Mineral Wells city council

MINERAL WELLS — Honorary Council Kid and third-grader Kayd Glover banged the gavel to launch a full agenda Tuesday as the Mineral Wells city council took actions speeding up downtown street work, improving parks and hiring a firm to find applicants to succeed their departing city manager.

The council also agreed to team up with Palo Pinto County in a mass emergency notification system and put off discussions on extending the nighttime hours for alcohol sales until after the holidays.

"This gets everything underway," Ward 3 Councilwoman Beth Watson said, shortly before the panel agreed to cut a large street rebuilding project into two smaller jobs.

Watson and other council members said residents have been asking how long road work under a 2018 bond will continue. The project before them Tuesday will reconstruct several blocks of 14 downtown area roads, and engineers Parkhill Schrickel and Rollins had laid out the work in two street groupings of seven each.

Group A, engineer Sanford LaHue Jr. said, already had been surveyed and was waiting on Group B's survey before both subprojects go out for bids. LaHue said separating the two sets of streets would allow work on Group A to begin in February.

Group A work consists of several blocks each on Northwest Fifth Avenue, Northwest 13th and 15th streets, Northeast 10th Street, Southwest 15th Street and Southwest Fourth Avenue.

City Manager Randy Criswell said reconstruction of the 14 streets will wrap up "all of the construction projects" in the $11.4 million bond, issued in 2018 after voters approved the city debt in 2017.

More infrastructure work separate from the bond package also lies ahead for Mineral Wells. The city received half of its nearly $3.8 million federal earmark under the American Rescue Plan Act in August.

Finance Director Jason Breisch said the other half is expected next August, and the city must obligate the funds on a specific group of approved projects by the end of 2024 and spend them within two years of that.

After discussing eligibility requirements — for instance, open-aired recreation areas like parks are allowed, but an enclosed gymnasium would not be — Criswell asked whether he read the council by members' nods that they wanted staff to look for water system upgrades and parks improvements, including playground equipment.

Place 2 Councilman Glenn Mitchell responded with a motion to that effect, which Watson seconded before unanimous approval.

Full council consent also went to open a zoning door for conversion of a barracks at the old Army Fort Wolters into the city's only dormitory.

Local investor and entrepreneur Randy Nix requested the zoning change, which required the council to first add, dormitory, to its zoning ordinance. Nix and his wife, Misty, who also are principals in restoration of the Crazy Water Hotel and a similar renewal ongoing for the Baker Hotel & Spa, plan to market the dormitory for work crews in town for projects.

The dorm, on just under five acres at 825 Hood Road, would have semi-private rooms and a shared bathroom. It was not immediately clear if there would be separate bathrooms for two-gender work crews.

The council on Tuesday also agreed to join Palo Pinto County in hiring a mass notification company promising to alert residents to a range of dangers, road hazards, missing persons, approaching bad weather and more.

The Hyper-Reach Mass Notification system calls every cell phone pinging off towers in a designated area. Palo Pinto Commissioners agreed to subscribe to the service on Oct. 25, contingent on Mineral Wells also hiring the New York state-based service and splitting the $6,950 annual cost.

Fire/EMS Chief Ryan Dunn, who had pitched the service to the county, told the council the service offers a 24/7 call-back service for people receiving notifications to call and hear a message twice.

He said Parker County also subscribes to Hyper-Reach, which would put the county-straddling city under one system.

Notifications can be specific, such as to warn of approaching wildfires. Notifications can go out for missing elderly people or children as well as for road construction or other hazards.

Dunn said the system would have been ideal for letting residents know where to pick up water that was distributed during the February ice storm.

Information during the Oct. 25 county session indicated the system will be in place by Dec. 1.

Council members who spoke during discussion of allowing businesses alcohol for on-site consumption until 2 a.m. were generally supportive, though each wanted more specifics on potential criminal and public safety issues.

"Every hour past midnight increases the 'drunk hour,'" Police Chief Dean Sullivan told the council, adding such an extension would tax both his staff and that of Fire/EMS Chief Ryan Dunn.

Texas law now allows people to buy a drink in a bar until 1 a.m. Sunday morning. The cutoff can be extended another hour in businesses that have a late-hours permit inside qualified cities or counties.

The chief, who also was named interim city manager last month, said he already has to send two officers on each domestic disturbance call. He did not add, if he had to, that those calls can spike late on a Saturday night.

But Sullivan also acknowledged the city's aspiration as a tourism destination.

"I think for our downtown to be vibrant and for businesses to expand, at some point you're going to have to do it," he said. "We'll be ready, regardless."

Ward 2 Councilman Carlos Maldonado said the council will need to balance public safety with economic development concerns.

"But I'd like to see more information about it," he said.

Place 1 Councilman Brian Shoemaker said he knows people who drive to Weatherford for that city's later last call.

"But that is a safety issue," he said, later adding, "I would like to see this at one point pass. If we truly want to be a tourist destination, we ought to get on the ball."

Criswell added that the late-hours rule would apply to the entire city, not only downtown.

Mayor Regan Johnson said the idea of extended alcohol hours had only recently been introduced.

"No one has said, 'no,' to me," she said. "But I don't know if I'm ready to jump off and (say) let's do this today."

She asked Sullivan and Dunn to look for more specific information and report in a couple of months.

Council members soon agreed to discuss the issue next at their Jan. 18 meeting.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

• Emerged from closed session to choose Strategic Government Resources to recruit the city's next city manager. Criswell is leaving for a similar position in the city of Wofforth in Texas' South Plains. Friday is set to be his last day leading Mineral Wells.

• Agreed to hire the firm of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado and Acosta to guide the city's redistricting process. The company, which Sullivan said handled the city's redrawing of political lines in 2010 and has those records, will charge $8,500 to determine whether populations have shifted enough to require redistricting.

If a redraw is required, the firm will charge $650 an hour. The city has until Jan. 19 to complete the task, and City Clerk Peggy Clifton said special sessions are likely to be needed to meet the deadline.

• Downsized a planned 18-inch water pipeline along U.S. 180 to the city limits to 12 inches. The line will replace lines ranging from one inch to six inches, but Criswell in a previous meeting said the 18-inch capacity was bigger than necessary.

The downsizing will save more than $1 million in materials alone on the 13,800-foot line.

• Approved an interlocal agreement with the Palo Pinto Sheriff's Department that Mineral Wells police will answer 911 calls from Tucks Mobile Home Park and Airport Mobile Home Park, which straddle the city/county border.

"Literally, one of these trailers is split, so if you're in the bedroom it routes to the sheriff and if you're in the living room it routes to us," Sullivan said.

• Agreed to pay employees $107,000 for vacation time they did not take so they could keep working during the COVID pandemic in fiscal 2020. The funds will come from an account Criswell said was set up years ago to cover large workers compensation claims in a trade-off for lower workers comp premiums.

Sullivan said that fund holds $712,000. He also said employees did not have a history of accumulating unused vacation days before the COVID year, and that the one-time payment effects "about 42 employees" in public safety, water and other departments.

• Named Sullivan, Breisch, Public Works Director Scott McKennon, Mayor Pro Tem Doyle Light and Mitchell to a committee evaluating bid packages for the city's residential trash service.

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