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Council discusses community funding

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The Elgin City Council discussed the city’s financial relationships with local non-profit organizations during last week’s regular meeting.

The council discussed the topic of funding to local non-profits during the previous meeting on November 19, where city manager Thomas Mattis asked for the council to give input on establishing a policy for deciding how much funding each organization receives.

In the current fiscal year’s budget, about $30,000 has been allocated to this funding, which approximately matches the funding given in previous years; however, there has not yet been a decision about how to split this money.

Mattis said city staff spoke to representatives from Taylor, Bastrop and Manor about how they handle this process, but found that the procedure varies from town to town.

He added that in other cities, the city manager and staff are involved with making decisions about which non-profits to fund at what levels, but he would rather the Elgin city staff stay out of the decision and let the council decide. At the last meeting, he said this is because non-profit funding involves judgement calls on what groups should be prioritized, and during this meeting, he added that, in Elgin’s case, much of staff leadership has not worked in Elgin for longer than a few years.

At the previous meeting, the council brought up the previous process for making these decisions, which involved a committee going through each organization’s application request, and talked about forming another committee. Council members Sue Brashar, Juan Gonzalez and Mary Penson volunteered to form the committee; they will score the applications and bring them back to the council for approval.

Agreements with Chamber proposed

The council discussed two agreements that would formally clarify the city’s relationship with the Elgin Chamber of Commerce.

The first agreement concerned the amount of funds from hotel occupancy taxes that the city gives to the Chamber, as well as the expectations that the Chamber must fulfill for the city. The Chamber runs the Elgin visitors’ center on behalf of the city. Mat-tis said the agreement doesn’t represent a change in the way the Chamber operates or its relationship to the city; it just documents the expectations on both sides of the relationship.

The agreement stipulates that the Chamber must track the number of visitors it helps at the visitors’ center, which it already does, and report these numbers to the city. It also specifies that the visitors’ center must be open at least 35 hours per week.

The agreement also outlines a formula for the hotel occupancy tax funds that would be provided to the Chamber each year by the city: either 35 percent of the Chamber’s annual budget for the coming year, or 35 percent of the city’s hotel occupancy tax revenue, whichever is less. This year, this amount would be $45,677, slightly below last year’s $50,000 contribution.

In addition to providing a cap on funding, “this will enable the Chamber to have more confidence from year to year,” Mattis said.

The agreement as written would come under review by the council once every five years so that both parties can look at it again on a regular basis. Mayor Chris Cannon said he thinks five years is too long for a funding agreement, and instead suggested reviewing it on an annual basis. Council member Forest Dennis responded that reviewing the agreement annually would be unfair to the Chamber as they try to plan.

“If we’re trying to establish a partnership, and we have confidence in that partnership, maybe three years is the better way to go,” Brashar said.

Mattis said the issue could be looked at and brought back to the council in January. No action was taken on this item.

The council also unanimously approved a building lease agreement with the Chamber. The Chamber pays no rent or utilities to occupy the building at Main Street and Central Avenue. The building can be used for the visitors’ center and use by the Chamber, as well as other uses approved by the city. The building lease agreement also has a five-year term.

Contractor bid approved for museum roof repairs

The council approved an agreement to contract Apex Contractors for repairs on the Elgin Depot Museum’s roof.

The other contractor submitted a bid for around $38,000, while Apex Contractors submitted a bid for $16,475. Because of the wide gap in prices, finance director Charles Cunningham said the city had to check with Apex Contractors to make sure they understood the scope of work, but staff are confident that the lower bid will cover the project.

“In these lease agreements, this is what the bottom line gets to,” Cannon said, referring to the previously-discussed lease agreement with the Chamber of Commerce.

Idea for changing zoning ordinance introduced

Mattis introduced the possibility of changing the city’s ordinance for a certain zoning category in response to an issue raised by a proposed housing development.

During the November 5 meeting, the council tabled action regarding Stone Creek Ranch, a proposed residential development that would put 289 single-family homes on about 69 acres of land on FM 1100 near the west side of County Line Road. The developers want to voluntarily annex the land to the city and are requesting that the area be zoned as an R-3 single-family, two-family and industrial housing district. The lot sizes that are planned for Stony Creek Ranch would require an R-3 zoning.

However, the council hesitated to approve the zoning because the R-3 category allows for mobile homes and mobile home parks. Although this is not the plan of the Stone Creek Ranch developers, the R-3 designation would permanently stay with the land and could potentially allow it to become a mobile home park if the situation changes.

Mattis said, as the city and the developers discussed the situation, the city attorney said he thought it’s possible the inclusion of mobile homes and mobile home parks in the R-3 zoning category was a mistake made when the code was adopted, and the code was never intended to allow such housing on R-3 land. As a result, Mattis and city staff proposed a solution: amend the city’s zoning code to eliminate mobile homes from the permitted uses for R-3 zoning.

“It would solve the issue with this project moving forward,” Mattis said. “We wouldn’t propose to typically change the ordinance just to fit one project, but we do think there’s some merit to the thought that R-3 zoning allowing mobile home parks may not be the council’s intention.”

The months-long process for amending a zoning ordinance involves advertising and multiple public hearings, Mattis said, so the staff wanted to make sure that the council was not opposed to the process before they got started. He added the council would not be committing to anything during this meeting except starting the process.