By Tim Fleischer
Salado aldermen will consider a reconstructed Impact Fee ordinance on Oct. 17 after the board voted unanimously to direct Village administrator Don Ferguson to change the ordinance to rescind impact fees on existing properties in the current service area.
Aldermen voted unanimously Oct. 3 to make this and other changes to the Impact Fee ordinance after hearing from property owners and representatives who have not yet tied into the sewer system.
After a short executive session to confer with the Village attorney, the Board voted to rescind impact fees for existing properties in the current service area, to eliminate penalties set forth in the ordinance for properties that failed to meet the Oct. 1 connection deadline.
The motion to change the Impact Fee ordinance, was amended by alderman Michael Coggin who added that the Impact Fee for new construction would increase to the $5,152 maximum suggested in the Impact Fee study.
Aldermen will also discuss at the Oct. 17 workshop session developing a plan for the Village to consider exemptions for financial hardship situations. Aldermen Rodney Bell asked for this to be considered and it will be put on the Oct. 17 agenda.
Since the Oct. 3 vote, property owners have gone in to the Village to fill out paperwork to connect to the sewer system and have been told that they must pay the impact fee at that time. This is because the current ordinance is still in place. Property owners may want to wait until the ordinance is changed in order to avoid the impact fee.
What about those properties that have already paid the impact fees and connected?
Alderman Frank Coachman, during discussion of the impact fees, asked about those properties and was told that after the change is made, refunds will be issued to those properties.
Ten property owners or representatives spoke during the public comment on the topic.
Glynn Gantenbein spoke about his property on Stagecoach Rd. “When the taps were put in, no one asked me where would be a good place to put them for my property,” he said, adding that he requested someone to contact him about placement of the tie-in. “I came back and it’s all finished. My tap is on our neighbor’s property.”
He told aldermen that he contacted the neighboring property about trenching and was turned down. “I talked with the city manager,” he said, adding that he was told that he would contact the neighbor about the situation. He added that he sent emails in May and June but did not hear back from the Village. “Now the neighbor is finished and I cannot connect unless the tie-in is moved to my property,” he said, adding that he was now before aldermen to plead “My case for keeping me out of jail or going bankrupt,” if the village enforced $5,000 per day penalties.
He also questioned whether the impact fee applied to his property because “Every single definition you look up on internet says new development.”
Janyce Means, a resident on Main Street said that she and her husband voted for the sewer bond in 2014 because “we know it’s needed.” However, she added that if they had any idea of the cost and controversy this has caused, they would never have voted for it.
“My heart aches daily for the residents in this village who have no way in the world that they can afford the expense of this, which is mandated. They are mortgaged, struggling and living from check to check. How do you all expect them to pay for that? Much less the impact fee,” she added.
Jay Ritch compared the $5,000 per day penalty in the Impact Fee ordinance to the liquidated damages set out in the TXDOT contract for missing the deadlines on the interstate construction. “This is a strong arm tactic,” he said. “If this fine is imposed, it will degrade the Village reputation.”
He asked aldermen to consider the Impact Fee installment form because its verbiage gives the “appearance that the applicant is voluntarily asking to connect by signing the form. Even if impact fees are not assessable under state stature, fees can be collected if they are voluntarily paid.” He asked aldermen to consider changing the form to correct this appearance.
Will Lowery told aldermen that they could not imagine “the shock I felt when I read the posted agenda items.”
Lowery pointed to what he called punitive measures in the ordinance. “Do you want to carry this out? This is so premature at this point,” he said.
He added that since the deadline for connecting to the sewer has passed “I have had more contact from ownership of properties in the last few days than the entire time I have lived here,” he said. “You need to get in touch. You need to listen and hear their concerns.”
Lowery said that regardless of the legal status of whether the Village might collect impact fees from existing properties, “think about the real life situation you are causing on properties that have been here and are generating the tax resources that fund this very body.”
Tim Fleischer, secretary of Salado Masonic Lodge #296, read a letter signed by Brian Arnett, Master of the Lodge, who was not present because he was with his son at a high school theatre activity at the time.
“Despite the best efforts of Salado Masonic Lodge to comply with the mandatory connection to the Salado sewer system, our application was turned down late in the afternoon Sept. 27 after sitting for two weeks with the Village,” Fleischer read. “We only learned that we were turned down when we made the second phone call to the Village to check on the application.”
The application was turned down because it was marked to have $1,000 payments due on Sept. 2020, 2021 and 2022 along with the initial payment of $750.
The lodge is charged a full impact fee increment of $3,750 for a property that historically uses less than 1% of the 100 gallons per day LUE level.
“We also refused to sign a document that forces us to lie,” Fleischer read. “For the record, Salado Masonic Lodge does not ‘desire to tie in to the WW system.’ Nor does it desire to pay an impact fee out over four year or at all, for that matter. We are being forced to do so, which is how I corrected the document when I signed it for the Village of Salado, in order to avoid criminal penalties of $5,000 per day (per your ordinance and per the posted agenda) and to avoid having the Village come on to our private property and install a system against our wishes.”
“Because we are good neighbors, we have also worked with a neighboring property to grant it easement across our property in order to save that neighborhood untold thousands of dollars in connection costs,” Fleischer read. “That neighbor cannot put a line across our property until we are first connected and our septic is demolished. Will the village fine that neighbor $5,000 per day? Will it forcefully connect that property in a way that is multiples more expensive?”
“You haven’t seen me very much,” Morris Foster told aldermen. “The last thing I want to do is be here… The manner in which this city has handled the sewer situation is an embarrassment. I hear it in Austin. I hear it in Houston. My family has been here over 100 years. My dad left me with a responsibility that should things go askew, you need to stand up.”
Foster said that he has had numerous discussions about issues with his properties in town. “I have offered several alternatives to work together in some amicable way.”
He added that the stance of the village up to this point leaves “us no alternative but to seek relief in the courts. That little yellow card you sent out was so inflammatory.”
Melanie Kirchmeier told aldermen that knows “the difficult decision you have to make.” She added that as a property owner mandated to connect that she paid her application fee and impact fee. “We’re going to pay well over $10,000 to run a line from the back of our office to connect. It is going to cost us in excess of $15,000 including the impact fee.”
She added that “the threat that I saw on the Village website (agenda posting) is unimaginable. A $5,000 per day fine and criminal charges. I am not a criminal and don’t ever intend to be. The fourth paragraph in your package is extremely offensive to me.”
She then spoke of a friend who owns a home that is being mandated to connect. “She is extremely worried about her future and whether she can afford to remain in her home,” Kirchmeier said. She added that for some of the residences, the Village should consider adopting a mandated connection when the property sells to a new owner or changes from residential to commercial use.
At the very least, she said, the Village should “stop with threats to the businesses. I have spent months to try to work around water lines, easements.”
She added that there should be a deferment plan for owners with financial hardship.
Shane Berrier spoke about property that his family owns on Main Street. The property is one of the properties that will have to install a grinder pump because it is on the east side of Main Street, “We will have to pay for sewer and extra electrical costs,” he said, “Now if the pump goes down we will have to repair it too. Y’all cannot do this to people. Who are y’all going to pressure to tie in? Several people who do not have the funding to do so.”
Jim Lassiter owns two properties on Main St. “I’ve taken a real punch in the gut,” he said of the impact fee and controversy it has caused in the community. “If we would have understood the law at the time,” he said, “the (Impact Fee) committee would have done differently.”
It was only after the study was approve that the existing properties “find ourselves facing enormous cost on these commercial properties. Mine exceed $62,000 impact fee and connection cost. I really wonder if I turn around pass that on to my tenants, what will happen? What do you think will happen to McCain’s or Pizza Place? I cannot believe you need to throw those threats in our face.”
“I will pay to connect to the sewer,” he said. “I will pay it in accordance with the laws of State of Texas. If there is resolution in the interim, then I will stand by that as well.”
Darlene Walsh contrasted her treatment as a commercial property owner in Belton and her treatment as a property owner in Salado. “Belton connected our property for free, with no impact fee. They even destroyed our septic tank. They did it because it improved the town of Belton. It is now being redeveloped. Belton is now getting more money back than what they put into it. It improved the values of property. Added to it and the town benefited. Same thing in Jarrell. There is no impact fee, no connection fee.”
“You can spend money in court or spend money helping the people you are supposed to help,” she said.