EDC wanted city, JWC to pay to encourage hotel plans

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

The Alice City Council tabled an agenda item that had proposed the one-time payment of $25,000 to help with the construction of a new hotel in town.

Kamaldeep Gill, who is proposing to construct a new La Quinta hotel on Highway 44 on the east side of town, told the council his project is estimated to cost $5 million, and asked for the payment as an incentive to continue with those plans.

City staff disputed those numbers during the meeting, and told the council their estimates were that only $3 million of the project would be eligible for a tax-abatement.

Alice/Jim Wells County Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Dean Kruckenberg told the council the EDC Board of directors had voted 3-2 to recommend the city and county each make $25,000 cash payments to the business, and said that would be equal to a one-year tax abatement for the business.

Council member Dorella Elizondo said she supported local business growth, but questioned why the EDC had not gone through the process of requesting an actual tax abatement.

"This is not our money to just dole out to everybody else," Elizondo said.

Mayor Pro-tem Juan Rodriguez and council member Leo Escobar indicated the city might be willing to help with in-kind services such as water connections once the project is started, but stopped short of authorizing the $25,000 payment.

Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez, who is on the EDC Board and who voted to recommend the payment, asked the council to table the item to seek other alternatives, but said she supported bringing in new hotels.

"Most of our hotels and motels are old buildings the property owners have not seen fit to keep up," Saenz-Lopez said.

The council voted unanimously to table the item.

In other EDC-related business, the council voted to replace former city council member Michael Esparza on the EDC Board with current city council member Shane Valverde.

The council rescinded a vote made in its previous meeting that had authorized the purchase of new self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) for the Alice Fire Department and recommended the department request bids for a new contract.

In its previous meeting, the council authorized the purchase of 32 new units from Mine Safety Appliance Company at a total cost of $309,826 over 10 years.

On Monday, Uresti told the council a review of the contract indicated the equipment would not include some of the features that had been described to the council during the previous meeting.

"I don't think you were all given all of the information," Uresti said. "I think you were all misled, and the system is not capable of doing all you were told it could do."

Fire Chief Dean Van Nest, who had presented the original contract proposal to the council in previous meetings, submitted a letter to the council in which he wrote that he had received a proposal from a second company, Scott Aviation, to provide 32 new units at a cost of $176,692 to the city.

"At the end of the day, if all the air packs are upgraded to the new standard, we're a lot better off than we are now," Van Nest said.

The council also reviewed information from the Texas Municipal League, the city's insurance, that indicated the insurance would not be paying claims filed against it by residents who suffered flood damage in the recent heavy rainfalls.

Those citizens have claimed the flooding was caused because the city did not keep drainage culverts free of debris.

City attorney Joe Torres III told the council TML has said the city is not liable and has declined to pay the claims.

Saying the flooding was something that "never should have happened," Mayor Saenz-Lopez and Mayor Pro-tem Rodriguez asked Torres for options for the residents.

Torres recommended the council form a committee with other governmental agencies in the surrounding area to address what he said was a county-wide flooding problem.

The council also authorized an expenditure of up to $85,000 for the purchase of two new electrical actuators for the Lake Corpus Christi Pump Stations, to replace two actuators that were destroyed in a lightning storm in February.

The council authorized the police department to apply for a Tobacco Compliance Grant of $4,000 to fund programs to prevent the sale of tobacco products to minors.

The council also voted to accept a bid of $69,160 for janitorial services for the city hall, the police department, the police substation, the ReCenter and the golf course. The winning bid went to L&L Janitorial, the company that has held the contract for a number of years.

The council tabled an agenda item to review a salary equity plan for employees of the Public Works Department to allow for further research on the issue.

The council also tabled an agenda item to consider and act upon a contract with the engineering firm of Coym, Rehmet & Gutierrez to allow the city attorney to meet with representatives of the company to review the contract.

Following a meeting in closed session, the council returned to open session and approved a city manager severance agreement with Uresti. Under the terms of the agreement, the city will be required to pay Uresti the equivalent of six months of his annual salary if he is terminated for reasons other than those outlined in the agreement.