City council members empowered city manager Ray De Los Santos Jr. to enter into negotiations with Jim Wells County on an interlocal agreement for the cost sharing of professional services and other required work needed to re-accredit the San Diego Creek Levee during Thursday’s city council meeting.

The project is nearing the end of Phase 1, which includes clearing the levee of brush and other debris. A previous estimate of the total project was in excess of $700,000, according to a preliminary project timeline. The figure is subject to change.

De Los Santos Jr. said he would meet with County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz as early today to begin negotiations.

City officials also approved a policy amendment to City of Alice Civil Service employee holiday pay. According to De Los Santos Jr., the amendment now calls for city civil service employees to be paid regular rate plus one half and to be credited for one day of holiday leave.

Alice Mayor Juan Rodriguez Jr. read a proclamation honoring Marriage Week, which is Feb. 8 through Feb. 14. The event will be marked by married couples renewing their vows in a ceremonial demonstration of their commitment to one another, according to the proclamation.

“We acknowledge that families are the cradle of life and love for each new generation, and the primary source of identity, self-esteem, and support for children,” Rodriguez said as he read the proclamation. “Families are the first and foremost school of life, uniquely suited to teach children integrity, character, morals, responsibility, service and wisdom.”

Also on the agenda, Dean Kruckenburg, executive director of the Alice/Jim Wells County Economic Development Corporation gave a review of EDC activities over the last year.

As part of the Business Retention and Expansion Program (BREP) survey, 42 percent of local employers queried participated in the study. Information from that study, combined with the 2009 BREP survey now underway, will be combined and the results released to the city council in February.

EDC also committed $15,000 to hire a consultant in Austin to assist in the efforts to upgrade Highway 281, and in support of the 281 Coalition, which includes four county judges from the surrounding area.

Kruckenburg said the group is working to secure the Universal Freight Shuttle to follow the current 281 footprint. A monorail system, the line will carry goods within the available space left by Highway 281 right of ways, with the possibility of a hub station set up in Alice, which is a currently connective hub for traffic coming through Highway 281 and Highway 44.

In partnership with Coastal Bend College and Workforce Solutions, the EDC has also aided with local training needed to support existing and future businesses, Kruckenburg said. Areas such as commercial drivers license training, the new ,achinist program and animal technician class, are all the fruits of combined efforts between the three entities to recognize what training local employers desire in their future employees, and filling that need.

In addition, council members approved a resolution in support of improving U.S. Highway 281.

Juan Navejar, director of the Alice Chamber of Commerce, presented the proposed Convention and Visitors Buearu budget for 2009.

With the streamlining of personnel at the chamber, salary costs decreased by $7,000 for 2009. Navejar pointed out a fifty percent increase in signage and billboards in the budget, from $10,000 to $15,000, because of renovations to the two billboards currently in use. One is located locally, while the other is outside of Three Rivers, to promote the city’s presence for travelers headed south. Navejar pointed out that the billboards had not seen a budget increase over the last seven years.

Navejar also remarked on the popularity of the new electronic sign, which is located outside of the chamber, facing Main Street.

With the sign usage, 24 hours a day, utility costs are expected to rise, according to the budget, from $1,500 to $2,500. Councilwoman Dorella Elizondo asked if it would be possible to put the sign on a timer, so that it would automatically shut off overnight.

Navejar said that the sign does come with a timer, which has been tested once, and that it could be utilized to help reduce utility costs.

The total CVB budget of $76,850 was approved by the council, and is a $5,000 increase over last year’s budget.