City demo project set to resume

Extra appeal step clears path to raze eyesores

Rockdale city council members are ready to get the city back into the business of demolishing “unsafe or dilapidated” structures.

Meeting in regular session Monday at City Hall, the council gave first-reading approval to an ordinance designed to start the wrecking ball rolling on as many as 40 old structures throughout the city.

Second-reading approval is expected in a Thursday special session. The demolition program was suspended in April after a Texas Supreme Court decision involving a Dallas case.

Also Monday, the council hired an engineering firm for the city’s new water tower, denied a natural gas rate increase for Atmos Energy and okayed possible sale of wastewater, a new market which could result in up to $200,000 annual revenue for the city.

DEMOLITION—Rockdale, along with many municipalities, suspended its building demolition program after the Texas Supreme Court awarded a Dallas woman $75,000 in compensation after that city demolished her house.

Rockdale City Manager Kelvin Knauf said the court ruled “due process” had not been followed.

At the time Rockdale suspended its program, 27 dilapidated structures had been demolished, 19 more were in various stages of a legal pipeline and 35 to 40 more were on a list for possible action.

On Monday, Knauf presented a new ordinance, prepared by City Attorney Michelle Lehmkuhl, designed to satisfy the court’s due process concerns.

It creates a new appeal process, directly to the city council, after the Building Standards Commission orders a property repaired or demolished.

After the council has made its decision there would be a 30- day window during which the property owner could appeal to district court.

NEW TOWER—The council okayed a $218,204 contract with Freese & Nichols Inc. of Austin for engineering services on the city’s new water tower.

In an earlier meeting the council had instructed Knauf to negotiate with Freese & Nichols, the low-bidder on the project.

Knauf said engineering fees traditionally represent about 12 to 15 percent of project cost and the $218,204 figure represents 12.4 percent.

JUST SAY ‘NO’—Rockdale joined the growing list of municipalities to reject a proposed rate increase by Atmos Energy.

Rockdale is part of a coalition of cities which will argue against the rate increase in front of the Texas Railroad Commission, which will make the final decision.

Knauf said the proposed increase would be 11.6 percent for residential customers but the coalition will argue Atmos’s dataindicates a rate deduction, rather than an increase, is in order.

EFFLUENT—The council okayed a $2,194 annual option with Alpha Reclaim Technology of Bryan to purchase eff luent (treated wastewater) for use in oil well “fracking.”

Raymond Scott of Alpha, who was present, said the oil industry is turning to use of wastewater as a way to avoid using fresh water, which is increasingly becoming a commodity in Texas.

He said if Alpha purchases all of Rockdale’s effluent during the next year, estimated revenue for the city would be $219,000.

In other business, the council:

• Decided to ask the Planning & Zoning Commission to prepare an ordinance regulating recreational vehicles.

• Discussed the city public works department efficiency. David Akin, Public Works Director, said the department suffers from a lack of manpower and often is a training ground for persons to learn skills, then move on to higher-paying jobs. “We are stretched so thin,” he said. “We do what we can with what we have.”

• Heard council visitors Robin James and Judy Slusher ask that the council give law enforcement “more tools” to fight animal abuse and cited what they said were instances of dog abuse.

• Accepted 2012 street projects, totaling just under $50,000.

• Heard an update on Texas Street rehabilitation. Milam County has provided base material for the project. The street serves Rising Star Baptist Church.

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