Proposed sewage treatment center gets legal funding
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The Victoria City Council made its final vote Tuesday afternoon regarding its proposed sewage treatment plant.
In a 4-3 split vote, the Council approved a $175,000 transfer to cover expenses for the legal dispute over the $20 million proposed project.
Mayor Will Armstrong called the special meeting in an effort to avoid a tie vote at the regular May 1 meeting, when he was out of the country.
"It's been a 4-3 vote from the start," Armstrong said. The transfer is "to present our case because citizens have brought forth a complaint. This is a case that has to be presented and it involves more than lawyers."
Councilman Tom Halepaska made the motion to approve and Councilman Paul Polasek seconded the motion.
Armstrong said he wanted the final vote to be in a meeting with full attendance by the Council members who have shepherded the issue.
The dynamic of the City Council is hinging on the outcome of the May 12 election, which has four contested seats on the ballot.
"We're doing the right thing by presenting experts who are specialists in this field," Armstrong said. "We could put the plant in the middle of Main Street, but that wouldn't be prudent. We're doing what expert engineering recommends."
The transfer moves $175,000 from the water/wastewater fund balance to the professional services line. It is all money that comes from sewer rates, paid not necessarily by taxpayers, but ratepayers, said City Manager Charmelle Garrett.
The April rate increase of $1.05, of which 58 cents goes to the sewer fund, was adopted in August to generate revenue to pay for the proposed plant, she said.
Considering the "magnitude and importance" of the plant, Armstrong said it was vital the city "puts its best foot forward" as the permitting hearing proceeds through the year.
According to city reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the attorney representing the city, Fred B. Werkenthin, Jr., a partner at the Austin-based firm Booth, Ahrens and Werkenthin, charges $278 an hour. Associates go for $215 and legal assistants, $157 an hour.
An estimate of legal fees totals $114,431 and 328 hours of work.
In a letter dated April 9, the engineers Camp, Dresser and McKee, proposed setting a "time and materials" contract at a not-to-exceed upper limit of $50,000.
The proposed site, on the corner of Hand Road and Odem Street in Southeast Victoria, is in District 1, represented by Councilwoman Denise Rangel.
Rangel voted for the transfer.
"Our attorneys are focused in on the daily work of running the city," she said.
She said it is impossible to close the "archaic Willow Street plant" without bringing a new plant online.
Councilmen David Hagan, Gabriel Soliz and Joe Truman voted against the transfer.
Hagan said because the permitting hearings are "a very common process," the city's attorney and staff should address it.
"We'd like to bring in the fanciest O.J. experts," Hagan said.
Soliz made the issue his last vote as a councilman.
"Always vote your conscience," he said.
He said the 30-minute special meeting Tuesday evening was a waste of taxpayer money to keep the city hall office open and staffed.
"The votes themselves aren't anything that bring any conflict to us," Soliz said. "We're all Victorians, we're all in this. It's procedures where it becomes cutthroat."