Council honors vaccination clinic efforts; denies rezoning request for historical property

LeAnda Staebner
Stephenville Empire-Tribune

Recognizing contributions to the county vaccination clinic, a financial audit and discussion of the city's changing needs due to population increases topped the discussion at last week's regular city council meeting.

Stephenville Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Elliott, second from left, is presented a certificate of appreciation for his work at the Erath County Vaccination Center from the city by City Manager Allen Barnes, left; Mayor Doug Svien, second from right; and Fire Chief Jimmy Chew during last week's city council meeting.

The city presented certificates of appreciation to Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Elliott, local business owner VW Stephens, and Vyve Broadband for their contributions to the Erath County Vaccination Center.

Certificates of appreciation were presented to Elliott for his countless hours of work at the center; Vyve Broadband for donating internet service; and Stephens for donating the use of the space at 2900 W. Washington St., Ste. 92, for the center. In addition, Stephens was presented a Key to the City.

Local businessman VW Stephens, center, is presented a certificate of appreciation and a key to the city of Stephenville for donating the space used for the Erath County Vaccination Center by City Manager Allen Barnes, left, and Mayor Doug Svien during last week's city council meeting.

Independent financial audit

John Watson, with Brooks, Watson and Co. Certified Public Accountants, presented a report on an independent audit the firm did on the city's finances for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2020.

"(There are) no inconsistencies that we're aware of. So that's the highest level of assurance a CPA can provide," he said. "That's a good thing."

Watson noted that the city was presented with a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting and that this was the 32nd consecutive year the city has achieved this honor.

To see the complete report, visit www.stephenvilletx.gov. Click on "Agendas" and select the agenda packet for the July 6, 2021, city council meeting.

Chandler Mansion

After much discussion and a public hearing, the council voted to approve a recommendation to deny a rezoning request for a property located at 1083 Frey from (R-1) Single Family Residential to (R-3) Multifamily.

The city's Planning and Zoning Commission met on June 16 and by a vote of 6-1 recommended the City Council deny the request.

Tobiah O’Neal, representing Ontade LLC, requested the rezoning. O'Neal is known in the community for his work at restoring historic properties. The request was made "to allow for the highest and best land use," according to the rezoning application.

Several residents of the area were on hand to express their opposition to the rezoning, and the city received six letters of opposition to the change with one of the main concerns being the potential loss of historical integrity of the property, known as the Chandler Mansion. 

While several council members expressed concern over a rezoning change opening the door to developers tearing down the house and replacing it with a multi-family apartment building/complex, it was also noted that the housing makeup and needs of Stephenville are quickly changing.

"There is a reality and that is Tarleton's gonna grow," said Mayor Svien. "Tarleton is a huge impact financially to the city of Stephenville and we're not gonna stop that."

Svien also said it was recently noted that there are about 1,600 TSU students without a room coming into the Fall 2021 semester and the school's enrollment is expected to grow by another 3,000 students in the next five years.

Across town, individuals are making their homes into rental houses, the mayor noted.

"What's gonna look like Stephenville today isn't gonna look like Stephenville in 15 years from now. It's just not," Svien said.

"We are a changing community," added Huckabee.

To see the rezoning application, letters of opposition and Development Services staff report, visit www.stephenvilletx.gov. Click on "Agendas" and select the agenda packet for the July 6, 2021, city council meeting.

SEDA update

Jeff Sandford, executive director of the Stephenville Economic Development Authority, presented an update on several projects and the area's employment rates.

Stephenville Economic Development Director Jeff Sandford

He stated that the current unemployment rate for the city is 4.6%, a decrease from 6.2% reported at the beginning of the year.

Sandford said his team has about a dozen ongoing projects involving more than 100 potential jobs, adding that in the past 30 days, his team has reached out to 25 potential new businesses with profiles matching Stephenville's economic resources.

He said the Washington Commons project vertical construction is now "well underway" and more announcements about tenants for the project will be "coming shortly."

In addition, SEDA has approved an additional 19 Façade Improvement grants for local businesses for upgrades.

"This is really starting to impact the look and feel of our existing businesses," Sandford said.

Monthly financial report

Monica Harris, city finance director, presented the monthly financial report, stating indicators are better than anticipated.

Property tax: The city received $95,000 in property taxes in the month of May, resulting in $216,000 or 3.42% increase over funds collected through last May. The $6.57 million collected fiscal year to date is 98.83% of budget, which is slightly more than the 98.76% anticipated.

Sales tax: The city received $707,000 in sales tax in May, resulting in $771,000 or 18.06% more than the funds collected through last May. The $5 million collected fiscal year to date is 80.79% of the $6.24 million budgeted, which is higher than the 65.85% anticipated.

HOT funds: Lodging establishments have reported $284,000 in Hotel Occupancy Taxes through May, as compared to the $242,000 through last May. The city has received $55,000 of sports venue tax through May. The city spent $329,000 in Hotel Occupancy Tax funds through fiscal year to date as compared to $119,000 last year due to the Day Tripper contract, gateway planning, and Moo-la Fest.

Revenue (Budgetary comparison): The target budget for operating revenue is $20.7 million. The city received $21.2 million in revenue fiscal year to date, resulting in $588,000 over the target budget due to sales taxes and service charges.

Expenditures (Budgetary comparison): The target budget for operating expenditures is $13.8 million. The city expended $13.3 million fiscal year to date, resulting in $476,000 under the target budget.

Revenue (Prior year comparison): Operating revenue received last year was $20.4 million as compared to the current year's $21.2 million, resulting in a $850,000 increase due to property tax, sales taxes, and service charges.

Expenditures (Prior year comparison): Operating expenditures last year were $12.6 million as compared to the current year's $13.3 million, resulting in a $714,000 increase due to costs associated with COVID-19 prevention, stimulus grant to reduce the impact of COVID-19, damage claims, wages, advertising and gateway planning.

In other business

• The council approved an ordinance concerning the preservation and restoration of historic brick streets within the city limits. The ordinance and changes to the accompanying Engineering Standards Manual outline the procedures for design, repair and other standards for preserving the historic brick streets.

• The council approved the following committee appointments: Kelly Sult to the Main Street Advisory Board; Donna Wesson to the Senior Citizen Advisory Board; Tom Hines as Alternate 1 on the Planning and Zoning Commission; and Jerrod Hancock to the Electrical Board.

• The council approved a conditional use permit for 1422 Prairie Wind for a home occupation. The permit will allow resident Justin Willis to operate his business Mild to Wild Gun Graphics and "airbrush/paint specialized heat resistant coatings on firearms."

• The council approved a rezoning request from Erath County Habitat for Humanity to rezone 750 Sloan from (R-3) Multi-Family to (B-2) Retail and Commercial Business for the purpose of constructing administrative offices and connecting storage space for the nonprofit.

• The council denied a request from Habitat for Humanity to waive permit fees associated with a new building with an estimated construction value of $55,000. The fees were estimated to total $3,389.59, according to information in the meeting agenda packet.

Councilman Ricky Thurman, a member of the Development Services Committee, which denied the initial request, gave some insight on his decision to vote against the waiver, noting the council previously approved a waiver for landfill use fees for the agency.

Thurman noted that the landfill is run like a business, is doing well financially and is not tax supported.

"In looking at the (permit) fees, if Habitat doesn't cover these, the taxpayers are covering them," he said.

The next regular city council meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 3.