New council butts heads over sewer plant decision

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

May 15, 2012 at 12:15 a.m.
Updated May 16, 2012 at 12:16 a.m.

With two new members on board, the Victoria City Council's meeting Tuesday evening started off with a jaw-dropping proposal.

With newcomers Emett Alvarez, who won the District 1 seat from Denise Rangel by three votes, and Josephine Soliz, who won the District 2 seat previously occupied by her son, Gabriel Soliz, the dynamic of the council has changed.

After taking the oath of office, Alvarez asked during council communication for an agenda item at a future meeting to withdraw the city's permit for a sewage treatment plant.

Mayor Will Armstrong, visibly surprised by the suggestion, questioned Alvarez's motives.

"We've gone down a long road ... I know it's been a very controversial thing," Armstrong said.

He said that he, the council, and the community want the issue resolved.

"Delaying tactics of adding things and adding things is counterproductive," the mayor said.

Alvarez settled on requesting that the engineers - Austin-based Camp, Dresser and McKee - give the council a full report on its findings, analysis and selection process.

"I've seen it from a citizen's perspective," Alvarez said. "I'd like to see it from the council's point of view."

He said he "welcomes the opportunity" to learn about the science behind the decision.

Councilman Tom Halepaska agreed to bring the new council members up to speed about the decision and engineering.

"As far as pulling the permit, I believe he (Alvarez) will agree that the answer lies in the engineering and science. The decision is political," Halepaska said.

Councilman and new Mayor Pro Tem David Hagan, who has opposed the plant, urged caution, but said hearing the staff is not making a commitment.

"Let's take it one step at a time," he said.

Councilman Paul Polasek reminded the council that the Texas Commission on Environmental Policy, which grants the permits, accepted the city's application in good order.

"They recommended approval," he said.

While there was dissension on that topic, the remainder of the meeting flowed smoothly.

Soliz said she was nervous at the start of the meeting, but felt confident as it progressed.

The council gave straight 7-0 votes to all agenda items, including the initial approval of a $2 million, five-year phased-in tax abatement for a new company.

Soliz said the abatement "will be a good opportunity for Victoria."

The final vote on the Hlavinka Equipment Co.'s abatement is expected to be at the next council meeting on June 5.

Hlavinka Equipment Co. wants to establish a distribution and service facility in Victoria. The facility "could fill the void created by the discontinued operations of a competitive business, previously located in Edna," a letter to the mayor stated. The Edna business serves Jackson, lower Wharton and Matagorda counties.

Economic Development Corporation President Dale Fowler said the company stands to save $58,000 throughout the abatement, but will pay the city close to $22,000 in ad valorem taxes, taxes the city otherwise might not have collected.

"We're committed to moving forward with this project quickly and we're asking for the support of the city and Council members," General Manager Terry Hlavinka said.

The company estimates starting construction in June, having the project complete by April, and up and running by the second quarter of 2013. By peak employment in 2014, it estimates having 20 full-time jobs.

"There's nothing that we're doing that includes sales tax revenue that their employees will pay, nor the homes they will occupy or new investments these employees will make in our community," Armstrong said. "This is truly a partnership."

The site is 4.37 undeveloped acres on U.S. Highway 59 and John Stockbauer Drive, property owned by its affiliate, Hlavinka Holdings II LLC. The acreage, which is separate from the industrial park, will be added immediately to the tax rolls and will lose its agriculture exemption, Fowler said.

The building and property will continue to be owned by Hlavinka Holdings, and Hlavinka Equipment will pay a monthly rental.

Hlavinka estimates about $2 million in the investment is eligible for abatement, according to its application.

The site in Victoria will be equipped to service and recondition heavy duty farm and construction equipment, and will provide access to areas being developed within the Eagle Ford Shale.

The company is also interested in exporting to Mexico, according to its application.

Their capabilities include engine, transmission, electrical and hydraulic component overhaul and replacement.

Fowler said he was pleased with the vote.

"I believe the council likes bringing new jobs," he said. With two new members on board, and the re-election of Hagan and Polasek, the relationship with EDC will not change, Fowler said.

"They understand the importance of bringing new job opportunities to the citizens of Victoria and creating new tax base - new companies helping pay taxes," he said.



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