Sealy Mayor Janice Whitehead held onto her seat just a few extra minutes Monday night while the city council took a time out to wait for certified election results to come in from the county.
The special meeting was under way when a recess was called to await the arrival of the results from Austin County Election Official Kim Rinn so the election could by canvased and Mayor-elect Carolyn Bilski could be sworn in.
Once the results were in hand, the council confirmed that Bilski beat former mayor Nick Tirey 1,463 to 796 in the special election to replace Whitehead, who moved out of the city. The oath of office was administered by City Secretary Brooke Knoll. Prior to Bilski taking office, Mayor Pro-tem Sandra Vrablec surprised Whitehead with a proclamation honoring her for her years of service to the city.
“I’m going to take a personal privilege to thank all of you for being here. We have such a great city and we have such a great staff and such a great community of people and I’m so honored and blessed to be part of this,” Bilski said. “So many good things. As I said in the newspaper, Sealy’s best days are ahead of us if we all work together, I see so many good things happening.”
Bilski’s first item of action as mayor was a discussion about health insurance for city employees. Human Resources Director Kim Kaiser said a five-person committee of employees evaluated insurance options and were split as to which one to recommend. Kaiser said part of the committee wanted to stay with Entrust because they didn’t want to put employees through the hassle of changing insurers, doctors and prescriptions. Kaiser recommended Blue Cross/Blue Shield because it offered better benefits and and a lower cost increase. She said Entrust would go up 15-17% and BCBS would lock in a two-year rate with a 7.29% increase.
“There will be an increase either way,” she said.
After discussing options and benefits, the council voted to go with BCBS.
The council then went into a lengthy discussion about two variance requests for a proposed subdivision known as Westward Pointe, located east of the Walmart Distribution Center at FM 3013 and Harrison Road. The developer wants a reduction in lot sizes from 60-foot lot width to 55 feet and a minimum lot size of 6,600 square feet.
Mark Janik, land development manager for homebuilder D.R. Horton, said the request was made to allow them to provide amenities such as park land, a walking trail, and also to accommodate the large detention pond that is required.
“It will be four football fields … it’s going to be a huge lake,” he said.
The current proposal calls for 496 homes in the $200,000 price range. Janik estimated it would add $100 million in value to the city. If the variances are not granted, the development would have 50 fewer homes and reduce the value by $10 million.
The council wanted more time to consider it and tabled action until its Dec. 1 meeting. The next item on the agenda was action on the preliminary plat for Westward Pointe. The council was about to table it until City Attorney Tim Kirwin reminded them that the planning commission had already approved it and the council has 30 days by state law from the date of approval to take action, otherwise it moves forward without council input.
Although the representatives had already left the meeting, the council got a project engineer to return and sign a one-sentence request for a 30-day extension to allow the council time to consider the plat at the Dec. 1 meeting.
School parking lot
The council met with Sealy ISD Superintendent Bryan Hallmark, who provided them with a letter saying the gravel parking lot at the football stadium would be paved no later than Aug. 1, 2021. Hallmark said that Hailiang Copper Texas has agreed to pave the lot at no cost to the district but wants to do it when they are pouring concrete at their facility in January or February.
Hallmark said the district wants it done before football season starts in the fall and would do it themselves if for some reason Hailiang doesn’t get it done.
New water meters
Public Works Director Mark Pulos recommended the city change its water meters to a new web-based system that provided more accurate and instant water usage through the cellular system. He said the meters from Badger Meter cost the same as the ones currently used, but are much more reliable, last longer, and broadcast reports every 15 minutes. That would also save the city from having someone go out and read the meters. He said it will also help save the city money in lost water, as leaks accounted for about 20% of the usage in 2019.
Sarah Burson of Badger Meter, a Sealy resident and graduate of Sealy High School, explained to the council how they work. She said the system reports every 15 minutes and is accurate to within a tenth of a gallon. They come with a 20-year warranty and are approved for use in Houston.
Pulos said the meters would be used on all new construction and would be phased in as replacements as old meters are replaced. The council unanimously approved moving forward and asked for him to return with a contract.
In his report to council, City Manager Lloyd Merrell gave an overview of the status of the city’s reserve fund, also called a rainy-day fund. His month by month report began in October 2019 when there were $1.3 million in reserves, enough for 79.8 days of operations. That rose to a high of $2.3 million in February, or enough for 143 days (nearly five months) of operations. As the pandemic hit, the reserves began dropping until they reached a low of $302,185 in October, or enough for 19 days of operation.
Merrell assured the council that the fund would climb again since tax bills were mailed out and revenue is coming in. Council asked that they be provided an update at each meeting until a plan is reached to make sure the city maintains at least a 90-day reserve fund balance.