Breckenridge Texan

City Commissioners designate four downtown blocks as ‘slum/blighted areas’ for grant application, decide against allowing golf carts on streets

City Commissioners designate four downtown blocks as ‘slum/blighted areas’ for grant application, decide against allowing golf carts on streets
June 09
12:19 2022

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

At their meeting on Tuesday night, June 7, the Breckenridge City Commission voted unanimously to designate four city blocks in downtown Breckenridge as a “slum and blighted area” in order to qualify for a grant to improve sidewalks and crosswalks in the area around City Hall. The commissioners also denied a request to allow golf carts to be used on some city streets, approved more than $5,000,000 in certificates of obligation and received an update from the Texas Department of Transportation on the Breckenridge Avenue (U.S. Highway 183) construction project.

Slum and Blighted Area

Ken Coignet with Public Management Inc. talks to the Breckenridge City Commission about designating four downtown blocks as a slum and blighted area. (Photo by Tony Pilkington / Breckenridge Texan)

At their April meeting, the city commissioners awarded a contract to Public Management Inc. for application and administration services for a grant through the Texas Community Development Block Grant Program – 2022 Downtown Revitalization Program, which is issued through the Texas Department of Agriculture. At Tuesday’s meeting, Ken Coignet, vice president and business development director for Public Management, returned to present a City of Breckenridge  resolution approving the submission of an application for “$500,000 of grant funds to provide sidewalk, lighting and accessibility and pavement improvements in the City’s downtown area” and a resolution designating an area of downtown as a “slum and blighted” area, which is one of the requirements of the grant.

In introducing the topic to the city commissioners, Coignet said, “All right, don’t panic. We’re not calling the city a slum and blight, OK? … (With this grant) the national objective is you’re meeting conditions of slum and blight. And all you got to do is look…what I’m talking about in this case, is all the cracked sidewalks and that’s what we’re fixing to repair. That’s what we’re counting as slum and blighted conditions. Or some of the buildings that may have, you know, they may be a little deteriorated, things like that. Or even in the streets where there’s conditions of what they call slum and blight conditions.”

The four-block area encompasses the area between West Walker and West Dyer streets and North McAmis and North Court avenues (see the map below for the designated area). Those four city blocks include the Stephens County Courthouse, Breckenridge City Hall, a Texas State Technical College building, several businesses and office buildings and several houses and apartments, as well as some vacant lots owned by a local oil company, according to the Stephens County Appraisal District.

According to the grant application guide, the grant’s goal is “to develop viable communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, as well as by expanding economic opportunities, principally for persons of low-to-moderate income.”

The City of Breckenridge proposes to “install sidewalks and integrated curbing, curb cuts (ramps), ADA access improvements, pavement repair, lighting, and associated appurtenances within the Downtown District,” which are eligible activities, according to the grant application guide. Specifically, the area where the improvements are proposed is at the corner of North Rose Avenue and West Elm Street, as well as part of the way down North Rose and West Elm (see the area marked in purple on the map above). Coignet said that if there is money left over after the originally stated objectives are complete, the funds can be used to improve sidewalks around the back and side of the courthouse.

The objectives of the TxCDBG Program are:

1. To improve public facilities to meet basic human needs, principally for low-to-moderate income persons;
2. To improve housing conditions, principally for persons of low-to-moderate income;
3. To expand economic opportunities by creating or retaining jobs, principally for low-to-moderate income
persons; and
4. To provide assistance and public facilities to eliminate conditions hazardous to the public health and of an
emergency nature.

For the Downtown Revitalization Fund, which the City of Breckenridge is planning to apply for, a community must meet the Elimination of Slum and/or Blight Conditions National Program Objective and the project area must qualify for the objective by being officially designated as a slum/blighted area by the applicant through passed/adopted city council resolution; meeting a definition of a slum, blighted, deteriorated, or deteriorating area under State or local law; and exhibiting physical signs of blight or decay.

State of Texas Definition of Slum and Blight

According to the Texas Urban Renewal Law, a “slum area” is defined as an area within a municipality that is detrimental to the public health, safety, morals, and welfare of the municipality because the area:

(A) has a predominance of buildings or other improvements that are dilapidated, deteriorated, or obsolete due to age or other reasons;

(B) is prone to high population densities and overcrowding due to inadequate provision for open space;

(C) is composed of open land that, because of its location within municipal limits, is necessary for sound community growth through replatting, planning, and development for predominantly residential uses; or

(D) has conditions that exist due to any of the causes enumerated in Paragraphs (A)-(C) or any combination of those causes that:

(i) endanger life or property by fire or other causes; or

(ii) are conducive to:

(a) the ill health of the residents;

(b) disease transmission;

(c) abnormally high rates of infant mortality;

(d) abnormally high rates of juvenile delinquency and crime; or

(e) disorderly development because of inadequate or improper platting for adequate residential development of lots, streets, and public utilities.

The Texas law defines a “blighted area” as “an area that is not a slum area, but that, because of deteriorating buildings, structures, or other improvements; defective or inadequate streets, street layout, or accessibility; unsanitary conditions; or other hazardous conditions, adversely affects the public health, safety, morals, or welfare of the municipality and its residents, substantially retards the provision of a sound and healthful housing environment, or results in an economic or social liability to the municipality. The term includes an area certified as a disaster area as provided by Section 374.903.”

When asked if the designated area meets the State of Texas definition of “slum” or “blight,” as required for the grant, Coignet said, “Let’s just not put it that way. What it meets is TDA’s definition of slum and blighted conditions in the area. We’re not calling the whole area slum and blighted conditions. … We’re designating the area that has conditions of slum and blight, is what we’re doing. But no, it’s not really related to whatever the state definition might be.”

When the Breckenridge Texan attempted to question how the City of Breckenridge could meet the grant requirements if the area doesn’t meet the state definition of “slum and blighted conditions,” City Manager Erika McComis interrupted and asked for a motion on the topic. All of the commissioners voted to approve Resolution 2022-23, identifying the area marked on the map as a “slum/blighted area.”

Golf Cart Proposal

In introducing proposed Ordinance 2022-11 to amend the city’s traffic code, McComis said the Breckenridge Police Department has received requests from a few local residents to be allowed to drive motorized carts, aka golf carts, on city streets.

City Commissioner Greg Akers, right, comments on the golf cart proposal while Commissioner Rob Durham listens to the discussion. (Photo by Tony Pilkington / Breckenridge Texan)

“So, the police department researched how they could allow this and then got with the city attorney and they had developed this ordinance,” she said. “The ordinance does have a definition for what a motorized cart is, does stipulate that the driver has to be …a licensed driver over 16 years of age. The speed limit on the street has to be less than 35 miles per hour. It does exclude ATVs, four-wheelers, go cars, mules, gators. It must be equipped with headlamps, tail lamp, side reflectors, parking brakes, rearview mirror and horn.”

The proposed ordinance also excluded streets and roads that are part of the state or federal highway system, although BPD Captain Jay Walker said they would be allowed to cross such roads, including Walker Street and Breckenridge Avenue.

Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims and commissioners Gary Mercer and Greg Akers adamantly opposed the proposal.

“I’m here to tell you, if this passes, you’re going to find kids on them,” Sims said. “You know, Mother and Dad may or may not give permission, but it won’t matter. There’ll be kids out here.”

Akers expressed concerns about the BPD having enough officers and time to monitor the use of golf carts on city streets. The commissioners debated tabling the topic, but finally decided to vote on it with Akers, Sims, Rob Durham and Gary Mercer voting to deny the proposal and Vince Moore voting in favor of the proposed ordinance.

TxDOT Report

Tuesday’s meeting started off with a report by Jordan Perry, the Eastland Area Engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation. He said there have been some problems with the road construction project on North Breckenridge Avenue (U.S. Highway 183 North) and the project is currently three months behind schedule.

Some of the delays have been cause by bad weather, while others were caused by mistakes that required certain parts of the work to be re-done. Additionally, Perry said, there were about 30 days when the contractor’s crew didn’t work when they could have.

Perry said TxDOT is doing everything they can to get the project back on track but that it will likely be April 2023 or later before it is finished.

Certificates of Obligation

The commissioners approved a series of ordinances regarding the City issuing tax and revenue certificates of obligation to provide funds for sewer system improvement projects and water treatment improvement projects.

The total amount of the certificates of obligation will be $5,260,000 with the first payments (interest only) due in March 2023. Additionally, the City will receive $2,540,229 in funds that are eligible for principal forgiveness (grants). The City received funding through the Texas Water Development Board Clean Water State Revolving Fund for improvements throughout the wastewater collection (sewer) system and wastewater treatment plant, and through the Texas Water Development Board Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for improvements at the water treatment plant and raw water intake to replace several sections of the water distribution system.

Specifically, for the sewer system project, the City received $1,227,420 funds eligible for principal forgiveness (grant) and an amount not to exceed $1,020,000 funded with an interest rate of zero percent (loan). The remaining amount of $1,915,000 is to be funded in the form of an equivalency loan at the TWDB program’s regular terms (a subsidized, lower-than-market-rate interest).

For the water treatment projects, the City received $1,312,809 funds eligible for principal forgiveness (grant) and an
amount not to exceed $1,020,000 funded with an interest rate of zero percent (loan). The remaining amount of $1,305,000 is to be funded in the form of an equivalency loan at the TWDB program’s regular terms (a subsidized, lower-than-market-rate interest).

The financing is for 30 years, meaning that with the two projects combined, the City will be paying about $213,000 to $226,000 each year through 2053.

Other Business

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the City Commissioners also:

  • Awarded a bid to Dowtech Specialty Contractors for the rehabilitation of the existing wastewater lift station at the Walker Sayle Prison;
  • Appointed Commissioner Rob Durham as Mayor Pro-tem;
  • Approved an ordinance allowing the placement of a tiny house in the 500 block of North Shelton Street;
  • Approved a recommendation from the Breckenridge Planning and Zoning Commission to approve a request to revert the plat to original at 103 W. Walker St., known at The Popular;
  • Approved a resolution to suspend the June 17, 2022, effective date of Oncor Electric delivery company’s requested rate change to permit the city time to study the request and to establish reasonable rates; approving cooperation with the steering committee of cities served by Oncor to hire legal and consulting services and to negotiate with the company and direct any necessary litigation and appeals;
  • Approved the the Breckenridge Chamber of Commerce Hotel Occupancy Tax Fiscal Year 2022 Second Quarter Financials; and,
  • Approved an audit engagement agreement with George, Morgan & Sneed, P.C., for the Fiscal Year 2022 annual audit.

Jordan Perry, the Eastland Area Engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, talks to the Breckenridge City Commission about the road construction project on North Breckenridge Avenue (U.S. Highway 183 North) during Tuesday night’s meeting. Also pictured are Taina Bonilla, a design project coordinator with TxDOT, and Stacy Harrison, Public Services Director for the City of Breckenridge. (Photo by Tony Pilkington / Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims, center, discusses a topic at the June 7 City Commission meeting. Also pictured are Commissioner Vince Moore, left, and Commissioner Rob Durham, right, who was appointed as the Mayor Pro-tem at the meeting. (Photo by Tony Pilkington / Breckenridge Texan)

 


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