Council holds tax rate hearing, approves purchase of three new ambulance chassis
By LYNETTE SOWELL
The Copperas Cove city council held a special meeting on Tuesday, during which it held the first public hearing on the proposed property tax rate for fiscal year 2017-2018.
The proposed rate is 0.797908 per $100 of taxable assessed value.
Al Castillo was the only citizen to address the council during the hearing, and stated he wasn’t for the increase but not necessarily against it, either.
“It would have been nice to have a lower rate than the one passed,” Castillo said.
He did have a cautionary reminder for the council, that one-third of the city’s tax rate goes toward paying its debt service.
“It is too late to do something about it this year, but take a look at it for next year,” Castillo told the council.
This year’s tax rate will raise $107,895 more in property taxe revenue compared to what the same rate raised for 2016.
Another hearing for the tax rate will take place at a special meeting on Tuesday, August 22 at 5 p.m.
Also during the special meeting, the council approved upgrades to three of Copperas Cove’s ambulances. The cost is $134,844 to purchase three 2018 Dodge Regular Cab 4500 chassis and a $160,350 contract to refurbish three existing ambulance boxes. Funds come from the city’s 2017 bond issuance. The city’s capital outlay plan includes the cost of refurbishing these three ambulances.
One item, that of considering and acting on the removal and appointment to a board will be postponed to another meeting. Councilman David Morris, who is also the council’s liaison to the EDC, introduced the item, ultimately calling for the removal of Marc Payne from the board of the Economic Development Corporation.
Morris said that city boards like the EDC are “extensions of the council” and that if a council member had acted like Payne did, they would be removed from office.
However, councilman Dan Yancey made a motion to postpone the action to the next meeting when city manager Andrea Gardner would be present, which was seconded by councilman Jay Manning. The vote was not unanimous, with councilmen Kirby Lack and Matthew Russell agreeing with their fellow councilmen, and James Pierce Jr. and George Duncan casting nay votes along with Morris.
During the discussion prior to the vote, councilman Jay Manning said it was a “very serious action to attack an appointee.”
Councilman George Duncan had an opinion of his own in that matter.
“A board member operating independently, at what point do you hold them accountable?” Duncan asked.
After Tuesday night’s meetings, Morris said Payne’s behavior overstepped his bounds as a board member. Payne had requested Knight Law Firm reps—the firm chosen by the EDC board in July yet not contracted by them—to attend an August 7 meeting of the EDC. During the meeting, Payne also balked at an offer to call the current interim law firm which represents the EDC so that firm could be available to the board during that meeting. Payne said the board wanted the representation it had selected.
Morris referred to an August 9 multi-page letter written by Payne and addressed to the city council, the county commissioners, along with County Judge John Firth where Payne stated it may be difficult to obtain a quorum for future meetings.
“Marc openly admitted in the letter that he took it upon himself to have the Knight Law Firm, that the EDC does not have a contract with, attend a meeting where the recourse of not taking action on the item was greater than simply taking action on the agenda item,” said Morris. “Who is responsible for paying for this attorney’s time? Surely, they want to be paid for their time and the documents they reviewed and prepared. However, we simply do not have an executed contract with them and that is not how we should be operating.”
Morris continued, “It is actions like this that interfere with the day-to-day operations and are in violation of our city charter. If a councilmember had acted in this fashion it would warrant a removal from office.”
In his letter, Payne also questioned the validity of the city council’s vote on August 8, which approved an extension to the closing date for the contracted property exchange, with that exchange already approved by the EDC board, the city council and county commissioners in May. Payne questioned how the council could take action on approving the EDC’s decision on an amendment that the EDC board did not take action on. He also wrote that an announcement was made at the August 7 EDC board meeting that the board would have another meeting “at which time it was expected that the board would approve the extension of the closing date” and he did not appreciate being told how he was to vote.
During a special workshop held after the 5 p.m. meeting, the council heard from Robert Ator, director of the Hill Country Transit District, about route changes to the HOP that will take effect September 1. It will affect Copperas Cove in two ways, in which the paratransit service will be limited to within ¾ of a mile of a HOP fixed service route. Also, the cost next year to the city for the HOP will also go up, as Copperas Cove will be required to pay more of the share for the route service with the closing of routes in Killeen.