Law: Don't phone, text in school zone

Four named to new Municipal Development District board
By KEN ESTEN COOKE Reporter Publisher

Hang up that phone and stop texting if you're in a school zone. That's a new state law and it will be the law once schools bells ring around Rockdale ISD campuses.

The council on Monday voted 3-1 (with J.T. Talley abstaining) to adopt the measure with an eye toward the safety of school children entering and exiting vehicles near campuses.

Violators could face up to a $200 fine.

"I think it's a good law and feel like we ought to be paying attention while we're driving, not texting or talking on the cell phone," said Police Chief Thomas Harris.

Harris said drivers may use their cell phones in a school zone if they pull over and park. Provisions also allow for use of a hands-free device.

The city will erect signage to warn drivers of the change in the law.

Supt. Howell Wright was in attendance and said the district welcomes the change.

"Obviously, this provides for a safer school zone," Wright said. "This will also apply to our teachers and staff, including bus drivers."

Traffic around the elementary campus (grades K through 2) should ease considerably with the opening of the intermediate campus. For now, however all one-way street rules apply during posted hours.

Development district

The council also placed four persons on the new Municipal Development District board of directors. The board will consist of four voting directors that live in the district (annexed city properties and one mile beyond the city limits), plus three nonvoting members made up of the city manager and two yet to be named council members.

MDD d irec tors a re: Ma rk Jackson, business consultant; Jim Scott, automotive business owner/operator; Mitul Patel, hotel manager; and Bobby Pelzel, builder and real estate owner.

The four were chosen from a list of 17 potential candidates submitted by directors of the Rockdale Development Board.

"You can't go wrong with any of these members," Shoemake said. "They are a diverse group with a variety of business experiences."

The MDD will be funded by a half-cent sales tax voters narrowly approved in May in the annexed areas and extra-territorial jurisdiction (one mile beyond city limits). The council has the option to raise the number of voting board members to as many as seven in the future.

Budget The council continues to go over budget figures and will likely stay with a proposed 3-cent hike in the tax rate.

The council cut four staf f positions—2 f rom the park s department, 1 from police and 1 librarian—and cut benefits for remaining staffers. The proposed 2010 budget will include a threepercent cost-of-living raise.

"Our healthcare costs continue to rise, even though we've made cuts," Shoemake said. "The staff's package went from a $250 deductible to $1,000 and we cut dental care."

If the city's proposed tax rate of 66 cents is approved, the average homeowner's taxes will rise about $34 this year.

Public hearings on the proposed budget will be held at council chambers at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 19 and 26.

The council also:

• Approved a settlement between Atmos Energy and the city for a 15-cent increase in natural gas prices. The company had sought 54 cents and Rockdale joined more than 50 other municipalities to force a settlement. Average residential gas bill will increase by 15 cents per month.

• Re-voted on some July 13 council agenda items when J.T. Talley was called away to a family emergency and a quorum was not reached. Votes did not change on any of the items, reported in the July 13 Reporter.

• Entered a financial advisory service agreement with Jennifer Douglas of Specialized Public Finance Inc.

• Okayed a Planning and Zoning Commission recommendation to divide a lot owned by Richard Thrasher. A new Dollar General Store location is being planned for the location.

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