The Brownfield City Council met in regular session on Thursday morning, May 21 in the Council Chambers. All Council members were present.
It was a day of reports from various departments and discussion of the COVID-19 guidelines from the state. The Council did approve the extension of the Disaster Declaration for another two weeks. This declaration follows the guidelines laid out by the Governor in his latest press conference. There was some discussion on this item and mostly had to do with wondering if the City is obligated to follow the State’s guidelines. City Attorney Matt Wade stated, “The City could go ‘rogue’ as one of you said, but we would not be eligible for any funding that could become available to us through this time. And even if you did choose not to extend the Disaster Declaration, the Governor’s orders and the County orders supersede the City.”
The discussion turned to what constitutes a social gathering and what is the capacity of that gathering. Wade stated the City could set their own guideline, if they chose to, if they wanted to define a certain number. A party at your own home is still considered a social gathering.
Potential violations are only checked if there is a complaint filed. “They are not going to be going door to door to police this policy,” stated Wade.
Councilwoman Michelle Cooper stated, “I don’t want to name a certain number. I want us to just follow the Governor’s order. Just the minimum that is required to still be able to apply for funding, should we need it. Councilman Chuck Nave stated, “I hate to just do something for the money. I don’t like how that looks to people.”
Wade replied that the Council members have a fiduciary responsibility to their constituents to be the best money managers they can be and that includes being eligible for any assistance that might come down the channels. City Manager Jeff Davis told the Council that the CARES ACT funding is figured at $55 per citizen which would put Brownfield at around $500,000. “If we need that. We are not going to apply if we don’t need that. The first 20%, they are supposed to send automatically, which would be about $120,000.”
Davis stated the City has not encountered too many expenses related to COVID-19 so far. The vote was unanimous to continue the Disaster Declaration.
The Council heard quarterly reports from Fire Chief Dennis Rowe, Police Chief Tony Serbantez, Code Enforcement Officer Ramon Soliz, Municipal Court Judge Ken Cole, and Parks and Recreation Director Scott Jackson. All reports were fairly normal for the time period.
Chief Rowe stated that the Fire Department had answered 54 calls for the first quarter of the year. Thirty-one of those calls were within the City Limits. He stated the department had implemented some new procedures during the current pandemic episode. Rowe also stated that there had been some active shooter trainings held prior to the COVID-19 shutdown. Another one had been planned but the department was unable to hold that training scheduled for March
Calls for service for the Police Department continued to be in keeping with the average for the year of just over 1,000 per month. These are all types of calls from Animal Control to Civil Matters and other situations. Chief Serbantez stated that he felt his department was handling things well during this time. “Through all this, we have continued to try to do our job the best we could.” There were a couple of active shooter trainings held, but others had to be cancelled. Serbantez stated, “We appreciate everyone working with us so well during this time. The Sheriff’s Office and the schools have worked together with us to get through all this.” The Storm Chaser training will be rescheduled when time and situation permits.
Officer Soliz stated that there had been a lot more trash build up in the alleyways during this time. “I have also been trying to keep an eye on the dry grass areas and keeping those maintained and cut to keep them from being more of a fire hazard.”
Judge Cole commended Serbantez and his department on the good work they have done recently on serving warrants. “We really appreciate that big warrant they picked up. That was the only thing that saved us in March.” The City averages 30 traffic citations per month.
Parks and Recreation Director Jackson reported to the Council, “It is fairly apparent that pretty much everything has been shutdown, with the exception of the walking tracks. We have most everything taped off. Of course, we have to replace much of the tape each day, because it gets torn down or removed. We are still disinfecting on a regular basis. Otherwise, we are pretty much on a holding pattern.”
After some discussion regarding opening the parks, Davis stated the City would come up with a plan regarding opening the parks possibly after Memorial Day.
BIDCorp Executive Director Brian Brisendine presented a request for the appointment of Pam Brock to the BIDCorp Board. “Judy Besler has served six years and we appreciate her time and her efforts. At this time, we want to ask the Council to name Pam Brock to the board. Pam is a lifelong resident of Brownfield and has a history in the banking industry and owns a business in Brownfield. We think she will do a good job in helping us promote Brownfield.” The Council did approve this appointment.
The Council discussed the fee schedule for the Parks and Recreation Department, including the rental of various City owned sites available for rental for gatherings. Davis stated, “We just want some direction on what y’all want to do about some of the fees. I think there has been some discussion about lowering some of the fees.”
Currently, the fee for renting the Party House is $350 deposit and $200 rental fee. The Amphitheater has an $800 deposit fee for both sides and the rental fee is $700. The Aquatic Center is $300 per hour. The Lynn Brisendine plaza has a $25 fee to use the facility and $50 if you need to use electricty.
The Amphitheater was only rented three times this fiscal year. Only one of those times was for a private party. The Party House has been rented 20 times.
Councilman Nave stated, “I have had people tell me they have moved family reunions to somewhere else because they are not going to pay $1,500 to rent the Amphitheater. I know they get $800 back but still that is a lot of money. I think we need to look at lowering the rental price of the Amphitheater.
Davis stated, “I think we need to keep our deposit fee up because we have spent a lot of money on tables and paint and upgrades. I would agree with lowering the rental price but leaving the deposit alone.”
The Council came to a consensus that deposits should remain where they are, but rental fees should be lowered. This is a part of an ordinance and will have to be presented to the Council at a later time, once the ordinance is rewritten for approval.
“Even though we don’t have to worry about the swimming pool this year,” stated Davis. “We still need to go ahead and look at it while we are making these changes. It is very rarely rented, so we are hoping to lower fees and have it rented more often. The amount agreed on by the council was a rental rate of $150 per hour, when the pool reopens next year.
The reinstatement of utility disconnects was also on the agenda. Davis stated, “We are trying to come up with a plan, as far as utility disconnects is concerned. At some point in time we are going to have to start disconnects. Right now we have about 440 customers that are past due on their accounts. This is budgeted revenue that the City needs to operate.”
Nave stated, “I think some people took this delay in disconnecting as meaning free and that is not what was stated.”
Davis stated, “My recommendation is that we set June 30 as a ‘drop dead’ date. Your bill either needs to be caught up by then or you need to come in and visit with us and work out a plan. I think this is the direction most cities are heading and setting up that ‘drop dead’ date.”
Davis stated he wanted to be able go ahead and start contacting customers now to start working on making arrangements for paying these past due bills. “The average past due bill right now varies,” stated Assistant City Manager Kelly Burris. “Some people owe $550. Some people owe well over $1,000.”
Customers’ current bill would still have to be paid, while a payment plan could possibly be worked out on the back past due bills. Davis estimated that the City was out around $155,000 with these past due bills currently. That was just an estimate, Davis stressed.
Davis stated, “I have been digging and looking and trying to find some funds available to help people with these bills and I am continuing to look, but if we do find anything, I know it will be very, very limited.” CARES ACT money cannot replace revenue in any way.
The new ballparks were also discussed. Davis stated that they were mostly finished, with just a few minor details still needing some work. The Council wanted to be sure the public knows that the ballparks will not be opening up on June 8. There are still details to be worked out regarding when the ball fields will be available for use. This will be addressed again at the second Council meeting in June.
The month of June was named as “Make Brownfield Beautiful” Month. “This will be a time to encourage our citizens to get their properties cleaned up and get things back in order. It has been a long time since we have had a cleanup effort in Brownfield and I think taking the whole month will encourage people to take advantage of the local landfill and get their yards and properties cleaned up.” (Look for more information on this to come on TownTalk Radio.)
Following announcements, the meeting was adjourned.