City’s ailing infrastructure tops agenda

By Gilda Morales

The Van Horn City Council met in regular session last Tuesday night in a lengthy meeting with more bad news regarding the city’s aging and failing infrastructure. The discussion started with an inquiry from Rocky Navarrette as to the current policy on new water taps for commercial development. Mr. Navarrette was acting as a representative for Mr. Bhakta, who is proposing the building of a new motel on the east side frontage road of I-10. Mr. Navarrete brought up the point that clearing for the proposed new motel started before construction started on the new apartment complex built by Mr. Bill Story, and questioned why Mr. Story’s project was allowed to continue while Mr. Bhakta’s project was sidelined.

City Administrator Fran Malafronte explained that part of the problem was Mr. Bhakta’s indecision as to whether his project was going to be a long-term stay hotel or a regular motel. A long-term stay hotel would require that each room be considered a separate tap per TCEQ standards, while a regular motel would only be considered one tap for the entire motel.

This inquiry brought on the lengthy discussion on the many current problems that are plaguing the aging infrastructure, with daily leaks, pipe collapses, and sewer problems throughout the city.

Ms. Malafronte explained that the city does not have the millions of dollars necessary to fund the replacement of new sewer lines, replacement of pipes and the installation of a pressure zone in the west end of the city as suggested by Brock and Bustillos, the engineering firm hired by the city. She continued that because of the changing demographics in Van Horn, the city will most likely not qualify for any grants that could help with the infrastructure because most grants go to cities with lower income populations. Malafronte continued stating that the time has come to deal with the issue and agreed with Councilman Carloss on the formation of an emergency water committee to meet and come up with a plan with real solutions to the city’s problems.

Council agreed to meet with the department heads to come up with a plan in the next few weeks so that Malafronte could begin looking for financing for the project.

In a continuation of an issue on overtime pay that was brought up at the previous council meeting, Malafronte reported that she had spoken to an employment and labor law attorney suggested by City Attorney Steve Mitchell. Malafronte stated that the labor attorney had told her that employees could only be paid for hours physically worked, and that no overtime should be paid until an employee had worked 40 hours. However, Council decided that since there was no policy in place addressing overtime pay for special cases such as what has happened during the pandemic, the overtime would be paid until Council adopts a policy addressing the issue.

Councilman McDonald stated that he had checked with TML and was told that council could pay the overtime if they voted on it and that the employees should get paid.

In other action, Council voted to:

Table a request from Gloria King to close the alley at the King’s Inn on Broadway, pending a review of the feasibility of removing existing gas lines under the alley

Authorize the reassignment of Joe Solis to the golf course

Approved a request from Superintendent Ken Baugh to address Council on the District’s sidewalk project seeking permission to proceed.