acres would not count against the city’s allotment. But according to the council discussions, Tarleton has only made a request for city water and has not requested/petitioned for the annexation—preferring to leave it to the city to sell water without annexation or initiate annexation as a city unilateral action with Tarleton passively ‘not fighting’ it. I don’t think that this approach is a result of any particular ill or malicious intent—but I do think it is poor planning that fails to take into account other strategic annexation opportunities in the area.
2. If the “upside” to annexing this tax-exempt parcel is that it will allow for an ETJ bumpout, to what limits (or what properties) will the ETJ extend?
The city may only annex area that either is within its extraterritorial jurisdiction (“ETJ”) or is owned by the city. [Local Govt Code 43.051]
The size of a city’s ETJ depends upon the size of the city. [Local Govt Code 42.021(a)]
The Stephenville ETJ consists of an area circling the city and extending one-mile outward from the existing city boundaries. [Local Govt Code 42.021(a)(2)]
The City’s map of the Stephenville ETJ as it presently exists can be seen here.
When a city annexes an area in its ETJ, the ETJ expands outward to comprise the area around the new city boundaries. [Local Govt Code 42.022(a)]
Why does this matter? Because:
• One huge reason this matters is Schreiber, our 6th largest employer and a major contributor and asset to the local economy. At present, Schreiber is located outside the ETJ. However, depending upon the layout and size of the annexation undertaken around the Farm and within the existing ETJ, the consequential bumpout could easily result in an extension of the ETJ to include Schreiber (and other land in the area that may be ripe for commercial or industrial development).
• If Schreiber falls within the new ETJ, it becomes a potential for annexation.
• According to information from the city administrator and council members in work sessions, Schreiber has in recent years expressed an interest in obtaining city water services; it may be amenable to annexation to obtain those services.
• As shown on the Erath County Appraisal District website, the collective 2014 valuation of Schreiber’s taxable property (net of any exemptions or production losses) is $61,449,340.
• If included within the city limits, taxable property of that amount multiplied by the current city tax rate of $0.495 would yield $304,174.23 in city tax revenue.
Did you catch that? It’s worth going back and reading that last bullet point again.
That alone seems like a pretty good basis for giving careful, strategic consideration to how an annexation in that area is achieved—and that is just part of the potential commercial/industrial picture along the 281 corridor.
• Extending the annexation reach to the area around Schreiber would necessitate extending the ability of our services to reach that area. A plan for providing water to College Farm necessitates consideration of how we may need to service areas beyond and around College Farm.
• Planning for how to reach areas beyond College Farm affects the planning and development of water and sewer services within College Farm. While Tarleton would pay the cost of the lines it installs to service its water needs at the farm, if the city reasonably anticipates needing a differently sized line for later extension and servicing of a parcel of land beyond the farm, the city is responsible for the cost difference between the two lines. That is, for illustration purposes: if Tarleton needs a 10” line for its water needs it pays for a 10” line; if the city anticipates further development/expansion may necessitate a 14” line, the city bears the cost of the difference between the 10” line and the 14” line. So taking a broad view of the planning for the area is definitely warranted.
3. In last week’s Agenda, an e-mail from Dr. Dottavio to Mark Kaiser on 05/20/14 says that College Farm will be “a large customer for water and sewer services.” What is the anticipated average quantity of water usage at College Farm?
The Agenda I was referring to in this comment is the 05-27-14 Agenda available on the city’s website; the e-mail from which that quote is pulled is at page 19 in that Agenda.
Any time a developer requests services to an area, the city is going to ask some variation of “whatcha gonna be doing out there?” to assess the extent of the need, the ability/inability of the city to meet the need, and the relation of the need to the bigger city-wide picture.
Tarleton’s 2020 Master Plan provides some insight regarding the idealized goal for development of the Farm, but much like with the main campus Master Plan, it is difficult to tell exactly where the rubber of the ideal is meeting the road of reality.
I’ve attended several council meetings and work sessions where the council has asked questions about the university’s plans for development at the Farm. The answers in these meetings have been vague, with general mention of plans for a new ag building, reconfiguration/demolition of certain labs/barns, and potentially some kind of ag-related residential housing, but nothing concrete. The city administrator has reported that he thinks Tarleton is requesting water service in conjunction with a project they might want to begin in or around October. The administrator also reports that a list of the short-term projects may be released soon, but it has not been yet.
Additionally, I attended the public forum Tarleton offered wherein their planning team from Broaddus Planning was to address the university’s short-term growth plans. The speakers spent a good deal of time outlining the vision and projects intended for development within the existing boundaries of the main campus. However, when an audience member asked what the plans are for the Farm, the response was a vague statement that the speakers had just toured the Farm and were not sure what was planned out there yet.
So where does that leave us?
• With a general request for water at the Farm;
• With a statement in correspondence from the University President to the City Administrator that the Farm would be “a large customer for water and sewer services”;
• With the city trying to get some kind of grasp of the extent of the water needs at the Farm;
• With the city eyeing a bigger development and extension/annexation plan for the entire area; but
• Without (or so it appears from council meetings and work sessions) any official, public communication from the university about the specific development plans for the Farm and/or anticipated quantity of usage.
Where’s the emergency? If Tarleton has not even reached the stage in their planning where they can publicly identify what their short-term plans are at the Farm, and is not yet prepared to publicly articulate the extent of their water usage needs – then where is the harm in tabling the annexation to allow the city to prepare a more strategic, informed annexation plan for the area?
4. How does the anticipated average quantity of usage expedite the City’s need for new wells?
The anticipated quantity of usage is a relevant inquiry in at least as much as it relates to whether the additional volume needed by a new “large customer for water” will necessitate the city increasing the priority of drilling new wells.
Why does this matter? Because:
As best I can tell, the cost of a single new well is somewhere in the ballpark of $300,000. [Source: 06/17/14 council work session agenda packet, Page 11 “Capital Improvements – Tentative Priorities” under “Water Production – Airport Well Field-New Well $300,000”]
No small price tag – and that’s for one well.
How soon we face the need for drilling a new well (or multiple wells) is very relevant to the annexation discussion. And not merely the annexation of the Farm, but the potential annexation of and provisions of services to points beyond the Farm (like Schreiber).
5. Will all water, including irrigation, be drawn from the city supply or will Tarleton maintain wells for some purposes?
The Farm contains many acres of potentially irrigable land. It is logical to question whether the water usage needs will include irrigation.
At the 06/03/14 city council public hearing, TSU’s Mr. Minckler stated (if I understood correctly) that the university’s present intention is to rehab its existing well(s) at the farm and continue to use it/them for their irrigation and livestock needs.
However, one of the given reasons for wanting city water is the cost of providing their own well water. In the 05/20/14 e-mail from Dr. Dottavio to Mr. Kaiser, the University President states:
“The university’s mission does not include water services and it is spending considerable dollars to provide its own water source at the Agriculture Center. These dollars could be better leveraged by the city to maintain and improve the water infrastructure and supply for the entire community.”
As indicated from city documents cited in #4 above, the cost of drilling a new well for municipal production purposes is substantial. Although I have not undertaken the research, I would expect the cost of drilling and/or rehabbing a well for production at the Farm would be significantly less—but not inconsequential.
A likely scenario may be that the university will use their well(s) for irrigation and livestock for so long as the wells will operate, and upon the failure of a well will weigh the rehab cost against the cost of transitioning those needs to city water at city rates.
Why does this matter? Because in all likelihood, at some point the Farm wells will fail and the university may seek to tie all of its irrigation and livestock water needs into the city line. Instead of dismissing this scenario for remoteness, we should plan for it.
6. Will the water restrictions in the city Drought Response Plan apply to College Farm?
We all know and understand that the university is exempt from things like property tax and sales tax. So when we’re talking water in a climate that includes neighboring counties who are running out of water, the question of whether the watering restrictions in our city Drought Response Plan (“DRP”) would apply to the Farm is relevant.
According to the City Administrator’s statement at the 06/03/14 public hearing, the university would not be exempt from the DRP.
The Hunewell Ranch Interplay
Intertwined with everything above, there is the added dimension of Hunewell Ranch negotiations.
I like public records, sources that we can all refer to for a baseline understanding of an issue. Prior to the 06/03/14 public hearing, I was having difficulty locating public records that specified what the city is asking with regard to Hunewell.
I was present for 05/27/14 work session exchanges between the council and TSU’s representative wherein the Mayor told TSU’s representative that the big picture water issue is that TSU wants/needs city water at the Farm and the City wants/needs water-related access to Hunewell Ranch. Furthermore, I was familiar with the 05/20/14 e-mail from Dr. Dottavio to Mr. Kaiser, in which the University President states:
“[The university’s vision] requires that we partner with the City of Stephenville at the Agriculture Center and elsewhere to best use the water resources of the community. It is important to Tarleton that Stephenville prosper and it is only through partnerships that we can both succeed. We look forward to additional conversations on how we can work together to enhance the water supply of the community….”
Based upon the council discussions I witnessed and the limited records I could find, my final three questions during the public hearing were related to Hunewell:
7. What exactly is the city asking of its partner with regard to Hunewell Ranch—a request for a drilling agreement, a water pipeline easement, something else?
8. How long has the city been trying to negotiate some kind of water-related agreement with its partner concerning Hunewell Ranch?
9. Since both partners have a water-centric issue they need assistance with, why would we not take the time now to negotiate a mutually-beneficial arrangement for both partners?
The city is (and has been) wisely planning for our long-term water needs.
Work session discussion on 06/17/14 indicates that for at least three years, city leaders have been negotiating with Tarleton for some form of drilling-related access to Tarleton’s Hunewell Ranch, underneath which is reportedly a very rich point in the aquifer. The negotiations are slow-moving, but have involved the joint commission of a water study, the results of which were pending finalization as of this week’s work session. Council discussions indicate the city very much wants and needs to push the Hunewell negotiations forward and pin down an agreement with Tarleton/TAMUS.
In the meantime, a parcel of 536 acres adjacent to Hunewell Ranch became available for purchase last fall, and the city was able to secure a deal for the land. From all appearances, the city is doing everything it can to position itself for well development in an excellent production location.
Now, I don’t think Tarleton is indifferent to the city’s need for access to Hunewell. I think the problem is a disparity of priorities between the three principal actors: Tarleton, City, TAMUS.
The university isn’t in the water business, as its representative has told the council on at least two public meeting occasions. The university wants to be a consumer, not a producer.
The city is in the water business, and is pressing for its long-range production needs.
TAMUS is probably not disinterested, but it is easy to see how the responsibility of overseeing the 11 universities and 7 state agencies within its system may well overshadow the water-planning needs of little ol’ Stephenville.
Why does this matter? Because if access to Hunewell is a vital issue for our long-range water planning needs (council comments say it is), and if the city is having difficulty getting TSU/TAMUS to prioritize the matter for resolution (council comments again say it is), well . . . why keep handing over bargaining chips if the other fella is too distracted to commit to the hand?
They Don’t Need a Parade – But Do Want to Hear from You
As Senator Glasgow’s column correctly noted, at the public hearing two weeks ago, I was the only person to speak in opposition to the annexation.
He omitted mention that the only person to speak in favor of annexation was a TSU representative.
And he omitted mention that a there were a number of people in attendance with concerns similar to mine who confirmed as much for the council following my remarks.
But that’s okay. The council doesn’t need a parade of people before them to recognize this is a matter deserving of diligent inquiry.
However, I feel certain each of them would be interested in what you think. Even if you, like me, are not one of those business leaders referred to in Senator Glasgow’s letter.
Call them, e-mail them, write a letter, attend a work session, or come to a council meeting — in my experience they will all courteously receive you. They’re your neighbors, after all, and while they can’t please everyone on every issue, your voice matters to them.
What to Do?
The public hearings have concluded. The next step is for the council to make its decision on this matter at the July 1st city council meeting. Regardless of how that vote comes down, this has been anything but a no-brainer process for everyone involved. Thank goodness.
So, the ultimate question: what should the council do?
When I examine the cluster of unresolved issues (the desirability of using annexation to strategically bump out the ETJ; the as-yet unquantified water usage needs for the Farm and corresponding effect on the city’s drilling timeline; and the city’s stated need for an agreement regarding Hunewell Ranch), I think it would be in the city’s best interest to table the annexation, resolve the cluster, re-strategize, and start over (preferably with a petition for annexation from the university).
Do you think differently? That’s okay. This is no doomsday scenario and there’s no reason to twist it into that. The well isn’t going to dry up tomorrow if we rush to annex and Tarleton’s stature/funding/future aren’t going to crumble if we take the time to critically evaluate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and whether we can package it better.
I’ve heard TSU’s representative speak several times – not once have I heard him state that there is some emergent situation necessitating immediate water service.
No need to panic though. If Tarleton simply cannot wait for a better-prepared annexation, the city council is already working on a standby Water Service Agreement to sell water to the university as an out-of-city customer.
Economic growth and development of that area is going to require some planning and strategization – and it is worth the city’s investment of time to handle it in an informed manner.
Tarleton is taking the time to carefully plan for the growth and development of the Farm.
Stephenville should take the time to carefully plan for the growth and development of the areas beyond the Farm.
And both of them, along with TAMUS, should be going all-in on an agreement for the city to have water-related access to Hunewell Ranch.
And all of that up there? Those are good, thought-provoking reasons why this annexation is not a no-brainer.