City council honors employees for exemplary efforts during winter storm

LeAnda Staebner
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Seven City of Stephenville Utilities Department employees were presented Valor Awards during Tuesday's city council meeting for their above-and-beyond efforts to repair water line breaks during Winter Storm Uri. The awards were presented by City Manager Allen Barnes and Mayor Doug Svien, pictured at right.
The Stephenville City Council marks the retirement of K9 Officer Buky at its Tuesday meeting. Buky has honorably served the city of Stephenville and Stephenville Police Department by taking both narcotics and dangerous criminals off of the streets. In addition, he has made a large impact in the community from increasing community relations to de-escalating high-risk calls for service to dismantling drug trafficking organizations across North Texas.

The Stephenville City Council honored city employees for their above-and-beyond efforts during last month's severe winter weather during Tuesday's regular council meeting.

"These guys go out in all kinds of weather, in all kinds of hours and in all kinds of conditions to make sure that you have safe water," said City Manager Allen Barnes. "These guys performed unbelievably."

Among those honored were city Fire Marshal Gregg Schrump and Fire Inspector Brandon Lockenour.

Assistant City Manager Jason King reported that Schrump and Lockenour responded to at least 100 locations inspecting commercial sprinkler systems during the extreme freezing temperatures during Winter Storm Uri.

"Through their efforts, damage was prevented to multiple properties in Stephenville," King said. 

The duo were each presented a Meritorious Unit Citation by Allen and Mayor Doug Svien.

In addition, 14 employees from the city's utilities department were recognized for their efforts during the hardships caused by the storm.

King reported that from Feb. 14-20, the utilities department responded to 10 water main breaks and at least 550 water cutoffs due to the extreme temperatures.

They overcame numerous obstacles and harsh conditions to restart a city pump station and help stabilize the water supply.

For their efforts, each of the employees was awarded a Meritorious Unit Award.

Of the 14, seven were also honored for their efforts to repair water main breaks that occurred during the storm.

Facing extreme temperatures, equipment failure and other obstacles, these seven employees climbed into a hole with water spewing from a line break for 1 1/2 hours to repair the pipe.

"(It was an) extremely dangerous and life-threatening operation," King said.

For their extra efforts, the seven were presented Valor Awards from the city of Stephenville.

"These guys really are heroes. Thank you to the council and management team for acknowledging that today," said Public Works Director Nick Williams. "It was an extraordinary display of teamwork."

K-9 retirement

In other business, the council approved a resolution pertaining to the retirement of the police department's first K-9 officer Buky, who started work for the city in October of 2016.

"Talking about heroes, there's one more to honor tonight," said Stephenville Police Chief Dan Harris.

Due to health concerns, Buky, a 7 1/2-year-old German Shepard, will be transferred to and cared for by his handler Officer Gary Roberts, after the council's approval.

Buky was instrumental in "taking both narcotics and dangerous criminals off of our streets. In addition, he has made a large impact in our community from increasing community relations to deescalating high risk calls for service to dismantling drug trafficking organizations across North Texas," according to a statement from the police department.

Vaccination clinic

The city is in a partnership with Erath County in the operation of the Erath County Vaccination Center for those wanting to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

City Manager Allen Barnes reported that more than 3,000 first and second doses of the vaccine have been administered at the center with at least 1,000 more doses available for continued vaccinations.

Due to the large number of individuals seeking vaccinations, Allen said the workload has become hard to manage for volunteers and employees.

"It was very difficult to keep up with the flow of folks," Allen said of a recent visit he made to the center.

To help with the effort, the city and county are partnering on a seasonal employee pool from which to draw to help run the center.

Barnes said positions would pay $12 per hour, not to exceed 20 hours per week, adding the Erath County Commissioners Court has agreed to pay for half of the expenses incurred with paying these employees. He said a maximum of 23 individuals is needed daily at the clinic to help largely with data entry. With 23 slots at $12 per hour, and assuming the center will be open 40 hours per week, the estimate for salaries is approximately $12,000 per week.

After some discussion, Barnes noted that the funds used to pay these employees would be refundable from FEMA money related to COVID-19 operations and by having seasonal employees, the city and county would be saving money due to not having full-time staff working overtime to cover shifts at the center.

The council voted to approve the funding for the seasonal employee pool, not to exceed six months. If the center is needed beyond the six months, the city will revisit the issue at that time.

"It's very fulfilling to go out and see the relief on some of these people's faces," said councilman Ricky Thurman during council comments. "When they're finally able to .... some of them will say 'I can finally go see my grandkids now' or 'my kids can come visit now that they don't have to worry about getting me sick.'"

Thurman said he has volunteered at the center several times and encourages others to do so as well.

SAFER Grant

The council gave approval for Stephenville Fire Chief Jimmy Chew to apply for a SAFER Grant, which is used to provide FEMA funds to increase staffing and improve response in fire departments. Approval was given for the department to seek grant money to fund six new personnel.

Councilman Thurman explained this year’s grant offers 100% of the salary only for additional firefighters for a period of three years. After that time, the cost would be the responsibility of the city. 

In the Personnel Committee report, Chew stated he estimates the "city’s portion of the first three years costs, which, depending on experience, would run from $22,122 in the first year to $24,368 in the third year, with a onetime equipment cost of $7,055 per firefighter."

Stephenville Economic Development Authority

SEDA Executive Director Jeff Sandford gave a brief update on several ongoing projects.

Of Washington Commons, Sandford said it is close to on schedule with plans to start building by May or June. Contractors are working on utilities for the facility, which is 94% leased.

On the vacated Whataburger building, Sandford said while there is community speculation about what is going to locate in the building, there is "nothing going in yet."

Clean Control is still working on facility improvements, Sandford said, and the company has made its first local hire in a facility manager. When operational, the company plans to hire up to 75 local employees, he said.

Wellington State Bank recently opened a new location and has extra acreage available for development. Sandford said he and his team are working with the bank to help find other businesses to fill the remaining 3 acres.

Financial Report

Monica Harris, CPA, city finance director gave the monthly report, indicating financials are about where they were expected to be, with some tax incomes higher than expected.

Property tax: The city received $3.1 million in property taxes in January, resulting in a $229,000 or 3.77% increase over funds collected through January 2020. The $6.29 million collected fiscal year to date is 94.57% of budget, which is higher than the 94.02% anticipated.

Sales tax: The city received $528,000 in sales tax in January, resulting in $34,000 or 6.78% more than the funds collected in January 2020. The $2.39 million collected fiscal year to date is 38.41% of the $6.23 million budgeted, which is higher than the 33.67% anticipated.

Hotel Occupancy Tax: Lodging establishments have reported $121,000 in HOT through January, as compared to the $145,000 through January 2020.

Revenue (Budgetary comparison): The target budget for operating revenue is $12.91 million. The city received $12.9 million in revenue fiscal year to date, resulting in $11,000 under the target budget.

Expenditures (Budgetary comparison): The target budget for operating expenditures is $7.2 million. The city expended $6.7 million fiscal year to date resulting in $478,000 under the target budget.

Executive Session

The council went into executive session for approximately one hour to discuss Project Bronze Statue and personnel matters.

The council emerged from executive session and voted to allow SEDA to continue negotiations on the project for an undisclosed amount of money discussed in executive session. The meeting adjourned at 7:41 p.m.