The Big Lake City Council unanimously moved Tuesday night to send the fate of the Big Lake Economic Development Corporation to the voters of Big Lake in November.

The group came to the decision relatively quickly after hearing each of the council member’s opinions and hearing from EDC President Frank White.

White approached the group with a proposal which would give the city $500,000 of EDC funds in the first year to help with paving and infrastructure in commercially zoned areas of Big Lake.

White said the EDC board met on Monday night to draft the proposal and stressed their willingness to work with the city. He said the $500,000 would be reviewed yearly during the group’s annual action plan.

White was thanked for the proposal, but no discussion was had over accepting the offer by the council.

Mayor Phil Pool began his comments by saying it has been an interesting week.
“I have talked to several people and read quite a few comments,” Pool said. “It is clear there are very passionate people on both sides of the fence.”

Pool said he wanted to make it clear it would not be the city council making the decision to dissolve the EDC, but the voters of Big Lake if the council decided to move forward with an election.

“All we are doing here is weighing the pros and cons and researching our options,” Pool said. “Here are the four options in front of us.”

The first option, which Pool stressed was not going to be pursued by the council, is to have the City Council abolish the EDC by way of a simple resolution.

“No one on this council is in favor of that because it takes the choice away from the voters,” Pool said.

The second option is to place on the November ballot a measure to dissolve the EDC and recapture the 1/2 cent sales tax for street maintenance.

“This option would force us to have a vote on it every four years,” Pool said. “We would also only be able to use that money to maintain existing streets. Not the infrastructure below them.”

The third option looks a lot like the second, but instead of a street maintenance tax, the 1/2 cent would be rolled into the city’s general sales tax revenue.

“We could use this for anything,” Pool said. “Including the streets or EDC incentives directed by the city.”

Pool said the benefit of this option is the fact it does not need to be approved by voters every four years like the second option.

The final option facing the council is to leave the EDC in place and find ways to mutually benefit all parties.

Each council member took a turn talking about what they heard from their constituents around town.

Each received comments in favor of keeping the EDC in place, but the general consensus was the people of Big Lake wanted to see the measure brought to a vote by the citizens.

Council Member John Long was the only member which received overwhelming support for keeping the EDC as is.

Council Member Cliff Miller made a motion to place the dissolution of the EDC on the November 6th ballot and recapture the 1/2 cent sales tax into the city’s general sales tax revenue.

This is the option which does not require renewal every four years by the voters.
Council Member David Melms seconded the motion before the group unanimously voted to approve it.

Council Member Long said he voted in favor of the motion because he supports the public having a part of the process, like they had when the EDC was established by voting it into existence.

Long said he does have his concerns though.

“I do disagree on the option that was selected because it places the funds into the general fund,” Long said. “The money should be earmarked specifically for roads.”
Mayor Pool said the city would internally earmark the funds each year for road and infrastructure improvements.

“That is what we are presenting to the people of Big Lake, and that is what we are going to honor,” Pool said. “We know this isn’t a magic bullet. We know it will take time to begin to right the ship on paving and infrastructure. We know this won’t fix the issue over night, but I feel it is a step in the right direction.”

Pool said again, following the meeting, this move is in no way a slight to the Big Lake Economic Development, their board, or their director.

“They have done a great job for Big Lake,” Pool said. “This isn’t anything against them at all.”

Pool stressed if the people of Big Lake do decide to dissolve the EDC and give that 1/2 cent of sales tax to the city, he will make sure it goes 100 percent to streets.

“It is a vital need for our community,” Pool said. “We will create a separate line item in our budget and make sure that 1/2 cent is sent there for paving. That is if the people of Big Lake decide that is what they want to see done.”

The EDC brings in roughly $800,000 per year with their 1/2 cent sales tax.
Pool said the city currently has a list of the streets in Big Lake which need the most work infrastructure and paving-wise.

The list totals out to $20 million for paving and new infrastructure.

City Secretary Stacey Stroud said the city has plans in their proposed 2018-19 budget to use their current sales tax allocation (one cent) to upgrade infrastructure on Pennsylvania Avenue and a three block section of 12th Street.

The Pennsylvania project will partially be funded by a $275,000 grant from a Texas Community Development Block Grant (replace water line under Pennsylvania Avenue from 3rd Street to 11th Street) and $300,000 of the city’s funding to replace gas and sewer lines.

The 12th Street project will replace all infrastructure under the three block section of 12th Street from Ohio Avenue to Louisiana Avenue using $200,000 of the city’s sales tax allocation.

Paving for Pennsylvania will be included in the city’s following budget for 2019-2020 and will total $1.035 million. That will make the Pennsylvania project a 24 month endeavor for the city.

Stroud said the city will have to see what is left over and what help they can receive from he county toward paving the three block section of 12th Street (estimated at $660,000.00 due to it needing higher grade paving since it is on the truck route).

Stroud said most of the infrastructure within Big Lake is between 30 and 50 years old while the paving is mostly over 25 years old.

The measure to dissolve the EDC and capture their 1/2 cent of sales tax will be placed on the November 6, 2018 ballot as one item. The election will be the general election run by the county.

Registered voters who reside within the city will see the measure on their ballot come election time.

If approved, the city would start collecting the extra 1/2 cent of sales tax in April of 2019 according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office. The city would receive their first allocation in June of that year.

The city, if the measure passes, will have to honor grants already in place by the EDC using funds previously collected by the EDC’s 1/2 cent sales tax.

Money the EDC already has in the bank must be used for economic development purposes.

For their part, EDC Director Gloria Baggett said she had ‘no comment’ following the meeting.

After the council’s fact-finding meeting last week Baggett said “If an election is determined by the City of Big Lake, I strongly encourage all voters to learn the facts about the benefits of the BLEDC and the operations of the City of Big Lake so that you may make an educated vote. We are proud to serve the community of Big Lake and we have complete confidence the citizens of our community will allow us to do so in the future.”