The city council avoids voting on hot issue items such as the new city council room and the $800,000 loan.
With the election looming, city council approves non-controversial items such as renewing the little league playing field agreement and pay raises for the police department.
Councilwoman Esther Davalos hit with surprise remodel permit fee.
Mayor Mary Ann Obregon addresses the coverage of the March 14th meeting…
THE BENCH IS BACK
At the top of the meeting, Mayor Mary Ann Obregon sought to set the record straight regarding the current absence of a city council meeting room in the new city hall:
“You know, I’ve heard this, I’ve seen this: we did not ‘forget’ about this room at all. We didn’t forget,” Obregon emphasized. “We just overlooked to kind of keep a better eye on that but I’m happy the way it is.”
Though Obregon’s statement runs counter to both off-the-record and on-the-record accounts, her disclaimer asks Dilley residents to know that it was their plan all along to wait until one month before construction was completed to choose between fitting an Americans With Disabilities Act compliant city council platform in a smaller meeting room designated for other purposes, taking up space in the large room of the convention center, or setting up folding tables and folding chairs before and after each meeting.
City Councilwoman Esther Davalos weighed in. “I thought this was going to be a closed room. That’s why we’re going through all this process. But I didn’t know there was going to be an opening where a larger group could come in and look at what’s going on or be there at the meeting.”
City Councilwoman Esmeralda Cano made a motion to “omit any further discussions in reference to the platform at the new convention center.” The motion passed, effectively shielding discussion, decisions, and input from residents.
“Thank you very much council,” said Obregon. “I’m very proud of you tonight.”
COUNCILWOMAN ESTHER DAVALOS CHARGED WITH A SURPRISE PERMIT FEE
As City Councilwoman Esther Davalos freshened up her business exterior with a new paint job, she was asked if she had a permit to make the improvement.
“What are you talking about?” she asked. “For painting a building? Paying a permit fee?” Davalos, who has served on Dilley’s city council for nearly fifteen years, was surprised to learn of the city’s policy.
“I don’t know if I missed that meeting, or what happened,” Davalos said. “But they had upped the rates on getting a permit. I thought it was a $3 fee.”
The $3 fee referenced by Davalos can be found in Ordinance 15-04-14. Exterior improvements valued from $1 to $999 pay a $3 fee to the city according to the outdated ordinance. The new fee, she was told, was over $23. Any minor improvements or repairs done to an exterior in Dilley- even as small as a window repair or trim replacement- would subject the property owner to a $23 fee to the City of Dilley.
However, the day after the city council meeting, efforts to track down when and how the fee was increased were unsuccessful. The outdated $3 fee ordinance was passed on April 14th, 2015. However, in a previous Freedom of Information Act request for copies of all minutes from 2015, the document for the April 14th, 2015 meeting was left out.
Furthermore, a survey of all meeting agendas after that day show no apparent items that would increase the fee. It is possible that the fee increase was tucked into a seemingly unrelated item- for instance, the $3 repair/remodel fee was part of a gas, water, and sewer rate ordinance.
The day after the meeting, the city manager, city secretary, and city finance administrator were all out-of-the-office, and the general clerks do not have access to the minutes, ordinances, or fee table. Davalos expects the item to be on the agenda for the next city council meeting.
Mayoral candidate Gilbert Ortiz and City Council challenger Sabino Mena were present at the meeting. Ortiz was incredulous. “In only two years they raised the fee from $3 to $23 for minor improvements? They congratulate themselves for keeping the property tax the same, but in less than two years they raise this fee- it’s nothing but a hidden tax,” Ortiz said about the nearly 700% increase in the permit fee for minor repairs. “If I want to maintain my property, they say I have to pay them. This is why we need a change.”
The most crucial item on the March 28th agenda was the $800,000 loan that was first discussed in the city council meeting two weeks prior. According to the most recently available city audit, Dilley already carries $9.4 million of bonded debt. The new loan was scheduled for open session, but the city invoked “personal privilege” to move into private executive session- a lost opportunity for Dilley residents to get a clearer understanding of the city’s financial situation.
When the city council reconvened in open session, the loan agenda item was tabled without explanation, the second such occurrence in four months.
In October, Mayoral candidate Gilbert Ortiz attempted to petition the City of Dilley’s proposed certificates of obligation loan to city-wide vote, which would force the city to defend a $3 million dollar addition of debt to a $9.4 million dollar balance. Despite Ortiz’s effort, the City of Dilley passed the multi-million dollar loan at the October 25, 2016 meeting. However, in a turn of events, Mayoral candidate Gilbert Ortiz discovered a legal discrepancy in the proceedings, and the city had to start the process over. On November 17th, the City of Dilley advertised in the Frio-Nueces Current another meeting to be held on November 28th to issue the $3 million dollars of certificates. When the November 28th meeting rolled around, the certificates of obligation did not appear on the agenda, and no explanation was given during subsequent council meetings. Though the city’s official explanation is that the bank did not issue the loan, the ordinance approving the certificates of obligation was never repealed.
–written by Jose Asuncion.
Jose received an MFA from University of Southern California in 2008, a BA from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003, and is a former writer/photographer for the Frio-Nueces Current of South Texas. He currently lives in Dilley, TX, home of his grandparents.