The Big Lake City Council took an exploratory step Tuesday night into their options for dissolving the Big Lake Economic Development Corporation and using that money toward city street paving projects.

The council is looking at a series of options, most of which involve a vote of the citizens, which would take all or part of the sales tax used to fund the Economic Development Corporation and use it as a Street Maintenance Tax.

Mayor Phil Pool said Tuesday night’s meeting was about researching ways to bring more money to the city for paving streets.

“The idea came up during budget workshop,” Pool said. “It is honestly nothing against the EDC. They are doing great things for this town.”

Pool said the street department is the only department within the city which does not generate revenue.

“It is a large expenditure,” Pool said. “No matter what we decide, we will make sure the option goes to the voters of Big Lake.”

The council heard from members of the public Tuesday night before voting to hire a law firm to help them search their options.

Economic Development Director Gloria Baggett was the first to speak.
Baggett noted that the city council and EDC board sat down together a week before to work on the EDC’s annual action plan.

“Why were your plans not stated at that time?” Baggett asked. “Instead of us finding out at 3:45 p.m. on Friday?”

Pool said it was not mentioned since it was not a done deal.

“We are simply weighing our options here tonight,” Pool said. “Nothing has been decided.”

Pool said he was afraid mentioning it during the group’s joint meeting would have turned ugly.

Baggett then asked what the future of the EDC was.

“Right now it should be business as usual,” Pool said. “We are just looking into our options.”

Baggett released a statement following the meeting saying ‘the Big Lake EDC will continue an aggressive approach to increase the city’s tax base by bringing in new business as long as we are in existence. One primary method for doing this is procuring old dilapidated structures and putting businesses in them which meet the community’s needs such as Sugar Creek Grill, Crystal’s 2nd Connection, The Big Lake Beer Barn, Sonic Drive-In and Neighborhood Drug Store.’

The next person to speak at the meeting was local attorney Stephen Dodd.
Dodd said the EDC provides an important function for the community.

“It is not only a catalyst for small businesses and economic growth,” Dodd said. “But it is also a catalyst for ideas and solutions for a community.”

Dodd implored the council to continue to allow the EDC to function in that role.

“It is more important now than ever,” Dodd said. “The research I’ve seen shows that for every dollar invested by the EDC there is a $216 return in economic output.”

Dodd said he understands the needs in the city and tough decisions must me made.

“I firmly believe the EDC is providing opportunities for small businesses in this community that far outweigh the need to get rid of it,” Dodd finished.

Baggett then took another turn at speaking saying she understands the pressure the city is under to repair streets.

“Why is dissolving a strong organization the solution?” Baggett asked. “We understand you have an inadequate budget. The EDC is actually part of the solution by bringing in businesses and additional sales tax.”

The EDC has awarded $1.3 million in grants to 38 local businesses since 2009 according to figures released by the group. Thirty of those businesses are still in extistance today.

The council then heard from Jeff Grissom of Glasscock Chevrolet.
Grissom said most people don’t know Glasscock Chevrolet would not be here today if it weren’t for the EDC.

“We are in the process of selling our 50th car this month,” Grissom said. “That is $63,000 in sales tax collected this month alone. Our worst month was 35 cars with 45 cars last month. You can do the math on how much sales tax benefit you are seeing.”

Grissom said he brought six people into the city and is working to bring more for other businesses such as a dentist.

“If it wasn’t for Frank (White) and Gloria we would not be in business today,” Grissom said. “We could use that money to pave two streets, or use it to build our tax base and bring in talented people. I think that is what we should be shooting for.”

Adolfo Valdezpino of Texas Diesel Performance then let his feelings be known.

“First off I am a little upset that this is happening with no notice,” Valdezpino said. “I was able to establish my business because I found there was a need here in big Lake. We created six jobs with four of them living in Reagan County. I chose this place because it is a nice place to live not because of the streets.”

The floor was then handed over to Angel Olvera of Sugar Creek Grill.

Angel said there would be a void in the community without the EDC.

“I have people come in all the time asking who they should talk to about starting a business here,” Olvera said. “Without the EDC where would I send them? To you?”

Olvera then said his original goal was to be in Big Lake for two years.

“I found out I had to be here for five years working with the EDC,” Olvera said. “My time is now up on that, but I’m not going to leave. I am raising my family here.”

Olvera stressed that without the EDC his restaurant would not be here.

“I hope you take a step back before making a decision,” Ovlera said. “Really look at this. I love Big Lake and always want to be here.”

Daniel Weltman of Sonic Drive-In then took the floor.

“Without the EDC our Sonic doesn’t exist,” Weltman said. “The prices were so high. Gloria and Frank really made this happen.”

Weltman pointed out his business has 22 employees and works hard to hire young people to help them begin their working careers.

“I’m now looking to buy a house here,” Weltman said. “I want to start a life here. Without the EDC Sonic Drive-In would not be possible.”

Frank White then took the floor to thank everyone who showed up in support of the EDC.

“This is really an effort to show you what we have done,” White said.

Mayor Pool said there is no doubt in what the EDC has accomplished.

“This is nothing against the EDC, the EDC board or the director,” Pool said. “We are just weighing what can and can’t be done. That is the only reason we are here.”

White said the EDC would love to help the city in any way they can.

Marla Poynor of Glasscock Chevrolet then took the floor to voice her support of the EDC.

“The EDC is a valuable part of this community,” Poynor said. “It helps employers who want to bring people to town. It is a great asset. It also increases property values and raises more sales tax. I think it is a very good thing and I would hate to see it go.”

Finally, Nina Hallmark of Cornerstone Gardens spoke.

“I voted for everyone of you on this board because I felt you had leadership skills and believed you love Big Lake and care about Big Lake,” Hallmark said. “I hate the streets as much as you do. Every town in this area has the same problem with streets. A paved street has never brought a business to Big Lake or a family to town.”

Hallmark said she felt dissolving the EDC would be like taking 20 steps backward for the community.

“We need to be a progressive community,” Hallmark said. “We are blessed to have young people wanting to move back here. If we start going backward we will lose them. The EDC is the only entity in this town that is going to bring businesses here.”

All of the people who spoke during the meeting have either served on the EDC board or received money from the EDC through a grant.

With the public comment section over the board voted to hire Attorney Pat Chesser to provide them with legal options for dissolving the EDC and using the money generated by their share of sales tax to be used for paving city streets.

Mayor Phil Pool told the Wildcat the city would have to vote to place a measure on the November ballot for the voters of Big Lake to decide if they want to keep the EDC or use that money to pave streets.

Pool said you are looking at $800,000 per year to use toward streets.

The city had an engineer review the city streets and that report showed it would take $20 million for the city to fix the worst streets in town and repair the infrastructure below it.

“The one thing we are always hearing from people is how bad the streets are,” Pool said. “We are just feeling out options to help us with that problem.”

Pool said, again, it would ultimately be up to the people of Big Lake if they would like to dissolve the EDC and use that money toward streets.

The city council entered into a lengthy closed door session with Chesser to learn what their options are.

They came out of that closed door session and tabled the agenda item until their next meeting on Tuesday, August 7.

Pool said the council didn’t want to make any hasty decisions, and wanted to take a week to talk to constituents before deciding whether to place a measure on the ballot.

Baggett, following the meeting, said the Economic Development services are critical to a community’s growth and many of the ventures made by our BLEDC may not have occurred without the efforts and support of the Big Lake EDC.

“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,” Baggett said. “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.”