Engineers paint bleak picture to City Council

By Gilda Morales

Van Horn City Council met in a marathon regular meeting last Tuesday before going into an equally lengthy executive session. Raul Issa, a civil engineer with Brock and Bustillos, presented Council with a much-awaited study on a Third Pressure Zone with options to address low water pressure and an aging infrastructure in the southeast end of the city. The report was supposed to provide answers to several investors whose plans to build at least two new motels have been in limbo for several months.

Mr. Issa presented Council with three options to address the Third Pressure Zone, but with a preference for a pressure tank system as the least costly. However, all three options required that maintenance on the city’s aging infrastructure be addressed at the same time to prevent over-stressing the current system. The price on the recommended fix was approximately $1.1 million dollars for the pressure tank and $1.7 million for the infrastructure maintenance, which could be financed over 5 to 10 years.

The Third Pressure Zone if approved, would not only help promote economic growth in the south west area of town, but provide an increased number of available taps in the north west area of town as well. Fran Malafronte reminded Council that the City depends on water taps for revenues, and that without extra taps, there could be no income growth. Council voted to table this item until they had time to fully review Brock & Bustillo’s report.

In a first for Council as well as for City Auditor Rick Knapp, the yearly audit was presented via Zoom because of COVID-19 concerns since Mr. Knapp lives in Dallas. According to Mr. Knapp, the audit was perfect and he had high praise for Fran Malafronte, City Administrator and Jodi Corrales, Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Knapp did express some concern about what the pandemic might do to most cities’ bottom line next year, because even though this year’s audit was solid, the fiscal year ended about the time that the pandemic started. Malafronte and Corrales echoed his concerns, reporting that for April, May, and June, hotel/motel tax revenues were down by $90,000, and July sales tax revenues were down by $20,000 compared to July 2019. Corrales also told Council that two large payments for heavy machinery would be due next month, $59,000 for a compactor and $31,000 for a water truck. She also advised that $40,000 in landfill fees was only budgeted until July, since the landfill opening has been delayed.

Council then heard a proposal from Edward Torres for laundry service from Unifirst for all utility employees at a rate of $156 per week for two years. Council discussed the request at length and noted that not only was the request not made at budget time, but the utility department was already over budget on several line items and it is only July. The motion by Alderman McDonald to approve the request died for lack of a second.

Malafronte did have some good news on two grants, with the first of four disbursements of about $20,000 for COVID-19 mitigation received recently. Council also approved the technical specifications submitted by Frank Spencer and Associates, engineers, who are working on a TXCDBG grant which will ultimately replace all residential water meters with automated meters which will eliminate the need for reading meters.

In other actions, Council:

Approved a request from the EDC to ask Linebarger, Goggan, Blair and Sampson, LLP, to aggressively pursue the collection of taxes on 9 properties identified by the EDC. The plan is to buy the properties at a Sheriff’s sale and clean up the properties.

Tabled financing with Government Capital for the relining of the wastewater pond at the golf course for $197,000.

Took no action after coming back to open session after a lengthy executive session.

Approved a change order from Frank Spencer and Associates for $9,940 to furnish and install a 7’ chain link fence at the Thrift well.

Approved a resolution giving Jodi Corrales the ability to do wire transfers at the bank.