Men's Breakfast Report, September 2011

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, September 10th with Norma Garcia, Freeport Mayor.  Norma works for Justice of the Peace Millan.  She specializes in working with juveniles and especially works to keep them in school and graduating.  She started getting involved with the city when she moved here several years ago.  Her first action with the city was with a clean-up day.  She borrowed a pickup truck and went down alleys picking up trash and delivered several truckloads to the collection center.  As a result of her work she was asked to serve on city committees and then the Economic Development Commission.  She served on the commission for several years until she was removed by a previous administration.  She served three terms on the council before being elected mayor in the last election. 

Many different aspects of the city were briefly discussed.  One topic was the progress of the Urban Renewal District.  Wallace Shaw said that there were four lots left and that the City would go into eminent domain proceedings.  He said that one of the lots had about fifty heirs that could not be found, and that taxes had not been paid for ten years.   Notification would have to be by publication.  He was asked why the lot was not acquired by tax sale.  He said that the tax attorneys are paid fifteen percent of the value of the property.  Since the value of these lots is only a couple hundred dollars, it is not worth the attorney’s time to pursue these cases. 

Norma talked about the revitalization of the downtown.  She said that some progress is being made in that a couple of businesses are being opened.  She said that many of the downtown buildings are being used as residences and that she is trying to get them to be converted to businesses.  The marina has not yet provided much traffic to the downtown even though it is becoming occupied by both power and sail boats. 

The group discussed street renovation.  Some streets are being torn up and resurfaced although some other streets appear to be in worse shape.  The street resurfacing is being done by the county as part of the interlocal agreements, as explained by Winston Rossow, who works for the county in Precinct One.  The county repaves about two miles each year in each of the cities.  The county has entire responsibility for streets in unincorporated areas of the county.  Because city residents pay a large share of the county taxes, paving city streets is a way for city residents to get a return on their tax money.   The choice of which streets to pave is made well in advance so priorities may not appear appropriate when the work is actually done. 

The drought has caused problems for the city.  Many people have slabs that are cracking or shifting.  The main problem for the city is broken water mains.  The utilities department is repairing them as fast as they can, but is falling behind.  Even the police are helping by reporting any broken mains that they find that are not marked by a cone.  Once the utility department finds a broken main, it is marked with a traffic cone until the utility department can repair it.   One person showed some initiative about a leak near his yard.  He bought a pump and pumped the leaking water onto his yard to water his grass.  He asked that the city repair other leaks before his leak. 

The city is planning to sell annual passes to Bryan Beach for ten dollars.  These would be sold through a kiosk, at city hall and possibly by some merchants.  Many people do not want to pay for the privilege of using the beach.  Norma said that the beach should pay for itself.  The extra revenue will allow more frequent cleanup and provision for restrooms.  It may also reduce the number of careless people who cause most of the problems at the beach. 

The industrial district contracts were also discussed.  Every city tries to bargain for the highest percentage of the revenue that it can get.  This depends on population and how much of the plant is in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.  All the cities, including Freeport, think that they are being shortchanged.  This led to a discussion of the strange boundaries of the cities.  In 1962 state law was changed, giving cities almost unlimited power to annex property.  Lake Jackson took immediate advantage of this law, the day it went into effect.  Lake Jackson annexed a ten foot wide strip all around plant B, putting it entirely within its extraterritorial jurisdiction.  Freeport then retaliated by annexing the world by running ten foot annexations throughout the county so that other cities could not expand.  State law was subsequently changed to prevent this kind of activity and these strip annexations are of dubious legality.  However, no one has taken on the expense and risk of challenging them in court, so they still stand. 

Norma was asked “what was the most surprising thing she found on becoming mayor”.  She said it was how much everything was costing.  The mayor has to countersign the checks that the city sends out as a check on the City Manager.  One thing that she noted is that the city is paying $30,000 a year for a janitorial service that provides one part-time janitor to the city hall.  The janitor is making much less than $30,000 so Norma thinks that the city can do much better. 

The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be Saturday, October 8th with Ronnie Barnes, principal of Brazosport High School, as featured guest.