Terrell Hills Mulls Bond, Charter Election:
If there are contested City Council races, Terrell Hills voters could head to the polls May 6 to consider more than electing local representatives.
City officials are looking at whether to propose a bond to fund local road improvements. They are also mulling whether to use the same election to propose minor revisions to the city charter.
More than 15 residents attended a public hearing Dec. 1 at City Hall to hear the results of a citywide pavement condition study, which was conducted by Pape-Dawson Engineers.
The last time the city evaluated the condition of its 32 miles of roads was in 2012.
“You have a lot of good streets in the city,” said Dan Thoma, senior project manager with Pape-Dawson, about the newest survey.
The recent examination showed $304,000 worth of roads in need of minor fixes, mainly cracksealing, which could be handled by the city’s public works crew.
This type of improvement has been identified for parts of several streets, including Ivy, Geneseo, Garraty, Morningside, Terrell and Vandiver.
Most of those fixes, Thoma said, vary between $1,000 and $4,000. Geneseo at Cross looks to be the most expensive of this type of upgrade at $7,000.
Terrell Hills also has $1.5 million of streets that require a higher degree of attention. Those streets, Thoma suggested, could be handled by contractors.
These fixes could affect parts of roads such as Garraty, Crestwood, Elizabeth, Grandview Place and Wiltshire, as well as Austin Highway from Rittiman to New Braunfels.
The Austin Highway portion here appears to be the most expensive at an estimated $49,000.
Finally, there’s $10.4 million worth of major rehabilitation (mill, overlay or reconstruction) eyed for portions of many roads, including Canterbury Hilll, Exeter, Amesbury and Winchester.
Wyckham Rise from Bartlett to Zambrano is projected to have the highest price tag of all — $693,000. In all, this equals $12.3 million in possible improvements citywide.
Thoma said if the city were to float a bond, projects citywide could be phased in over five years. Inflation has been built into the cost estimates.
Terrell Hills has spent about $3.5 million total on road improvements in the last five years, including parts of Elizabeth, Grandview and a few side streets. The city completed refunding on a previous bond over the past summer.
However, following a bond issue early in the 1960s, the city spent roughly $1,000 annually on road maintenance citywide through the early 1990s, city leaders said.
Despite the estimation that most local roads are in sound shape, Thoma said “the goal of a bond program is to get the bad streets up to par and to maintain the good streets.”
City Manager Columbus Stutes said the city has done what it can to apply preventative maintenance, from the annual city budget.
But that still only goes so far, especially when catching up with older roads that have not been addressed in a long time.
“How rapidly does the community want to tackle these streets?” Stutes asked.
Christopher Allison, the city’s financial adviser, calculated the impact on local debt and taxes from a $6.8 million bond. He suggested structuring bond payments over 15 years, and using $300,000 from the city’s operating road budget each year.
According to Allison, a $6.8 million bond would result in a property tax hike of 3.8 cents per $100 valuation. An average local home valued at $500,000 would see a $190 increase on its tax bill.
Allison acknowledged that while interest rates on bonds have risen in recent months, they are still relatively attractive in the current economy.
The Dec. 1 meeting also covered a possible election to eliminate outdated/obsolete verbiage in the city’s charter, which has been twice amended, in 1976 and 1992.
Stutes said the suggested changes, such as deleting antiquated city official titles and bidding dollar limits, are not substantial.
Yet because they are beholden to current charter language, city staffers are hampered in some instances.
City Council discussions and gathering of public input have been planned through January ahead of the city deciding whether to hold a bond and/or charter amendment election this year.
February 17 is the final day for a Texas political subdivision to set a May 6 election. It’s also the final day for candidate filings. The Place 3 and 4 council seats are at stake this year.
Anti-bullying ‘David’s Law’ bill to be filed
San Antonio legislators State Sen. Jose Menendez and Ina Minjarez on Nov. 14 filed “David’s Law,” a bill aimed at empowering school districts in a growing battle against cyberbullying.
The bill, which will be considered during the 85th Texas Legislative session, is named for David Molak, who committed suicide in January 2016. He had endured months of cyberbullying while a student at Alamo Heights High School.
The bullying had become so bad, according to family members, friends and media reports, that David transferred to San Antonio Christian School. But the bullying did not end. He was 16.
Although no charges were filed against the accused bullies, Molak family members have created David’s Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that raises awareness of cyberbullying, prevention, and ways to combat it.
The Alamo Heights school community has also been a backer of this campaign.
The Alamo Heights Independent School District released a task force’s report with recommendations on how best to build up civility and communication among students, teachers and administrators.
Not long after David’s death, the Molaks teamed up with Menendez to see if they could accomplish something at the state level.
If passed, “David’s Law” would require school districts statewide to have strong cyberbullying policies, including the ability to investigate related incidents that happen off-campus.
Heights approves moves to boost police, fire
The Alamo Heights City Council voted Nov. 14 on realignments and wage adjustments meant to improve retention of police and fire personnel.
Police Chief Richard Pruitt and Fire Chief Buddy Kuhn told the council about their departments experiencing continual loss of employees.
In the fire department, the average tenure from start to five years is just under two years — representative of half of the department staff.
Because of injuries, the fire department was short staffed from March to September 2016.
The police department has lost 10 officers in the past five years. The department chiefs say many police officers or firefighters leave for what they feel are better pay and benefits elsewhere.
As a result, a city such as Alamo Heights has to spend money to advertise a vacancy and fill it through training. Some public safety departments offer signing and staying bonuses. However, such departments may face an evaporating applicant pool.
Pruitt and Kuhn recommended reducing the number of staff positions in their respective departments so that there’s more base pay available to make remaining positions more enticing to prospects.
The council agreed to reduce the fire department’s uniform staff from 28 positions to 24. Kuhn also reassigned an administrative position.
With the police department, the council eliminated two vacant positions for assistant chief and for corporal. Also, the administrative sergeant position was transferred to patrol.
High school students caught cheating
Alamo Heights High School officials said in early December that nearly 130 students were accused of cheating.
Media reports highlighted two incidents of cheating that happened prior to the Thanksgiving break.
In one event, 90 freshman English students allegedly copied verbiage from a teacher’s resource guide that was available online. In the second incident, 38 U.S. history juniors allegedly used Wikipedia to copy and paste information for a take-home assignment.
Officials from the Alamo Heights Independent School District said teachers overseeing those assignments discovered similar language in the students’ work, as well as verbiage that most students are not expected to use at their age.
Students who admitted to cheating were suspended from extracurricular activities for two weeks. Those not admitting were suspended for three weeks from the same activities.
AHISD officials said the English assignment was not counted toward the students’ grades. The history students were given the choice of redoing the plagiarized portion of their assignment for half credit.
In early December, AHHS Principal Cordell Jones wrote to high school parents, saying there have been previous incidents of “violations of academic integrity, but none of them ever involved this many students.
“In these two instances, most students admitted to knowing what they were doing was not allowed,” Jones added. The incident will not impact the affected students’ transcripts or permanent records.
As community dialogue about the cheating continued through the holiday break, Jones said: “We will continue to be a school and district that stresses character, integrity and high academic standards while realizing our children are still developing.”
BY EDMOND ORTIZ