News And People

Volume 14, Issue 7 - Friday, February 19, 2016
Attorney general opinion studys A&M housing P3's tax exemption
Question of ownership considered, P3s likely to remain tax-exempt 

Officials with the Texas A&M University System have committed their school to public-private partnerships (P3s) more than any other school in the state over the past few years. The system has entered into agreements on five public-private partnerships at its College Station campus alone, according to Chancellor John Sharp. The two most recent deals were for student housing projects financed through P3s, one now under construction and the other already opened and serving as a home for more than 1,200 students.

Those two dormitories were the subject of a letter sent by Brazos County Attorney Rodney Anderson last fall to Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting an opinion as to their tax status. The Brazos County Appraisal District (BCAD) had requested that Anderson's office seek the opinion because, though the A&M System owns the land on which the dorms are built, its private partner owns "the improvements," that is, the buildings themselves.

If a private company owns the structures, but a public entity owns the land, are property taxes owed? A second question revolved around the fact that the agreement allows for the possibility that students or employees of Blinn College might live in the housing facilities. The question is whether or not that violates the terms of what qualifies a property for a tax exemption. Still another question regarded the fact that one of the P3 agreements seemed to leave space for student, faculty or staff members living in the facilities to sublet the residences to individuals who are neither students nor employees of the university. Would that mean that the facility was no longer "used exclusively for public purposes," as the State Tax Code requires?

Anderson's request explained that the BCAD's concern was that the two housing facilities "will be in competition with private housing projects that do not enjoy tax-exempt status, and when those private projects compete against tax-exempt projects they are at a competitive disadvantage."

Paxton this week issued his opinion on the issues. He first made clear to say that the attorney general's office could not definitively rule on this matter, per se, because it would be "beyond the purview of an attorney general opinion to construe particular agreements or determine whether particular property is tax-exempt." The attorney general did, however, offer what the opinion called "general legal advice applicable to your questions."

That bit of legal parsing out of the way, the attorney general's opinion implied that the partnership would likely remain tax-exempt.

San Antonio's visitors bureau may become private nonprofit
San Antonio City Council members voted yesterday to take a step toward making the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) a nonprofit organization. The move is designed to give the bureau, which is currently a municipal agency, more options in terms of its ability to raise funds.

Bureau officials note that its budget has been flat in recent years, increasing only from $19.6 million to $20.4 million between 2011 and 2015. According to CVB staff, similar organizations in Dallas and Houston, which are not operated as departments within their city governments, had budgets of $30.6 million and $27.6 million, respectively, in 2015.

"This route will afford us more flexibility to look at new funding sources," said CVB Executive Director Casandra Matej (pictured).
Texas A&M approves $40 million for satellite campus in McAllen
Regents for the Texas A&M University System recently allotted $40 million for a new 60,000-square-foot building to serve as a satellite campus in McAllen. Students taking courses at the school's McAllen campus would receive a diploma from the flagship campus in College Station, noted Michael Young, president of Texas A&M.

Plans call for the multi-purpose academic building to be located in a recently annexed development north of the city. The facility is designed to include classrooms, laboratories and staff offices. It should open by the fall of 2017.

A&M officials also plan to continue negotiations with city leaders in McAllen as part of a 2015 agreement in which the city and Hidalgo County partnered to provide 100 acres in the Tres Lagos area to the system. They also pledged $10 million in bonds to move forward with basic infrastructure and utilities projects in order to make ready for the construction program. Remaining funding will come from the A&M System's share of the state's Permanent University Fund.

Allen's $93 million May bond election leaves room for P3
Allen City Council members recently agreed to schedule a $93.15 million bond election in May to pay for a recreation center, a new fire station, a firearms training center and other capital projects.

The proposal contains five categories of projects, with $27 million allotted to parks and recreation projects. The second largest amount, $24.4 million, would be used for public safety projects if voters approve the bonds. The proposal also sets aside $23.89 million for upgrades to streets, $16 million for expanding and improving the public library and $1.77 million for public art projects.

City officials also have discussed opening the proposed firearms training center to the public and the possibility of using a public-private partnership (P3) to develop the project.
Corpus Christi planning group unveils 290-mile bike network
A Corpus Christi Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) official recently unveiled plans for a 290-mile bicycle trail network connecting off-road trails with bike paths. The trail network will provide access to major parts of the city and portions of Calallen and Padre Island.

Using public feedback, public data and frequent site visits allowed the planners to plot a continuous bike network to increase access to schools, grocers, recreational attractions and other frequently visited areas, said Jeff Pollack (pictured), transportation planning director of the Corpus Christi MPO. The network is continuous with no dead ends, he said.

Building the bike network essentially by constructing wider sidewalks painted to indicate where bicyclists can ride rather than making room for traditional bike lanes on city streets can save the city as much as $500,000 per mile, Pollack said. He also said the network would be within a two-to five-minute bicycle ride from almost all residential developments in the city.

Strategic Partnerships salutes Texas' Lone Stars
Karin Hill, Director of Internal Audit, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services

Career highlights and education: I earned my degree from Park College in management and accounting while serving nine years in the U.S. Air Force as a ground navigation repair technician and a management and cost analyst. After separating from the Air Force in 1992, I started my career with the state of Texas as an internal auditor for the Commission for the Blind and completed my MBA at Southwest Texas State University. I was appointed the director of Internal Audit for the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) in 2001, which was consolidated into the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in 2011, and was hired as the director of Internal Audit for the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) in 2012.

What I like best about my job is: Learning about the different programs and processes in the agency and assisting management by ensuring processes are effective in providing the best services to consumers and remaining accountable.

The best advice I've received for my current job is: Don't hide behind independence. Yes, there are things you can't do and remain independent, but there are many you can do. Find a way to provide management with the services they need.

Advice you would give a new hire in your office: Make it your top priority to listen. By doing so, you will be better positioned to add value.

If I ever decided to leave work early, I could probably be found: Taking pictures or working on my photography.

People would be surprised to know that I: I grow orchids. I have about a dozen of them and usually have at least one of them in bloom at any given time.

One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: DARS staff members are incredibly dedicated to the mission of the agency and, as a matter of routine, go the extra mile to help improve the lives of Texans with disabilities.

Burkburnett City Council moving forward with new police facility
Burkburnett City Council members recently agreed to begin negotiating for two properties that could serve as possible sites for a new police facility. Council members also scheduled a special meeting to discuss issuing certificates of obligation rather than calling for a bond election to pay for the new police headquarters.

After conducting an assessment of city facilities, officials agreed that the police department's 75-year-old facility was in the most need of upgrades or replacement, City Manager Mike Whaley (pictured) said. Further study indicated that building a new police facility would cost between $4.6 million and $4.8 million.
Cameron County taking public input on second causeway project
Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (CCRMA) officials recently began holding a series of industry outreach meetings as part of their proposal to build a second causeway that will add another point of access to South Padre Island.

Authority officials are working with the Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration on the Second Access Project and its three components - the mainland highway, a bridge crossing over the Laguna Madre and a roadway on the island - said Michelle Lopez, director of marketing and communications for the CCRMA. The results of an environmental study should be completed by this fall, she added.

A second access to Padre Island could encourage more growth, improve safety and help when evacuations are needed, Lopez said. She also encouraged developers to attend the first meeting, which is scheduled for March 1.

Amarillo initiative to address five areas needing improvement
Amarillo city officials recently appointed five city staff members each to work on projects pertaining to one of five issues designated by a new council plan, "Blueprint for Amarillo."

The problems designated by council to address are: disadvantaged areas, developing youth athletic programs, upgrading infrastructure, upgrades to community appearance and the redevelopment of downtown. Plans call for one city staff member to oversee efforts to manage aging infrastructure by focusing on maintenance, expansion and funding, according to Bob Cowell (pictured), the assistant city manager. The goal of maintaining a clean and safe community will be addressed by another city employee, who will closely examine rights of way, parks and facilities.

The ultimate goals are finishing projects already underway, attracting private investment in the downtown area and beginning the exploration of the next phase of improving the downtown area, Cowell said. One of the current projects, a convention center hotel, should be completed in mid-2017, he said.
Judson ISD schedules May bond election; requests $265 million
Judson Independent School District trustees recently agreed to seek voter approval in May for $265 million in bonds. That total will be separated into four proposals.

The first and largest proposition is for $135.8 million to renovate and upgrade existing campuses, including $72.7 million to go toward architectural needs, $8.89 million for roofing and $2.9 million for electrical work. Proposition 2 is asking for $73 million to build two new elementary schools.

Proposition 3 seeks approval of $51.6 million to build a new educational wing, performing arts center and athletic field upgrades at Mackey High School. Proposition 4, worth $5.2 million, would be used to renovate a middle school damaged in a 2012 fire.

Weslaco to ask voters to approve $109 million in May bond election
Weslaco Independent School District board members recently agreed to call a $109 million bond election in May.

If approved, the bond funds will be used to repair and rebuild district facilities, said Superintendent Ruben Alejandro (pictured). The highest priority project, he said, is repairing an elementary school that flooded in October.

District officials also plan to build "mini-gyms" at all elementary campuses and a campus to house the career and technology early college high school. Several roofing projects also are on the agenda, Alejandro said.
Denison exploring use of HUD funds to repair infrastructure
Denison city officials recently began exploring the feasibility of using funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to pay for infrastructure upgrades in low- and moderate-income areas neighborhoods. City officials usually receive about $310,000 from HUD each year, which has been intended for emergency repairs to homes in those neighborhoods.

Members of a steering committee suggested the changes after learning that the city often has leftover grant funding because the program usually allows repairs totaling only $5,000. Few contractors are willing to do repairs or replace HVAC systems for that amount, said Gabe Reaume, the director of development services.

The proposal calls for the city to reserve about $75,000 to assist in emergency repairs and use excess funding to pay for improvements to the water and sewer systems and streets in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, Reaume said.
  
Rio Grande Valley regional planning groups talking merger
Three regional planning organizations in the Rio Grande Valley have begun talks on merging into one larger group to attract more funding to the area. Brownsville, Hidalgo County and Harlingen-San Benito now have their own, separate metropolitan planning organizations. Supporters of the plan cite the potential to receive significantly more funding if the three planning organizations were to combine their efforts.

The South Texas region receives about 1 or 2 percent of the available state funding, according to David Garza, a Cameron County commissioner, while the state's four largest areas - Austin, Houston, San Antonio and the Dallas/Fort Worth area - get about 50 percent of that funding. Having one voice at the state level could result in more funding equity, Garza said. Representatives from the three planning organizations expect to meet again in the next two months to discuss further a possible merger, he said.
Round Rock allots $18 million for transportation improvements
As part of its Transportation Capital Improvement Program, the Round Rock City Council recently approved $18 million worth of transportation projects.

Council directed $1 million to study a part of the corridor from Gattis School Road and an additional $482,439 for an engineering contract to design the project. Council also approved $500,000 to pay for engineering work to close a gap on the frontage road on Texas 45 near Pflugerville to improve traffic flow.

A joint project with the county to survey and conduct road alignment studies along Kenney Fort Boulevard received $1.5 million. The county will refund the city's expenditure on the project, or city officials could decide to add the county's $1.5 million to the project for a total of $3 million, said Gary Hudder, the transportation director.
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Oak Ridge North approves joint TIRZ with Montgomery County
Oak Ridge North City Council members recently approved an agreement to join with Montgomery County to create a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) in and around the city.

Montgomery County commissioners are expected to vote on the agreement Feb. 23. The goal is to attract more commercial development in Oak Ridge North and the extraterritorial jurisdiction east of the city by improving its infrastructure, said City Manager Vicky Rudy (pictured).

The agreement calls for the county to invest three-fourths of the property taxes it collects within the proposed TIRZ to help fund infrastructure projects with the city investing one-fourth of the taxes it collects. Among the proposed projects are extending Robinson Road to the frontage roads of Interstate 45.
Frisco to contribute $12.4 million to Main Street utility lines project
Frisco City Council members recently signed an agreement with Brazos Electric to pay a portion of the costs of burying a proposed transmission line along Main Street. Current estimates are that the price of burying the 2.3-mile utility line is $24.4 million. The agreement caps the amount to be paid by the city at $12.4 million.

City officials filed the settlement stipulation with the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) following several months of negotiations between the city, the utility and the PUC, which will consider approval of the request at a meeting March 3 in Austin. Work on the new transmission line should begin about 15 months after the PUC issues a final order, and the project should be completed in about 39 months after that.
Calendar of Events

March P3 Conference will bring together public, private sectors 
March 7-9, 2016
The annual Public-Private Conference and Expo, one of the largest gatherings of development professionals in the country, will be held March 7-9 at the Sheraton Hotel in Dallas. The annual event attracts more than 1,000 development professionals and government leaders for an educational conference to discuss public-private partnerships (P3s). The three-day conference will feature discussions on the state of the P3 industry in the United States and will highlight the various types of P3s under way. Speakers will discuss the many elements of P3 structures currently in use and how to evaluate their merits and risks. More than 125 leading public agency officials and industry practitioners will share their firsthand experiences and observations regarding P3 projects throughout the country. Billed as one of the premier conferences for collaboration between public officials and private industry that are considering, developing and operating P3s, the conference will emphasize both the challenges and advantages of the P3 concept. More information is available here.

LBJ School offers Construction Purchasing Certificate Program
March 7, 2016
Buyers, contract administrators and project managers interested in earning a construction purchasing certificate can do so through The University of Texas at Austin's LBJ School of Public Affairs. The program aids in understanding and using new terms, remaining compliant with unfamiliar laws, developing control plans and schedules and staying on budget. The LBJ School's Construction Purchasing Certificate Program consists of four core courses and one elective to be completed over a period of two years. The goal of this certificate program is to provide participants with the skills and knowledge to ensure that their organization's construction projects are well managed and secure the intended results and value. The courses are complementary in nature, and each course repeats annually. The next available course is Project and Construction Management and will be held March 7-8, 2016. Registration is open.

State agencies to host 4th annual HUB vendor expo in Austin
April 7, 2016
The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, Texas Historical Commission, State Office of Court Administration, Texas Education Agency, General Land Office and Texas Workforce Commission will host the 4th annual HUB vendor Fair April 7 at the J.J. Pickle Commons Learning Center in Austin. The event will provide information to strengthen HUB (Historically Underutilized Business) businesses, including marketing the business. There will be one-on-one meetings with state agencies, universities and prime vendors in construction and information technology. State agencies and universities will be exhibiting. Workshops will include "Teaming for Success," "TPASS DIR" and one specifically for veteran-owned businesses. The event and parking is free of charge. For more information please contact Fred Snell.

Technology firms scramble to keep pace with education demands 

By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.

University classrooms are morphing into places most alumni would find strange. The days of traditional half-moon-shaped lecture halls with stadium-style seating for students is no longer in vogue. Students in today's digital world demand much more.

Sophisticated tech-savvy students want and expect unblemished, easy access to digital devices in classrooms and they want lots of technology. They prefer to learn through interaction with other students and they prefer instructors who encourage collaboration and creativity.




Houston ISD names CFO Ken Huewitt interim superintendent
The Houston Independent School District Board of Education this week named Ken Huewitt as interim superintendent of the state's largest school district. Huewitt is the district's chief financial officer (CFO) and a deputy superintendent.

HISD trustees have begun their search for a permanent replacement for Superintendent Terry Grier, who will resign from the position at the end of this month after almost seven years on the job. Huewitt will take on the interim title March 1.

Huewitt spent 11 years as the HISD controller and was named CFO and deputy superintendent in July 2015.
Abbott appoints new senior staff members
Gov. Greg Abbott recently appointed six new senior staff members to replace staffers who have left those positions.

The governor selected Constance Allison, previously the deputy policy director, as his director of policy and Ky Ash, previously the deputy budget director, as the new budget director. He also named former Senior Advisor Reed Clay as deputy chief of staff and Drew DeBerry, previously the policy director, as director of budget and policy.

Also receiving promotions were Deputy Outreach Director Ben Taylor, who was named outreach director, and Deputy Appointments Director David Whitley, who will assume the duties of director of appointments, effective March 14.

Belew new TEA deputy commissioner for finance
Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath recently named Kara Belew (pictured) as the deputy commissioner of finance for the agency. Her duties include overseeing the Permanent School Fund, school finance and agency finance.

Previously the director of financial accountability and a senior education adviser to former Gov. Rick Perry, Belew most recently was statewide budget director for Gov. Greg Abbott. She also worked as a certified public accountant at a private accounting firm and served a two-year clerkship with the Texas Supreme Court.

Belew has a bachelor's degree from Southern Methodist University and a law degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

Pflugerville names Amy Madison director of community development
Pflugerville city officials recently selected Amy Madison (pictured) as the executive director of the Pflugerville Community Development Corporation. She has served as interim executive director since July 2015, when her predecessor, Floyd Akers, resigned.

Madison previously served six years as chief executive officer of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, an economic development organization serving seven cities in Hays and Caldwell counties.

She has a bachelor's degree from Phillips University and a master's degree from the University of Oklahoma.

Boerne schedules $175M May school bond election
Boerne Independent School District trustees recently called a $175 million bond election to be held May 7.

Trustees plan to use the bond funding to build two new elementary schools and a middle school, improve technology and security and renovate several additional schools.

TWDB approves funding for five water projects
The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) this week approved financial assistance totaling $81.2 million for water and wastewater system improvements, a water supply project and a water reuse project.

The largest funding amount, $65.75 million, went to the city of Houston for wastewater system improvements. The project will replace 650,000 feet of pipeline throughout the city. The TWDB also approved $11 million in financing to the North Fort Bend Regional Water Authority. The authority will use the loan to help build the Grand Lakes Reclaimed Water System, which will treat effluent and distribute the water for irrigation purposes.
McKinstry

La Vernia ISD voters to determine fate of $33M bond package in May
La Vernia Independent School District board members recently scheduled a $33.2 million bond election for May.

If approved, the bond funds will be used to renovate existing buildings and construct new facilities to serve a growing enrollment, said Superintendent Jose Moreno (pictured). District officials plan to provide more information about the projects to taxpayers before the vote in May, Moreno said.

San Patricio County EDC names Foster Edwards as executive director
San Patricio County Economic Development Corporation officials recently named Foster Edwards (pictured) as executive director. He replaced Lynn Spencer, who left that post in mid-2015.

Edwards resigned in December 2015 as president and chief executive officer of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce after more than six years in that post.
LeFleur Transportation

Thorndale ISD names Ivy its superintendent finalist
Members of the Thorndale ISD Board of Trustees have named Adam Ivy (pictured) as the lone finalist for the position of superintendent.

Ivy currently serves as a high school principal and assistant superintendent in Latexo ISD in East Texas. He began his career as a teacher and coach in Katy ISD, served as assistant principal in Buffalo, Hudson and Central, before serving as principal in Central and Latexo ISDs.
Cisco

Pawelek named finalist for Falls City ISD superintendent position
Todd Pawelek recently won selection as the lone finalist for superintendent for Falls City Independent School District. He currently serves as the principal of the high school in Poth ISD.

Rusk ISD calls $7.5 million bond election
Rusk ISD School Board members have called a $7.5 million bond election to be held May 7. "The board has been working on long-range facility plans, and this has been in the works. It's not something done on the spur of the moment," said Lesa Jones, the district's assistant superintendent of finance and operations.

The bond funding would pay for the replacement of HVAC systems and roofing at four campuses. In addition, the package would include money for the renovation of vocational facilities at the high school and a new multipurpose facility. They would begin construction in the fall and be completed in time for the 2017-2018 school year.
Northrop Grumman

Worth named associate superintendent for Lubbock school district
Mike Worth recently won selection as an associate superintendent for Lubbock Independent School District.

Now serving as a middle school principal, Worth (pictured) is set to begin his new duties overseeing elementary schools in late March. He replaces the retiring Joel Castro, who is one of two associate superintendents for elementary schools. Worth began his career as a teacher in 1990, became an assistant principal in 1997 and a principal in 2005.

Worth has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Texas Tech University.

Malinda Lindsey named lone finalist for Kennard ISD superintendent's job
Trustees for Kennard Independent School District recently selected Malinda Lindsey (pictured) as the lone finalist for its open superintendent position.

Currently the executive director of curriculum and instruction at Nacogdoches ISD, Lindsey will replace former Superintendent Richard Cooper, who resigned in December 2015. She will begin her new job once the state-mandated 21-day waiting period expires.

Lindsey has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Stephen F. Austin State University.

On Our Website 





HHSC hosts webinar series for public
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is sponsoring an ongoing webinar series that covers various quality improvement topics. It is complimentary and open to the public.

Topics range from super-utilizer management to value-based payment reform. To request an invitation, email hpcs_quality@hhsc.state.tx.us. Past web events also are available on the HHSC Quality website.

Brownsville requests input regarding abandoned rail corridor
Brownsville city officials recently held one of four town hall meetings planned to gather public input on possible uses for an abandoned rail corridor.

Union-Pacific trains used the rail corridor until August 2015, but the rail provider left a 9-mile, 100-foot-wide vacant path running from the B&M International Bridge to Olmito, which many residents are interested in using for other purposes such as a trail, according to a city commissioner.
RECENT REPORTS
Interim News, House Research Organization

Texas Freight Mobility Plan, Texas Department of Transportation
GOVERNOR'S APPOINTMENTS
Gov. Greg Abbott has announced the following appointments:
  • Frank Parker Jr., Brownsville, presiding officer of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority;
  • Ryan Brannan, Austin, Commissioner of Workers' Compensation at the Texas Department of Insurance. 
Texas Government Insider Archives
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Texas Government Insider is a free weekly newsletter detailing important happenings throughout the state and summarizing current political issues relevant to individuals interested in government.   
Publisher: Mary Scott Nabers
Editor: Peter Partheymuller   
TGI is published by Strategic Partnerships, Inc. (SPI), a research and consulting firm. Founded in Texas in 1995 by former government executives and public sector experts, SPI has developed a national reputation as the premier marketing partner dedicated to helping companies secure contracts in the $1.5 trillion state and local government marketplace.   
To learn more about SPI services, click here or contact our sales department at 512-531-3900. 
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