City Weighs Dissolving Big Lake Economic Development Corp.
Could Place Measure on November Ballot to Use EDC Sales Tax to Pave City Streets

Originally Published August 2, 2018 - The Big Lake Wildcat
The Big Lake City Council took an exploratory step Tuesday night into their options for dissolving the Big Lake Economic Development Corporation and using that money toward city street paving projects.

The council is looking at a series of options, most of which involve a vote of the citizens, which would take all or part of the sales tax used to fund the Economic Development Corporation and use it as a Street Maintenance Tax.

Mayor Phil Pool said Tuesday night’s meeting was about researching ways to bring more money to the city for paving streets.

“The idea came up during budget workshop,” Pool said. “It is honestly nothing against the EDC. They are doing great things for this town.”

Pool said the street department is the only department within the city which does not generate revenue.

“It is a large expenditure,” Pool said. “No matter what we decide, we will make sure the option goes to the voters of Big Lake.”

The council heard from members of the public Tuesday night before voting to hire a law firm to help them search their options.

Economic Development Director Gloria Baggett was the first to speak.

Baggett noted that the city council and EDC board sat down together a week before to work on the EDC’s annual action plan.

“Why were your plans not stated at that time?” Baggett asked. “Instead of us finding out at 3:45 p.m. on Friday?”

Pool said it was not mentioned since it was not a done deal.

“We are simply weighing our options here tonight,” Pool said. “Nothing has been decided.”

Pool said he was afraid mentioning it during the group’s joint meeting would have turned ugly.

Baggett then asked what the future of the EDC was.

“Right now it should be business as usual,” Pool said. “We are just looking into our options.”

Baggett released a statement following the meeting saying ‘the Big Lake EDC will continue an aggressive approach to increase the city’s tax base by bringing in new business as long as we are in existence. One primary method for doing this is procuring old dilapidated structures and putting businesses in them which meet the community’s needs such as Sugar Creek Grill, Crystal’s 2nd Connection, The Big Lake Beer Barn, Sonic Drive-In and Neighborhood Drug Store.’

The next person to speak at the meeting was local attorney Stephen Dodd.

Dodd said the EDC provides an important function for the community.

“It is not only a catalyst for small businesses and economic growth,” Dodd said. “But it is also a catalyst for ideas and solutions for a community.”

Dodd implored the council to continue to allow the EDC to function in that role.

“It is more important now than ever,” Dodd said. “The research I’ve seen shows that for every dollar invested by the EDC there is a $216 return in economic output.”

Dodd said he understands the needs in the city and tough decisions must me made.

“I firmly believe the EDC is providing opportunities for small businesses in this community that far outweigh the need to get rid of it,” Dodd finished.

Baggett then took another turn at speaking saying she understands the pressure the city is under to repair streets.

“Why is dissolving a strong organization the solution?” Baggett asked. “We understand you have an inadequate budget. The EDC is actually part of the solution by bringing in businesses and additional sales tax.”

The EDC has awarded $1.3 million in grants to 38 local businesses since 2009 according to figures released by the group. Thirty of those businesses are still in existence today.

The council then heard from Jeff Grissom of Glasscock Chevrolet.

Grissom said most people don’t know Glasscock Chevrolet would not be here today if it weren’t for the EDC.

“We are in the process of selling our 50th car this month,” Grissom said. “That is $63,000 in sales tax collected this month alone. Our worst month was 35 cars with 45 cars last month. You can do the math on how much sales tax benefit you are seeing.”

Grissom said he brought six people into the city and is working to bring more for other businesses such as a dentist.

“If it wasn’t for Frank (White) and Gloria we would not be in business today,” Grissom said. “We could use that money to pave two streets, or use it to build our tax base and bring in talented people. I think that is what we should be shooting for.”

Adolfo Valdezpino of Texas Diesel Performance then let his feelings be known.

“First off I am a little upset that this is happening with no notice,” Valdezpino said. “I was able to establish my business because I found there was a need here in big Lake. We created six jobs with four of them living in Reagan County. I chose this place because it is a nice place to live not because of the streets.”

The floor was then handed over to Angel Olvera of Sugar Creek Grill.

Angel said there would be a void in the community without the EDC.

“I have people come in all the time asking who they should talk to about starting a business here,” Olvera said. “Without the EDC where would I send them? To you?”

Olvera then said his original goal was to be in Big Lake for two years.

“I found out I had to be here for five years working with the EDC,” Olvera said. “My time is now up on that, but I’m not going to leave. I am raising my family here.”

Olvera stressed that without the EDC his restaurant would not be here.

“I hope you take a step back before making a decision,” Ovlera said. “Really look at this. I love Big Lake and always want to be here.”

Daniel Weltman of Sonic Drive-In then took the floor.

“Without the EDC our Sonic doesn’t exist,” Weltman said. “The prices were so high. Gloria and Frank really made this happen.”

Weltman pointed out his business has 22 employees and works hard to hire young people to help them begin their working careers.

“I’m now looking to buy a house here,” Weltman said. “I want to start a life here. Without the EDC Sonic Drive-In would not be possible.”

Frank White then took the floor to thank everyone who showed up in support of the EDC.

“This is really an effort to show you what we have done,” White said.

Mayor Pool said there is no doubt in what the EDC has accomplished.

“This is nothing against the EDC, the EDC board or the director,” Pool said. “We are just weighing what can and can’t be done. That is the only reason we are here.”

White said the EDC would love to help the city in any way they can.

Marla Poynor of Glasscock Chevrolet then took the floor to voice her support of the EDC.

“The EDC is a valuable part of this community,” Poynor said. “It helps employers who want to bring people to town. It is a great asset. It also increases property values and raises more sales tax. I think it is a very good thing and I would hate to see it go.”

Finally, Nina Hallmark of Cornerstone Gardens spoke.

“I voted for everyone of you on this board because I felt you had leadership skills and believed you love Big Lake and care about Big Lake,” Hallmark said. “I hate the streets as much as you do. Every town in this area has the same problem with streets. A paved street has never brought a business to Big Lake or a family to town.”

Hallmark said she felt dissolving the EDC would be like taking 20 steps backward for the community.

“We need to be a progressive community,” Hallmark said. “We are blessed to have young people wanting to move back here. If we start going backward we will lose them. The EDC is the only entity in this town that is going to bring businesses here.”

All of the people who spoke during the meeting have either served on the EDC board or received money from the EDC through a grant.

With the public comment section over the board voted to hire Attorney Pat Chesser to provide them with legal options for dissolving the EDC and using the money generated by their share of sales tax to be used for paving city streets.

Mayor Phil Pool told the Wildcat the city would have to vote to place a measure on the November ballot for the voters of Big Lake to decide if they want to keep the EDC or use that money to pave streets.

Pool said you are looking at $800,000 per year to use toward streets.

The city had an engineer review the city streets and that report showed it would take $20 million for the city to fix the worst streets in town and repair the infrastructure below it.

“The one thing we are always hearing from people is how bad the streets are,” Pool said. “We are just feeling out options to help us with that problem.”

Pool said, again, it would ultimately be up to the people of Big Lake if they would like to dissolve the EDC and use that money toward streets.

The city council entered into a lengthy closed door session with Chesser to learn what their options are.

They came out of that closed door session and tabled the agenda item until their next meeting on Tuesday, August 7.

Pool said the council didn’t want to make any hasty decisions, and wanted to take a week to talk to constituents before deciding whether to place a measure on the ballot.

Baggett, following the meeting, said the Economic Development services are critical to a community’s growth and many of the ventures made by our BLEDC may not have occurred without the efforts and support of the Big Lake EDC.

“If an election is determined by the City of Big Lake, I strongly encourage all voters to learn the facts about the benefits of the BLEDC and the operations of the City of Big Lake so that you may make an educated vote,” Baggett said. “We are proud to serve the community of Big Lake and we have complete confidence the citizens of our community will allow us to do so in the future.”

City Council Places Economic Development’s Fate in the Hands of the Voters
November Election Measure will Allow Citizens Opportunity to Dissolve EDC, Move 1/2 Cent Tax to City’s General Revenue

Originally Published August 9, 2018 - The Big Lake Wildcat
The Big Lake City Council unanimously moved Tuesday night to send the fat e of the Big Lake Economic Development Corporation to the voters of Big Lake in November.

The group came to the decision relatively quickly after hearing each of the council member’s opinions and hearing from EDC President Frank White.

White approached the group with a proposal which would give the city $500,000 of EDC funds in the first year to help with paving and infrastructure in commercially zoned areas of Big Lake.

White said the EDC board met on Monday night to draft the proposal and stressed their willingness to work with the city. He said the $500,000 would be reviewed yearly during the group’s annual action plan.

White was thanked for the proposal, but no discussion was had over accepting the offer by the council.

Mayor Phil Pool began his comments by saying it has been an interesting week.

“I have talked to several people and read quite a few comments,” Pool said. “It is clear there are very passionate people on both sides of the fence.”

Pool said he wanted to make it clear it would not be the city council making the decision to dissolve the EDC, but the voters of Big Lake if the council decided to move forward with an election.

“All we are doing here is weighing the pros and cons and researching our options,” Pool said. “Here are the four options in front of us.”

The first option, which Pool stressed was not going to be pursued by the council, is to have the City Council abolish the EDC by way of a simple resolution.

“No one on this council is in favor of that because it takes the choice away from the voters,” Pool said.

The second option is to place on the November ballot a measure to dissolve the EDC and recapture the 1/2 cent sales tax for street maintenance.

“This option would force us to have a vote on it every four years,” Pool said. “We would also only be able to use that money to maintain existing streets. Not the infrastructure below them.”

The third option looks a lot like the second, but instead of a street maintenance tax, the 1/2 cent would be rolled into the city’s general sales tax revenue.

“We could use this for anything,” Pool said. “Including the streets or EDC incentives directed by the city.”

Pool said the benefit of this option is the fact it does not need to be approved by voters every four years like the second option.

The final option facing the council is to leave the EDC in place and find ways to mutually benefit all parties.

Each council member took a turn talking about what they heard from their constituents around town.

Each received comments in favor of keeping the EDC in place, but the general consensus was the people of Big Lake wanted to see the measure brought to a vote by the citizens.

Council Member John Long was the only member which received overwhelming support for keeping the EDC as is.

Council Member Cliff Miller made a motion to place the dissolution of the EDC on the November 6th ballot and recapture the 1/2 cent sales tax into the city’s general sales tax revenue.

This is the option which does not require renewal every four years by the voters.

Council Member David Melms seconded the motion before the group unanimously voted to approve it.

Council Member Long said he voted in favor of the motion because he supports the public having a part of the process, like they had when the EDC was established by voting it into existence.

Long said he does have his concerns though.

“I do disagree on the option that was selected because it places the funds into the general fund,” Long said. “The money should be earmarked specifically for roads.”

Mayor Pool said the city would internally earmark the funds each year for road and infrastructure improvements.

“That is what we are presenting to the people of Big Lake, and that is what we are going to honor,” Pool said. “We know this isn’t a magic bullet. We know it will take time to begin to right the ship on paving and infrastructure. We know this won’t fix the issue over night, but I feel it is a step in the right direction.”

Pool said again, following the meeting, this move is in no way a slight to the Big Lake Economic Development, their board, or their director.

“They have done a great job for Big Lake,” Pool said. “This isn’t anything against them at all.”

Pool stressed if the people of Big Lake do decide to dissolve the EDC and give that 1/2 cent of sales tax to the city, he will make sure it goes 100 percent to streets.

“It is a vital need for our community,” Pool said. “We will create a separate line item in our budget and make sure that 1/2 cent is sent there for paving. That is if the people of Big Lake decide that is what they want to see done.”

The EDC brings in roughly $800,000 per year with their 1/2 cent sales tax.

Pool said the city currently has a list of the streets in Big Lake which need the most work infrastructure and paving-wise.

The list totals out to $20 million for paving and new infrastructure.

City Secretary Stacey Stroud said the city has plans in their proposed 2018-19 budget to use their current sales tax allocation (one cent) to upgrade infrastructure on Pennsylvania Avenue and a three block section of 12th Street.

The Pennsylvania project will partially be funded by a $275,000 grant from a Texas Community Development Block Grant (replace water line under Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd Street to 11th Street) and $300,000 of the city’s funding to replace gas and sewer lines.

The 12th Street project will replace all infrastructure under the three block section of 12th Street from Ohio Avenue to Louisiana Avenue using $200,000 of the city’s sales tax allocation.

Paving for Pennsylvania will be included in the city’s following budget for 2019-2020 and will total $1.035 million. That will make the Pennsylvania project a 24 month endeavor for the city.

Stroud said the city will have to see what is left over and what help they can receive from he county toward paving the three block section of 12th Street (estimated at $660,000.00 due to it needing higher grade paving since it is on the truck route).

Stroud said most of the infrastructure within Big Lake is between 30 and 50 years old while the paving is mostly over 25 years old.

The measure to dissolve the EDC and capture their 1/2 cent of sales tax will be placed on the November 6, 2018 ballot as one item. The election will be the general election run by the county.

Registered voters who reside within the city will see the measure on their ballot come election time.

If approved, the city would start collecting the extra 1/2 cent of sales tax in April of 2019 according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office. The city would receive their first allocation in June of that year.

The city, if the measure passes, will have to honor grants already in place by the EDC using funds previously collected by the EDC’s 1/2 cent sales tax.

Money the EDC already has in the bank must be used for economic development purposes.

For their part, EDC Director Gloria Baggett said she had ‘no comment’ following the meeting.

After the council’s fact-finding meeting last week Baggett said “If an election is determined by the City of Big Lake, I strongly encourage all voters to learn the facts about the benefits of the BLEDC and the operations of the City of Big Lake so that you may make an educated vote. We are proud to serve the community of Big Lake and we have complete confidence the citizens of our community will allow us to do so in the future.”