Stephenville City Council honors officer; addresses bond election results; hears Moo-La Fest update

LeAnda Staebner
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Mayor Doug Svien, center, presents a proclamation to Stephenville Police Chief Dan Harris as the other city council members look on during Tuesday's regular city council meeting. The proclamation declares April 28 Sgt. Steven Watts day in Stephenville, in honor of a longtime SPD officer who died recently unexpectedly after a short illness.

The Stephenville City Council met in regular session Tuesday and honored late police Sgt. Steven Watts, heard input and comments on the recent bond election and learned about the bigger and better Moo-la Fest scheduled for June 3-6.

Sgt. Steven Watts Day

Stephenville Police Chief Dan Harris expressed his gratitude on behalf of his department and the family of Sgt. Steven Watts, 53, who died recently after a brief illness. Watts was a 25-year veteran of the SPD. 

"The city of Stephenville, last Monday, lost one of the best police officers that will ever have served for the Stephenville Police Department or this city," Harris said.

In honor of Watts, the city declared April 28 Sgt. Steven Watts Day in Stephenville. The date was chosen based on the late officer's badge number, which was 428.

"Those you love, those who you cherish can be taken away from you in a second unexpectedly," Harris said. "So, go home tonight, tell them how much you love them and hold them tight."

A Go Fund Me page has been set up for the Watts family at www.gofundme.com/f/z4xbz-the-watts-family. In addition, a benefit account has been started for the family at First Financial Bank.

City bond election

Former Stephenville mayor Kenny Weldon addressed the council concerning the results of the May 1 bond election during a public comment period.

Unofficial results from the Erath County Elections office showed Stephenville voters defeating all five propositions placed before them. The unofficial results are:

• Proposition A (Combined Use Facility): For - 800; Against - 868

Proposition B (Downtown Revitalization): For - 613; Against - 1054

Proposition C (Belknap Street): For - 644; Against - 1023

Proposition D (Street Renovations - 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, Cage, and Swan Streets: For - 623; Against - 1037

Proposition E (Bosque River Trail): For - 608; Against - 1058

Weldon thanked the city council members and other city employees for their work in compiling information for the bond issues and presenting them to the voters.

"Thank you to the city council and city staff for all the work that I know went into what went before the citizens last Saturday," the former mayor said. "You did this for our community and for that you should be proud.

"It was very disappointing ... the turnout was atrocious," Weldon continued. "As a veteran and as citizen of this country, I can't tell you how disappointing that is for us."

He added that the current state of disrepair of streets and facilities, for which some of the bond money would have gone, has been an ongoing problem.

"The current condition that this city is in ... we didn't get to overnight," Weldon said, encouraging the council to continue to find ways to improve the community.

Later in the meeting, during comments from council members, Place 4 councilman Brady Pendleton took the opportunity to share his thoughts on the bond election and thank everyone involved in the process.

"Personally, for me, of course, it's a very disappointing outcome," he said. "I think the city of Stephenville had a tremendous opportunity we could have capitalized and took advantage of and we failed to do that.

"I guess the people of Stephenville are proud of what we have," he continued. "And I can tell you that I'm not. And I want better."

Pendleton added that he grew up in Stephenville and was hoping the bond election would lead to something better for his children.

"I grew up in this community and I want my kids to have a better community than what I grew up in. Plain and simple. That's what it all comes down to."

Pendleton urged his fellow council members to keep focusing on the future and looking for ways to make the city better. He also urged citizens to come to him and discuss their vision for the city.

"I just know the people of this community are great enough to make it happen and we'll make it happen," he said. "Whatever the promise of the future looks like it's gonna be great and the community's gonna be better."

Councilman Gerald Cook, Place 7, also addressed the election outcome.

"The vote, in retrospect, solved no problems. None," Cook said. "We presented to this community issues that were problems to solve and that required funding.

"Those problems haven't gone away. The water and sewer issues still are going to have to be addressed. Streets are going to have to be fixed. The senior citizens center will have to be replaced...

"That's what a city and a community does. They address those issues and they make them better and that's called community development," Cook said.

He added that with the news of interest rates starting to rise and considering inflation on the cost of items needed to make street and facility improvements, these projects could end up costing taxpayers more in the future.

"We only fail if we quit," Cook concluded.

Moo-La Fest

Julie Smith, Tourism and Visitor Bureau manager, gave the council an update on the annual Moo-La Fest scheduled for June 3-6 in the city park.

"We have lots of fun new things this coming year," Smith said.

The schedule of events includes:

Thursday, June 3

• 6-10 p.m.: Carnival Americana

• 8-8:30 p.m.: Scott Kirby and Davin James

• 8-9 p.m.: Hot air balloon glow

• 8:30-10 p.m.: Asleep at the Wheel

Friday, June 4

• 4-5 p.m.: Michael Hix

• 4-11 p.m.: Carnival Americana, vendors, Grub Zone, beverage sales

• 6-7:30 p.m.: Lank and The Shanks

• 6-9 p.m.: Pinsperation

• 8-9 p.m.: Hot air balloon glow

• 8:30-10:30 p.m.: Phil Collins Experience

Saturday, June 5

• 6-7 a.m.: Hot air balloon fly-in

• 8-11 a.m.: Udderly Epic Fun Run

• 11 a.m.-4 p.m.: Dairy area featuring the Longhorn herd from the Texas State Historical Association and Southwest Dairy Farmers mobile classroom.

• 10 a.m.-11 p.m.: Carnival, vendors, Grub Zone, Texas State Historical Association

• 11 a.m.-4 p.m.: Cross Timbers Fine Arts Council, Texas Forts Trail Wine Festival

• 1-11 p.m.: Beverage sales

• 2-3 p.m.: Holli Garet

• 4-5 p.m.: The Decades Band

• 6-7 p.m.: Party Machine

• 6-9 p.m.: Pinsperation

• 8-9 p.m.: Hot air balloon glow

• 8:30-10:30 p.m.: Elton Dan and Gypsies, Doves and Dreams

Sunday, June 6

• Noon-6 p.m.: Carnival Americana

Smith said that many of the events are being funded through sponsorships and sponsorship opportunities are still available.

For more information, contact Smith at (254) 552-1222 or by emailing tourism@stephenvilletx.gov

Stephenville Economic Development Authority report

Jeff Sandford, executive director of SEDA, updated the council on several ongoing projects and economic statistics for the city.

He said that work on Washington Commons is progressing and the contractors plan to go vertical with construction within the next few days.

In addition, Sandford gave an update on the city's unemployment rates. He said in April 2019, the unemployment rate was 2.5% and that increased to 8.5% in 2020 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandford reported that the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.4% and is continuing to trend downward.

He also reported that in the past 18 months, SEDA has invested $1.5 million in recruiting and supporting new business and business expansion in the city with a $100 million return on investment.

Monthly financial report

Director of Finance Monica Harris presented the monthly financial report.

"Some of our financial indicators vary, but we still have an overall positive outcome," she said. 

• Property tax: The city received $94,000 in property taxes in the month of March, resulting in $217,000 or 3.48% increase over funds collected through last March. The $6.45 million collected fiscal year to date is 97.02% of budget, which is slightly less than the 97.64% anticipated.

• Sales Tax: The city received $556,000 in sales tax in March, resulting in $589,000 or 17.83% more than the funds collected through last March. The $3.89 million collected fiscal year to date is 62.39% of the $6.24 million budgeted, which is higher than the 50.51% anticipated.

• HOT Funds: Lodging establishments have reported $195,000 in Hotel Occupancy Taxes through March, as compared to $231,000 through last March.

• Revenue: (Budgetary comparison) The target budget for operating revenue is $16.4 million. The city received $16.8 million in revenue fiscal year to date, resulting in $383,000 over the target budget due to sales taxes and service charges. 

• Expenditures: (Budgetary comparison) The target budget for operating expenditures is $10.5 million. The city expended $9.9 million fiscal year to date, resulting in $593,000 under the target budget.

Parting words

Outgoing city councilmen Mark McClinton and Nick Robinson shared some parting words at the close of the meeting.

"This has been such a pleasure for me to do this," McClinton said. "It's been an absolute honor of a lifetime to do this.

"Any time you sit in this chair or you go out representing the city of Stephenville, you know you're there only because folks in town .... they invested their confidence in you.

"My parting prayer would be that God would continue to bless Stephenville, Texas, and every soul that lives here."

"I appreciate the folks who have sat in this chair with me. The folks who sat before me and those that are gonna sit after me," Robinson said.