Roving Reporter | "Council Meeting Upbeat and Hopeful" by Jeanette Larson

Crowd gathers for Council meeting
The Rockport City Council held its regular meeting at the Rockport Service Center on Tuesday, September 12, 2017. The regular agenda began with quick approval for five Hurricane Harvey disaster declarations, covering August 23-September 27. While the governor can declare disasters for a thirty day period, a mayor must do the declarations in seven day increments.

The Council held the second public hearing on the 2017 Property Tax Rate. A local realtor asked about reassessment of property post-Harvey. Mayor Wax explained that the certified tax rolls are provided by the Aransas County Appraisal District (CAD) in July. These rolls apply through 2017. In January the CAD will begin the reappraisal process and it is anticipated that Rockport's (and the County) tax rolls will decrease by 35-45%. If the current tax rate remains the same for 2018-2019, income will seriously decrease. Council will begin discussions on the impact and the 2018 tax rate in January. Wax assured the audience that the City is seeking additional sources of revenue, including federal and state grants. Wax also noted that the City maintains a reserve that would allow Rockport to operate for 147 days "without any impact on services." The City is also working to encourage and assist businesses to re-open, bringing in sales tax and hotel occupancy taxes. The City is documenting all work, including volunteer work, to submit to FEMA and other federal agencies to recoup the costs of cleanup and recovery.

The main part of the meeting included department disaster reports. Public Works reported that two staff are now on-call after hours to handle emergencies. It was explained that the boil water notice is in effect until testing is completed on 28 water supply sites. Although there has been no contamination of the water, the City must wait until the chlorine levels are correct. Mayor Wax stated that the water is safe for washing clothes and dishes, pets, and cooking. He stated that the water "won't hurt us" but the city is required to keep the boil order notice in place until the testing is completed. [NOTE: The boil water advisory was lifted on 9/13/17 around 4:00 p.m.]

All 22 sewer lift stations are operational but there are still some sewer overflows. Natural gas was never turned off but there are multiple breaks and leaks. If a leak was discovered during inspections gas was turned off and residents need to call for service to be restored. Residents may need to have some damage repaired by a plumber before service can be restored. Questions concerning Public Works (water, gas, sewers) can be directed to the City of Rockport’s Water Department at 361-790-1160 during normal business hours. If there is an emergency, please call 361-729-1111 or 729-2222.

Realtor Amelia Lopez Saltarelli addressed
Council about affordable housing
The Police chief reported that Corpus Christi Police Department has been helping Rockport. They sent enough officers to allow for two-office patrol units to be on the streets. Help includes bike patrols going into areas like Key Allegro that have tight streets. The chief asked residents to call the non-emergency number, 361-790-1101, to report suspicious activity and other problems. Chief Jayroe mentioned that several scammers and unregistered contractors have been "asked to leave" Rockport. If possible, get photos and license plates to help the police catch unscrupulous people who are taking advantage of the disaster.

Rick Martinez, director of the Parks Department, reported that his staff had been working "other duties, as assigned" helping to clear the roads and streets. All of the city's parks took massive hits in the storm. Crews from other cities have been in town helping to clear debris out of Memorial Park and the Aquatic Center. Martinez reported that they are still assessing all of the smaller parks but it appears that the playscapes in Memorial Park and the new bathrooms held up well. Parks staff continue the clean up and are working to get part of Memorial Park and the Aquatic Center open as soon as possible.

IT and other departments reported on their work. The IT department arranged for service at the auxiliary offices in Bastrop so that they could handle over 4,500 calls in less than a week. The Municipal Court has been displaced but court is being held at Dr. Maroney's former office, 1202 FM 3036. Dockets have been rescheduled and tickets are being re-issued, as needed. Anyone with questions can stop in for assistance.

Marine's volunteer for Rockport

The City Manager reported that the roof at City Hall was compromised and there is water damage. The building will need to be gutted and they are assessing whether it can be rebuilt. Various departments regularly housed in City Hall are being dispersed around the city. Kevin Carruth reported that the city has received help and support from across the country. Carruth applauded the city staff, many of whom remained to secure city property and assist residents even when it meant leaving their own property to be destroyed.

The final item on the regular agenda was a discussion and action on the Hurricane Harvey recovery action plan.
  • The city is working to remove debris so that water and gas meters can be accessed. Staff recommended that those with working water and gas be billed at the minimum amount for two billing cycles. New meters, previously approved, are being installed. After the new meters are in, a base reading will be taken before resuming use charges. FEMA will reimburse the city for lost revenue. 
  • Residents are not responsible for water lost through broken lines and meters. If your building was destroyed or demolished, the city probably already knows from inspections that you no longer need service. Call 361-790-1160 or stop in at the Service Center to ensure you are not being billed for service you are no longer receiving. 
  • RVs will be allowed on home and business sites that are being rebuilt. Owners be able to live in their RV on their property for up to 12 months with possible extension. 
  • Rebuilding requires a building permit. Modular building or replacement of mobile homes is allowed but please visit the Building Department to ensure you have the latest flood plain and building requirements. If a building is 50% compromised it must be rebuilt to the new standards. If there had been an existing, non-conforming structure, all reconstruction must meet current building codes. 
  • Allowances will be made to regulations dealing with the historic district. A process will be developed for rebuilding in that area.

The Mayor applauded the employees, who all have performed "yeoman's service" and continue to do so in between rebuilding their own lives. He also asked that those who can, feed hummingbirds. They didn't get the memo that the HummerBird Celebration had to be cancelled. Wax also announced that the Birds in Art exhibit, previously scheduled to be at the Rockport Center for the Arts during HummerBird Celebration, will be hosted at the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi. Art Center director, Luis Purón added that Rockport Center of the Arts members may visit the exhibit at no charge. Wax further announced that Seafaire, the Rockport Film Festival, and Tropical Christmas will be held as scheduled, helping the town return to normalcy.

Councilman Pat Rios asked for the public's help in reporting those who dump trash along our roads and highways. Contractors are picking up loads and then dumping them rather than taking them to the landfills in Corpus Christi. Get photos of the trucks and license plates if possible and call the police. Prior to retiring for an executive session, Councilwoman Gurtner thanked the hundreds of volunteers who have been in town and introduced a team of volunteers. A dozen Marines from Camp Pendelton, CA had paid their own way to come work helping Rockport rebuild.

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