City Diverts $2.5 Million from Trash Contract Cash Bonanza to City Auditorium Renovations
Thanks to Solid Waste royalty funds received through a contract with Republic Services, City Council members agreed to allocate $2.5 million “discretionary” dollars for a newly renovated and expanded City Auditorium that members expect will be “the hub” of culture for San Angelo, and something everyone in the City will enjoy.
This decision came after Council members told Parks and Recreation Director Carl White that no more funds could be decided for the continuation of remodeling and improving areas around the Concho River from Oakes Street to Bell Street. These improvements would help with dredging, bank stabilization and trail work, an Old West Town where Concho Cadbury would put on continual reenactments many Tom Green residents have come to enjoy at Old Fort Concho, restrooms, electrical and lighting and more. White said these additional improvements would cost approximately $12,000, which is why he had hoped for direction from City Council on how to proceed with funding.
“We haven’t figured out a funding plan for [the added improvements] yet, but it could include house and sales tax, hotel occupancy tax for improvements that will bring in tourism, and maybe some money from the water fund,” White suggested. “We would be improving the water capacity and water quality. Grants are also a possibility. We got $2 million in grants with the last group of improvements, and Council could consider a bond. This is the presentation with what we’re interested in moving forward with.”
After his presentation, Council members were vehement that although they appreciated the work that has already been completed along the Concho River with the first stage of improvements, they had to ensure more focus stayed on the most important things, which at this time include streets and water.
Elizabeth Grindstaff, Single-Member District 5 Councilwoman, said, “The river is, if not, our single greatest asset out here in the community in regards to public space and the health benefits, and for the community to gather and not spend any money. It’s a beautiful environment. But right now, with what we have ahead of us regarding water rates, water infrastructure, and streets and infrastructure, I can’t imagine right now putting anything in front of those two projects until we have a solid plan in place.”
Additionally, Grindstaff mentioned that there was something “next on the agenda” that she felt to be an unexpected expense, and that she would rather the City get one thing finished before starting another.
“Right now, I would like to see this placed not in the forefront, and let us get some work done before we start talking about more public dollars for these kinds of activities,” Grindstaff added.
Johnny Silvas, SMD 3 Councilman, agreed with Grindstaff and said everyone knows the streets are in horrible condition, but that doesn’t mean the City is going to give up on streets to focus on the project such as the one White proposed.
“I think though this has to be looked at in regards to funds, or at least grants,” Silvas said. “I mean continue the process. We don’t have to shut this down. I totally agree with what [Grindstaff] is saying about everything else. It’s top priority, but if there’s a way to find the funding, to proceed to move forward, that’s fine. I’m okay with that.”
In response to Silvas, Grindstaff added that she believes the City has to have its plans in place for the next six months before anything else can be considered because even when going after private dollars, the City has to match those with public funds.
She stated, “I would prefer we at least wait six months before we talk about it again—in the sense of getting some other priorities taken care of—whether that be the house and sales tax, the hotel occupancy tax, or anything else. With other projects ahead of this, we can determine how much we have remaining, and how much we can provide for this.”
Rodney Fleming, SMD 1 Councilman, said he agreed with Grindstaff about this approach, but the City definitely had to focus on existing projects and echoed the timeframe of six months before these plans could be looked at again.
Fleming added, “I would like to see those things being built and finished and be in and see how the public takes to them. One of the things I have somewhat a problem with right now is that we spent between $10 and $12 million dollars now down there on the river total. We spent a lot of money, and I love it. It looks great, but I don’t see enough people using it.”
Because traffic hasn’t really picked up, Fleming said he wants projects that will bring in more money to have priority.
Charlotte Farmer, SMD 6, however, said she would like to see those things being built or fixed within the City, including those areas along the Concho River, to be finished and see how the public takes to them.
“One thing I’ve learned in city government is we don’t channel and do one thing at a time,” Farmer stated. “The completion of projects is very important. The priorities are very important. We don’t lose sight of those, and we just don’t stop working on those. In order to grow, it’s planting that seed. That’s why I want to move forward on this. While we are in the process of redoing our streets, this is a different group of funds and different money.”
For White, he wasn’t asking the Council to vote for a commitment, but rather to see where money was available.
Despite that, however, Grindstaff said that because public dollars fund these types of projects, she wants to see where the City is with current projects and funding.
“I have no interest in talking dollars,” she said.
With that final note, the Council agreed not to proceed or move forward at this time.
However, the “next item on the agenda,” which Grindstaff said was an “unexpected expense” involved a discussion and consideration of the City allocating $2.5 million dollars toward the City Auditorium Renovation and Expansion Project.
In 2010, voters originally approved $3.75 million for the renovation of the City Auditorium, and during the City Hall renovation, some of those funds went to infrastructure upgrades for the central plant and plumbing that would have served the auditorium and its expansion.
As of today, the Auditorium remains closed, and City Construction Manager David Knapp, who created the presentation with Rick Weis for City Council members, showed that the project has expanded beyond its original scope because of the improvements made with the $2.5 million in funds raised by the San Angelo Performing Arts Coalition, or SAPAC.
According to the presentation, the project will add an Annex onto the rear of the building. This building will have a basement and a ground level area. There will also be an add-on behind the stage area.
Overall, the cost of the entire project comes to $15.2 million dollars, and out of that amount, the following tentative numbers will be allocated toward the project:
- 1/2 Cent Sales Tax: $1,876,747 (remaining)
- Risk Management (roof): $ 304,119 (remaining)
- SAPAC: $2,500,000
- Naming Rights: $2,500,000
This amount equals $7.1 million. Therefore, the project needed an additional funding of $6.5 million. Out of that amount, COSA-DC suggested allocating $1.5 million and SAPAC offered to raise another $2.5 million for the additions, which left another $2.5 million left.
At that point, City Finance Director Tina Carriger spoke to Council Members about possible funding ideas for the remaining amount, which she suggested could either come from the Solid Waste Fund or the Hotel Occupancy Tax fund.
Grindstaff questioned Carriger about how it would be possible to use funds toward something that had nothing to do with a Republic Trash Services contract
“A year ago, we received a royalty payment through our new landfill contract--$3.6 million dollars,” Carriger responded. “We’ve turned those funds around a little bit and wanted to see how we can give back to our community. One of the recommendations, or suggestions, made by the Mayor was initially to use part of that money to help out the water fund; so the proposal before you today includes that amount and the dollar amount for the auditorium projects. That would leave just over $500,000 that would fall to the landfill fund balance to help push that for future projects. The current loss in the water fund for the current year is just over $1.8 million dollars, and then when you take the $1.25 million dollars, that would leave a final royalty amount of $500,000.”
Based on this explanation, Grindstaff asked if there were any restrictions on the use of these royalty funds, and Carriger said no.
To solidify this answer, Shane Kelton, director of the City’s Operations Department, said, “There are no restrictions on those funds. It was part of up-front moneys provided through the negotiated contract [with Republic]. It was given to improve the negative fund balance and issues we had within that fund; so it’s cleaned up, and we’re in good shape, so the funds are available for Council’s discretion."
Silvas, who said he was “all for the project,” said everyone in San Angelo would benefit from the improved-and-expanded Auditorium, but wanted to know how the Council would explain allocating these funds. At the same meeting, Council also approved the 2015-16 Fiscal Year Budget, and $115,000 was approved for street improvements through the General Fund.
“What do we tell the public when they’re seeing the condition of the streets and the infrastructure?” Silvas asked. “I mean again, we’ve got to balance it out, so we have to ask, is this more important than the other? So what do you tell them? How do you settle that?”
In answer to his questions, City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said, “Regardless, we’re planning to move forward with the streets and, of course, water as well. This is a visual project that again we need to take a look at as well. I do see it as a project that can be completed with a little more funding, but again, as far as the streets go, those are areas we’re very committed to and we will be funding regardless.”
After City Council members asked more questions about the contract with Lee Lewis Construction, Inc. and the specifics about ensuring funding with SAPAC, members agreed going forward with the Auditorium project would be for the good of San Angelo.
Grindstaff said, “Since it’s been six years, I know you said the project has grown, and most of that is driven by SAPAC. I think they’re a wonderful partner, and I think they can do what they say they’re going to do. I think it’s time to get this finished. I don’t think any of us intended, whether we were Council, that we would be six years down the road and still not have that auditorium operational.”
Because of this, Grindstaff said she doesn’t have any problem talking to the public about why this project takes preference over other things.
“This is an asset that is sitting and not finished out,” Grindstaff stated. “It’s a problem, so I think this one is more defensible than storming in the next phase of something right now that isn’t pressing. I consider this to be a very pressing issue, and we know that every school child in our region goes in and out of this building on a regular basis, not to mention all the things that are going to happen with SAPAC and all the wonderful performances and presentations it will bring.”
Farmer said the Mayor originally suggested using money from the Solid Waste Fund, and that afterward, the City could solicit private donations to assist in restoring the royalty balance. Either way, both Farmer and the Mayor felt the Auditorium an asset to the city.
“I’m for the project, and Rick and his guys can work and get the Auditorium open. SAPAC can get on with performing the arts that are so plentiful here in San Angelo and our surrounding community, so I support the idea. The mayor supports the idea,” Farmer added.
Fleming, before agreeing, however, said he wanted to make sure the money that was intended to clean up the old landfill site and assist in building a new one within 10 to 15 years would be covered with no issue.
“We have several years before the end of the existing site, and we have cleaned up our negative balance fund that we were struggling with,” Kelton responded. “We’ve also negotiated with Republic, and they will be in charge of those costs now. We’re projecting that we will have the funds. Whether that’s 12 or 20 years, there will be funds for the new landfill site.”
Fleming said his overall concern was to ensure the public that the City is not pulling money for the arts from some fund that was initially to be used for something else.
After Council members had all their questions answered, and learned that any funds in excess of project costs will be returned pro rata to each funding entity, Grindstaff motioned to approve the resolution for allocating the additional $2.5 million from the Solid Waste Fund. All Council members, excluding Marty Self, SMD 2 Councilman, who abstained from the vote, and Mayor Dwain Morrison, who was not present, approved the project.