|Volume 7, Issue 11 · Friday, March 20, 2009|
Goals for federal economic stimulus bill clear
But questions remain regarding guidelines, regulations on spending
What the federal government expects from the states regarding the economic stimulus bill is clear - transparency, efficiency, accountability and jobs.
What's not so clear is when the money is coming, what it can be used for and how it can be accessed.
None of those questions were answered definitively at a meeting last week in Washington, D.C., according to Deputy Comptroller Martin Hubert (pictured) of the State Comptroller's Office. Hubert and Mike Morrissey, senior advisor to the governor, were among scores of representatives of 49 of the 50 states to attend the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference hosted by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
"There's a lot of work going on," said Hubert of the activity among federal agencies responsible for seeing that the funding and information regarding how it will be distributed gets to the states. "They're really working to develop the guidelines and standards the states are waiting on.[more]
Governors may have power to refuse stimulus funds
Report says legislatures may not be able to override decisions
Although initially operating under the premise that if a governor refuses federal economic stimulus funding, the state legislature could override that decision with a concurrent resolution, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report this week says such action by a legislative body would likely be deemed unconstitutional.
Several governors, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have said they will not accept certain funding from the stimulus bill. As a result of the CRS analysis, they may get their way.
The report says a legislature seeking to supplant a governor in accepting the funding - which the bill language apparently allows - could blur the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of state government. There still remains some ambiguity in the language of the bill, according to the CRS, as a provision allows a legislature to apply for the state's portion of the funds if the governor fails to apply by an April 3 deadline, 45 days after the legislation was signed.
South Carolina, one of the states whose governor said he will refuse some of the stimulus funds, already has seen its Senate Finance Committee pass a resolution authorizing the state General Assembly to seek the funding if the governor does not. Concerns are that such action could override the governor's executive power.
Donna Alexander, assistant director for fiscal services, CFO, Texas AgriLife Extension Service
Career highlights and education: I began my career with the Texas A&M System 17-plus years ago working for both engineering and agriculture agencies. I am a graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in agricultural economics. I joined Texas AgriLife Extension Service in 1994. Currently, I hold the position of assistant director for fiscal services and chief financial officer providing financial and policy guidance for the agency.
What I like best about my job is: Serving and helping others. Working for Texas AgriLife Extension Service has provided me a way to give back to an organization that provided opportunities growing up through Texas 4-H.
The best advice I've received for my current job is: Your job is not always going to be easy. Leaders have to sometimes make difficult decisions. Listen and do your homework.
Advice I would give a new hire in my office: Learn as much as you can about the organization that you work for and seek ways to make it better.
If I ever snuck out of work early, I could probably be found: Definitely camping. My husband and I enjoy camping at different state parks.
People would be surprised to know that I: I went on a hunting trip to Africa.
One thing I wish more people knew about my agency: Texas AgriLife Extension Service has an educational programming presence in all 254 counties across the state. Agriculture, community economic development and families and youth are the focus program areas for the agency. County Extension Agents and specialists are located across the state working with local communities and citizens to help solve problems. Get to know your local County Agent and see what Extension has to offer.
Each week, the Texas Government Insider profiles a key government executive or decision-maker. If you would like to suggest a "Lone Star," please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fort Hood to get $621 million military hospital
Ground to be broken next year on 585,000-square-foot facility
Federal economic stimulus dollars will soon be felt at Fort Hood, as $621 million in funding has been approved to build a new military hospital there. Ground is expected to be broken in September of next year on the 585,000-square-foot facility that will replace the current Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.
The funding is part of $1.3 billion set aside in stimulus funds to modernize current military facilities. Officials say the current facility, built in 1965 and expanded in 1984, cannot meet the needs of the growing military population. Phase One of the new facility will also include a primary care clinic, a pediatric clinic and operating rooms. A behavioral services facility is also included. Phase Two, which has not yet been funded, will include 362,000 square feet of additional space at a cost of approximately $350 million. The first phase of construction is expected to take three years.
The Darnall facility will be used for in-patient treatment, emergency room and health services for mothers.
May elections voter registration deadline April 9
Secretary of State Hope Andrade (pictured) reminds Texans that the deadline to register to vote in May's city, school district and local entity elections is Thursday, April 9. Applications to register are available at many county offices, post offices, libraries and the VOTEXAS Web site. Residents can also determine their registration status through the Web site or by calling 1-800-252-VOTE.
Texas residents who are at least 18 years of age on Election Day with no felony convictions and who have not been declared mentally incapacitated by a court of law are eligible to register.
Andrade said she hopes Texans "will take the necessary steps to register to vote or update their registration if their address has changed so they can participate in the May 9 election."
Almost one trillion dollars now flowing to all 50 states
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State sales tax figures down 2.6 percent
State sales tax revenue figures for February are down 2.6 percent compared to a year ago, totaling $1.74 billion, according to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. She said further declines are expected as the economy continues to constrict.
Combs sent $433.4 million in local sales tax allocations to Texas cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts (down 0.6 percent from last year) and $291.1 million in city sales tax allocations to Texas cities (down 0.7 percent). Special-purpose taxing districts collected $17.3 million in sales tax revenue, up 21.6 percent compared to last March. Ten local transit systems received $97.4 million, down 4.3 percent from last year.
Kirk confirmed as U.S. trade representative
Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (pictured) has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the next United States trade representative, placing him in the midst of a trade skirmish with Mexico driven by the current global recession.
Kirk received broad bipartisan support in his confirmation at a time when trade policy is paramount on the political agenda. The world's 20 largest economic powers pledged at an emergency summit in November to keep trade flowing, but 17 of the superpowers so far have restricted trade, according to the World Bank.
Kirk promised in his confirmation hearings to keep a sharp focus on worker rights and environmental protections in future trade practices.
TETF allocates $250K for commercialization of device
The state is set to invest $250,000 for the commercialization of AnaLogix Development Corporation's 3-D movement-based game controller through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF). AnaLogix is working in tandem with The University of Texas and the Austin Technology Incubator to commercialize the product, which will be used for personal computing and gaming devices.
Entertainment software, such as the movement-based controller, added $9.5 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2007, and experts project the industry will support more than 250,000 jobs across the nation this year. Texas ranked third for the number of entertainment software jobs in the nation between 2003 and 2007.
The TETF, a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005, was reauthorized in 2007 and has allocated $62 million to universities across the state.
Lone Star additions to house professions building
Lone Star College-North Harris has moved a step closer to expanding its presence in the community to training of health care workers by purchasing two buildings just north of the Houston Northwest Medical Center. The $6.9 million purchase includes two buildings totaling more than 85,000 square feet on three acres. It will become the Lone Star College-North Harris Health Professions Building.
"This acquisition will give the college an expanded presence in the community and will help us meet the growing need for classroom and lab space to train health professionals - the strongest and highest in demand of the college's workforce programs," said Dr. Steve Head (pictured), Lone Star College-North Harris president.
Head said $4.2 million in renovations is planned to build out a nursing skill lab and various simulated patient training facilities. There will also be an expanded simulation lab with simulated patients. The facility will also include multiuse computer testing labs, a reference library with interactive group study areas and student meeting spaces. Future plans for the facility include the possibility of a regional training center featuring an even wider array of state-of-the-art preparation and technologies within the allied health professions training.
Gavin to serve as director of Strauss Center at UT
Francis "Frank" Gavin (pictured) has been named director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at The University of Texas at Austin. Strauss, the Tom Slick Professor of International Affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT, previously served as director of studies at the center. He also is director of the Next Generation Project, an initiative focusing on United States global policy and the future of international institutions.
A historian, Gavin's teaching and research interests include United States foreign policy, national security affairs, nuclear strategy and arms control, presidential policymaking and the history of international monetary relations.
Gavin replaces James M. Lindsay, who resigned to return to the Council on Foreign Relations as director of studies.
Ott: Austin to accelerate infrastructure projects
New jobs and improved infrastructure are the goals of Austin City Manager Marc Ott's (pictured) announcement of acceleration of a $69.1 million transportation program in the city. Ott said putting the projects on a fast track will put road improvement projects ahead of schedule over the next 18 months.
The projects are part of a 2006 bond program approved by Austin voters. That funding and another $34.6 million in projects already planned will put $103.7 million toward mobility projects in the city by the end of 2010.
"We can do our part to jumpstart the local economy by creating opportunities for new jobs and new work," said Ott. "These projects will help get local businesses to work, from project management and engineering to construction and trades." City officials expect as many as 300 local jobs could result from the projects, with savings expected as construction costs have declined and more and more bids are coming in as firms compete for business. The end result in many cases means significant savings. The projects will include road reconstruction, intersection improvements, sidewalks and bicycle enhancements.
MPO's stimulus funds go toward trade corridor
The Corpus Christi Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is putting $3 million of its federal economic stimulus bill funding to good use. The MPO is contributing its $3 million along with $3.75 million from the Port of Corpus Christi, to be used toward completion of the Joe Fulton International Trade Corridor. The final phase of the project is expected to cost some $15 million.
When the federal stimulus funding to MPOs was announced, some chose to leverage their funds by offering them as partial payment on projects in their area. When this MPO offered up its $3 million, the Texas Department of Transportation kicked in $8.25 million, leveraging the funds between the three entities to ensure the project moved forward.
The corridor will include a nearly 12-mile road and seven-mile rail project at the port. It is designed to improve rail and road access and improve development of marine terminals and industrial sites.
TAMU-Corpus nears fundraising goal for program
Officials at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are nearing their $3 million funding goal toward establishing a mechanical engineering program at the university. With more than $2.5 million of the funds already raised, officials expect to have the entire amount pledged by the time they ask for final approval of the program in April from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, according to President Flavius Killebrew (pictured).
The city of Corpus Christi already has made a $1 million pledge and Killebrew indicated that another large donation is expected to be announced soon that will put officials over the goal. If approved, the program could enroll students next fall.
Comptroller's Webinars on franchise tax reports set
Two Webinars are being planned by the Texas Comptroller's Office to assist taxpayers and practitioners who are filing 2009 franchise tax reports. The Webinars will be from 10 to 11 a.m. on both Tuesday, March 31, and Tuesday, April 28.
The Webinars will offer participants the opportunity to exchange real-time questions and answers with tax experts from the Comptroller's Office. "Our franchise tax staff will help taxpayers work through common errors and omissions seen in last year's tax reports," said State Comptroller Susan Combs. Last year, some common errors dealt with deductions from revenue and filing incorrect public information reports that are submitted with the franchise tax return.
The free Webinars will utilize Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) so participants don't have to pay for long distance phone calls to hear the online presentation. Pre-registration is required. To pre-register, go here and click on the link to register.
Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority chair resigns
Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Chairman Bob Tesch (pictured) has announced plans to resign after a six-year tenure. He was reappointed to serve another two-year term by the governor's office recently, but said he had second thoughts after committing to the charge.
In 2004, Tesch was honored with a Flying Tiger award for his role addressing the Texas transportation crisis.
Tom Green County mulls $5M incentive for wind farm
Tom Green County Commissioners recently agreed to consider a request from a developer for a 10-year tax abatement if the company agrees to build a proposed $260 million wind farm project in the southern area of the county. The company plans to bring 100 wind turbines into both Schleicher and Tom Green counties, half of which would be located within the Cristoval Independent School District.
The project is expected to create 200 short-term jobs during the nine-month construction period and 10 full-time jobs, six in Tom Green County, after the turbines are operating.
Granting tax abatements to the company and its subsidiaries over a 10-year period would cost about $5 million in tax revenues, according to a tax consultant. Several commissioners asked for more time to study the issue before making a decision.
Texas Lutheran University appoints new provost
Dr. Edward Thompson III (pictured), provost of Marygrove College in Detroit, MI, has been appointed executive vice president and provost of Texas Lutheran University. He is set to replace Interim Provost Mark Gilbertson and report to university President Ann Svennungsen on June 1.
Thompson previously served as assistant vice president for Academic Affairs and chair of the Political Science department at California State University-San Marcos from 2000 to 2002. Before joining the faculty of Marygrove College in 2005, he served as vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of faculty at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, GA. He has also held tenured tracks at the University of California Davis and the University of Louisville.
Thompson holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona and a doctoral degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Harlandale ISD calls for $29.3M bond election in May
Trustees for the Harlandale Independent School District recently agreed to place two bond proposals totaling $29.3 million on the May 9 election ballot.
Proposition 1 will ask voters to approve $17.3 million in bonds to allow the district to restructure loans so that the state will pick up 75 percent of the district's debt payments. The district still owes $17.3 million on debt issued between 2002 and 2006 for air conditioners, buses and classroom technology that was not approved by voters, said Superintendent Robert Jaklich. Even paying about $2 million in fees to refinance that debt, with bonds approved by voters, will save the district about $12.5 million, he estimated.
Proposition 2 will ask for voter approval of $12 million in bonds to pay to upgrade the band hall, to install cameras and other security equipment and to upgrade the football stadium by installing turf and improving parking and concession areas.
Hays County picks overpass as top stimulus priority
Hays County commissioners recently agreed that the addition of an overpass to where a truck bypass connects with Interstate 35 near Buda is the county's top priority for funding from federal economic stimulus funds.
Commissioner Jeff Barton (pictured) of Precinct 2 urged commissioners to request about $7.3 million for the Buda overpass project from approximately $30 million in uncommitted stimulus funds that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Association will disburse. The proposed overpass, sometimes called the Cement Road overpass, would connect the truck bypass, Robert S Light Street on the west to Hillside Terrace and residential neighborhoods to the east.
The court also agreed to submit the addition of turn lanes on Texas 21 and Ranch Road 12 as secondary priority.
Victoria County creates new county fire department
Victoria County commissioners recently agreed to create the county's own fire department with a goal of attracting more grants to reduce the need for local tax funds.
Victoria County already has an aircraft rescue firefighting crew at the Victoria Regional Airport that is involved only in emergencies involving aircraft, said Fire Marshall Ron Pray. The new county fire department will be comprised of the airport firefighters and volunteer firefighters throughout the county who choose to join the county fire department, he added.
The name of the organization will change from Victoria Regional Fire Department to Victoria County Fire Department, Pray said. The creation of the county fire department improves the possibility of receiving grants that were not available when the department just handled aircraft mishaps, he said. Pray will serve as the fire marshal and fire chief of the new county fire department.
Heiligenstein picked for TTI Advisory Council
Mike Heiligenstein (pictured), executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, was recently appointed to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Advisory Council.
TTI is one of the largest transportation research agencies affiliated with a university in the United States. The advisory council gives advice on transportation issues and trends to TTI.
Heiligenstein joined the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority in 2003 and oversaw the financing and construction of its first toll road, U.S. Highway 183A, which opened in March 2007. Previously he served as a city councilman in Round Rock and as a Williamson County commissioner.
West Texas to receive $12.5M from federal spending bill
The recent federal spending bill features earmarks totaling more than $12.5 million that should benefit residents of the 11th Congressional District in West Texas, according to a watchdog group in Texas. The 11th Congressional District stretches from the Hill County to the border of New Mexico and includes the cities of Brownwood, Midland, Odessa and San Angelo.
Projects included in earmarks are $1.3 million for a project at Hords Creek Lake, $285,000 for technology upgrades and equipment purchases at Midland College, $200,000 for restoration of downtown Midland, nearly $500,000 for improvements to Highway 349 in Martin County and $380,000 to improve access to IH-20 at Cotton Flat Road.
Other earmarks in the recently passed federal spending bill are $1.61 million to pay for two efficient irrigation projects in New Mexico and Texas and $1.7 million for cotton research. The spending bill also contains earmarks for several smaller agriculture, energy and water projects in the 11th Congressional District.
Round Rock moves forward on red-light camera plan
The Round Rock City Council recently moved forward on implementing a red-light camera system this summer by appointing a seven-member citizens advisory committee to review the effectiveness of red-light cameras in other cities.
As required by state law now, the advisory council also will work with city officials to implement and operate the red-light camera system, said David Bartels of the city's Engineering and Development Department. The city currently is conducting traffic studies to help in determining how many cameras should be placed and at which intersections they should be installed, Bartels said.
Round Rock city officials adopted the red-light camera ordinance in September 2007. The ordinance establishes a $75 fine and specifies that a violation issued through the red-light camera system is a civil infraction. The citizen advisory committee also is required to receive periodic updates on the program, he said.
Wichita Falls speeds up park design seeking funding
The Wichita Falls City Council recently agreed to speed up the design of a planned 2.6-mile hike-and-bike trail with the hope of receiving funding from the recent federal stimulus package. The agreement approved by council requires the city to pay the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) a guaranteed maximum price of $255,586.45 for design services provided by a Childress-based firm.
The funding for the design will be paid for with $2.9 million in debt already issued to cover the total projected cost of the trail extension, said Assistant City Manager Matt Benoit. TxDOT notified the city that stimulus funding was available after the city issued the debt, Benoit said. Because the projects must be designed and ready for bids as quickly as possible, Benoit said he expects the trail design will be completed in mid- to late-May.
The project is a good candidate for stimulus funding, he said, because it accomplishes a major goal of moving people around as the extension will bring the city a step closer to completing a 25-mile circle trail system that has been in the works for more than 20 years. This project will connect two existing six-mile concrete trails to bring the trail length to nearly 15 miles.
Texas DPS, Weslaco agree to move regional office
Officials of the city of Weslaco and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently signed an agreement transferring 21 acres of land to DPS for a new 110,000-square-foot facility to serve as its new regional headquarters.
The new DPS facility will have three structures, an administration building, a driver's license office and an auxiliary building for vehicles and communications equipment, said Jose C. Rodriguez III, the DPS regional commander. The new facility, which will house about 204 DPS employees, also will have an expanded crime lab, a large parking lot to accommodate those seeking a driver's license and an area to house the DPS helicopter currently based in Edinburg, Rodriguez said. The new facility should be open by summer 2011.
Voters in Texas authorized a constitutional amendment in November 2007 authorizing the state to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to pay for several projects, including $43.8 million for the new DPS regional headquarters in the Rio Grande Valley. The regional office serves 15 counties stretching from Brownsville to Del Rio. The city of Weslaco offered about $1 million in incentives to attract the regional office, which is currently headquartered in McAllen in a facility more than 30 years old, Rodriguez said.
Nacogdoches moves forward on emergency shelter
Nacogdoches County commissioners recently took a step toward building an emergency shelter near the Nacogdoches County Expo Center after approving a contract with a grant writer to prepare a noncompetitive grant application for $5 million in funding for the shelter, Additional disaster relief funding also should be available to supplement the grant, said County Judge Joe English (pictured).
Commissioners, however, delayed a vote on a proposed contract with an engineer to begin drafting plans and specifications for the shelter after learning that engineering firms needed more time to submit specification to the Office of Rural Community Affairs to ensure the materials meet certain specifications. Engineering firms now have until March 30 to submit their applications to ORCA.
The size and the maximum capacity for the shelter will not be available until an engineering firm begins working on blueprints for the proposed facility, English said. The county sheltered about 10,000 evacuees during Hurricane Rita and about 4,000 during Hurricane Ike, according to the director of the local Red Cross Shelter.
Carruth pitches ideas for staff restructuring
Paris City Manager Kevin Carruth (pictured) said five recent city staff resignations present an opportunity to reorganize and streamline operations.
Carruth pitched his ideas at a council meeting recently. He wants to merge engineering, building inspections and the city's airport under the heading Department of Engineering, Planning and Development with city engineer Shawn Napier at the helm.
Carruth is also looking at eliminating the public works assistant post, currently occupied by John Brunson, as well as the community development director and chief building official positions. He wants to create a director of public works post.
Henderson County VFDs get FEMA grants
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grants program has allotted more than $157,000 to two Henderson County fire departments.
The Westside Volunteer Fire Department received $92,338 in funds to assist in an air-pack system upgrade, which will allow firefighters more time to extinguish a fire without stopping to refill their cylinders, according to Chief Doug Nicholson.
The Trinidad Volunteer Fire Department received $64,790 to upgrade breathing apparatuses and safety equipment. Chief Arthur Arnold said the department has also applied for a 2009 grant, citing the need for rescue equipment.
Fort Bend ISD ends contract, seeks more bids
Trustees for the Fort Bend Independent School District recently agreed to end a contract with a construction company originally hired as a construction manager at-risk for two new campuses and to ask for competitive bids on the two construction projects from all general contractors.
The contract voided with the Houston-based construction company was as a construction manager at-risk responsible for the design and pricing for the construction of a middle school and an alternative learning campus. Under that contract, the construction manager at-risk would have been the sole general contractor to solicit bids from subcontractors.
Superintendent Tim Jenney (pictured), however, recommended the district end that contract and ask for competitive, sealed bids from contractors to get the most competitive prices possible. The decision to recommend termination of the construction manager at-risk contract was not because of a performance issue and the company can still compete with other contractors for the construction work, Jenney said.
College Station convention center to cost $40M
A preliminary figure indicates a proposed College Station convention center would cost the city about $40.4 million for the 50,000-square-foot facility, which has been in the planning stages for about 15 years. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Kersten said that figure will change "as we get more and better information."
Kersten said that estimate does not include $2.6 million the city still owes for buying the $9.6 million, eight-acre Chimney Hill shopping center property on University Drive for the proposed center. Possible revenue sources for the venture include a venue tax and a .75 percent increase in the hotel occupancy tax.
Plans for the complex include a convention center, parking garage and retail space, with a hotel to be constructed eventually. The facility would cater to tourists and professional conferences.
State releases $25M in bonds for Battleship Texas
The Legislative Budget Board recently authorized the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to release $25 million in bonds to permanently dry berth the Battleship Texas at its current location near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Park.
Voters in November 2007 approved up to $25 million in bonds to pay for improving the area where the battleship which saw service in both World War I and World War II is docked, but the proposal contained a stipulation that $4 million in private donations be raised before the bonds could be issued.
Permanently dry berthing Battleship Texas may be expensive, state officials said, but having a permanent dry berth will reduce significantly ongoing maintenance costs associated with pumping thousands of gallons of salty water daily from the old battleship. The Legislature in 1948 authorized the ship be permanently anchored near Buffalo Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel near the site of the San Jacinto battle fields.
TEA grant allows AISD to furnish numerous laptops
Anthony High School will furnish 210 MacBook laptop computers to all students and staff members thanks to a $486,000 grant from the Texas Education Agency. Principal Oscar Troncoso said the school was one of 17 institutions awarded in the state out of some 50 applicants.
The remaining 25 percent of the grant money will be applied to a staff development program in which teachers are trained on how to use the computers in daily class assignments, Troncoso said.
The computers will be returned to the school upon students' graduation. Officials plan to seek funds next year to provide incoming freshmen with computers also.
Brownwood approves Phase 1 of laptop program
Trustees for the Brownwood Independent School District recently approved $150,000 to pay for the first phase of a program to provide a laptop computer for each student at Brownwood High School. Phase one includes staff development, server infrastructure and the purchase of 20 laptops for technology personnel, high school administrators and lead teachers. School officials had recommended that the initiative, which is expected to cost $1 million during the next four year, be in effect by the fall 2009 semester.
Saying they would need more information before approving the initiative to provide computers to all high school students, trustees requested more information regarding the cost, timing of the distribution, schedule for teacher training, whether additional personnel would be needed, insurance costs and a legal review of the proposed contract with students regarding their responsibilities before approving the program.
Superintendent Reece Blincoe told trustees the district would need about 1,000 laptops to provide to the current 900 students, teachers and staff members and have some extra laptops on hand. The district will also need to have a dedicated technology person at the high school and well as an instructional technologist.
Fort Bend County set to begin judicial complex
Thanks to a new AA+ bond rating by Standard & Poors, Fort Bend County could start work on its $78-million, 215,000-square-foot judicial complex, to be located across from the county jail, as early as mid-April. The complex will feature an 830-foot tunnel connecting the facility to the county jail.
Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert (pictured) said he hopes to see initial work on the facility begin in April if the county sells the bonds then, as planned. He said the county has reserve funds available to begin preparation work. The county will also be able to complete a parking garage, initially thought to be delayed, as part of the initial phase of construction.
College Station joins highway coalition group
College Station City Council has approved $10,000 to join the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, a committee pushing for the creation of I-14, an interstate that would run through Central Texas.
The corridor would begin in El Paso, run through the Temple-Killeen area and eastward through Bryan-College Station and Huntsville, and wind through four southern states, ending in Georgia. The interstate would effectively link a number of military bases in the South and Texas, including Fort Hood and Fort Bliss.
College Station officials are pushing to move the proposed interstate toward the Twin Cities, which boasts one of the largest populations in the nation without interstate access.
Round Rock to seek federal funds for capital projects
Round Rock City Council members recently approved a list of projects for which the city will request federal funding. The city's top priority project, expansion of FM 1460, was removed from the request as the city will receive $10 million from the new economic stimulus package for that project, said Assistant City Manager Cindy Demers (pictured).
Now on top of the priority list for federal appropriations is funding to construct the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority's regional water supply system, Demers said. The city will request about $14 million out of the $66 million projected for Phase One of the project. The overpass at RM 520 and Union Pacific and revitalization of downtown Main Street are the next two priority projects, Demers said. City leaders agreed to request 40 percent funding, or $9.6 million of the $24 million expected cost overpass, for fiscal year 2010 appropriations.
The city will also ask for federal funding for half of the $680,000 to provide police with tactical and technical equipment and half of the $1 million needed to conduct advanced planning and alternatives analysis for a rail line, she said.
Stamford ISD approves $7M bond proposal vote
Stamford Independent School District trustees have voted to place a $7 million bond proposal on the May 9 election ballot following a recommendation by the Citizen Action Committee. The committee, comprised of 12 area voters, toured the school's facilities and presented recommendations to the school board.
The bond issue would cost taxpayers $80 per year on a $30,000 valuation, except for those 65 and older, who would not see an increase.
If the bond passes, construction will depend on whether Existing Debt Allotment funds, covering as much as 70 percent of the total cost of the project, would be made available.
Hale new director of LCC police academy
President Juan L. Maldonado of Laredo Community College recently selected Donald R. Hale (pictured) as the new director of the South Texas Border Regional Police Academy.
Hale replaces Ray Garner who resigned to take the position as the new police chief for United Independent School District. Hale formerly served as an instructor and an assistant director of the academy and also served in the Webb County Sheriff's Department for more than 10 years and as an investigator for the Webb County District Attorney's Office.
A graduate of the police academy at Laredo Community College, Hale also has a bachelor's and a master's degree from Texas A&M International University. The academy serves 22 law enforcement agencies in Webb, Zapata, Jim Hogg and Starr counties.
San Marcos airport to receive $2.85M in funding
San Marcos Municipal Airport will receive $2.85 million as part of the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed by Congress with funds set to roll in later this month.
The funding will be used for a new front door in the northern entrance of the airport in addition to the construction of new hangars and an air terminal to be located closer to the highway for more convenient access.
As part of a different project, the airport is also set to receive a new control tower in a project funded through the Aviation Facilities Grant Program of the Texas Department of Transportation.
Longview city officials table 311 call plan for now
The City of Longview's proposed 311 call plan - which would allow residents to report problems to city departments - has been tabled until at least October, when Mayor Jay Dean (pictured) suggested officials look at the proposal as the city prepares its 2010 budget.
Until then, the project - slated to cost $46,000 for six months of service - will come under intense scrutiny from city administrators, who will determine if the service is necessary and, if so, open a bidding process to contractors (if the city decides not to operate 311 itself).
District 2 Councilman Daryl Williams said he did not foresee dipping into the city's coffers if there isn't a demand for the call plan. He said he has not received "one call in support for this or against this."
Winona ISD to ask voters to approve $27.5M bond
Citing security concerns and crowded conditions, trustees for the Winona Independent School District recently scheduled a $27.5 million bond election on May 9.
If approved, the bonds will be used to pay for a new high school, auditorium and gymnasium, security features, updated technology and renovations to existing facilities, said Superintendent Wiley Vonner. Officials hope to convert the current middle school campus into an elementary school and the high school campus into a middle school. Plans also call for facilities to be remodeled so that visitors have no options but to check into the office before entering classroom areas, he said.
The new facilities are needed because the district's enrollment has increased from 600 students in the 1980's when current facilities were built to more than 1,000 students. Voters have rejected two previous bond proposals since the last successful bond election in the 1980s.
San Angelo ISD advised to sell $117M in bonds soon
A financial adviser for the San Angelo Independent School District recently recommended that the time is right for the district to sell $117 million in bonds to pay for improvements to district facilities.
Interest rates and the market are favorable to issue the bonds within the next two weeks, advised the district's financial consultant. The district is required to make a bond payment by August 2009 to be eligible for state aid under the state's existing debt allotment program and receive that funding in 2012, he said. The school district won't be eligible for that funding again until 2014 if it misses the August 2009 deadline, the financial consultant said.
The school district is moving forward with several projects to be paid for with bond proceeds, including asking for bids for an elementary school project that the district hopes to break ground on in June, said Steve Van Hoozer, director of bond planning and construction.
Plano reduces bond proposal to $129M
The Plano City Council recently halted several proposed public projects when council members agreed to ask voters to approve a $128 million bond package in May rather than the $164 million originally proposed by city officials and reduced twice before approval.
A proposed expansion of the Plano Centre was one of the larger projects cut from the originally discussed $164 million bond proposal. Councilwoman Mabrie Jackson (pictured) proposed city officials delay the entire bond proposal because asking voters to approve millions of dollars in new projects at this time would not be a good idea, given the economy.
City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck noted that several projects such as improving fire stations were vital to public safety and that many other projects were linked to state and county funds which could be jeopardized by a delay. Council members then approved the following proposals to be included in the pared down $129 million May bond election:
Manvel buys land for new city hall, library
The Manvel City Council recently agreed to buy 6.64 acres of land just north of its current city hall as a site for a new building to house the City Hall and a county library site.
Council members approved the purchase after learning the two-acre site of the existing 1,600-square-foot building could not accommodate an expansion of the building into a two-story, 10,600-square-foot building, and the necessary space for detention and an aerobic septic system for the remodeled city hall.
The council previously approved seeking a $2 million loan to pay for construction of the new building. The existing city hall could be renovated to house the Manvel Police Department, the mayor said.
Llano supports broadband Internet access for city
Broadband Internet could soon come to Llano. The city council this week passed a resolution in support of installing fiber optic lines in the city and authorizing the mayor or city manager to negotiate with local entities to raise capital for the project.
While some firms have said bringing fiber optic cables to Llano would be cost-prohibitive, another has suggested a plan with a projected cost of $440,000.
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IT spending expected to spiral upward quickly!
By Mary Scott Nabers, CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
With an estimated $400 million in federal economic stimulus money set aside for government technology spending, now is a good time to examine the overall size of the marketplace for information technology (IT) in the Texas public sector.
How big is the IT government marketplace in Texas? Nearly as big as the state itself! The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) notes that an estimated $2.2 billion was spent on information technology across state government and in higher education in Texas last year. The $400 million in new funds headed to Texas is already beginning to flow into the state. The state will distribute funds to local communities and to regional coalitions to be used for both new technology projects as well as projects that have been on the back burner for some time because of a lack of funding.
Currently, there are at least 110,000 desktops being used in state agencies and approximately 437,000 computers in higher education. And don't forget laptops...the emphasis these days is in computer portability and mobility. State government accounts for 86,000 laptops, while another 28,000 are being used by higher education entities. Those numbers do not include laptops being used in cities, counties, health care clinics, etc.[more]
Magnolia ISD selects Stephens as superintendent
Trustees for the Magnolia Independent School District recently selected Dr. Todd Stephens (pictured) as the new superintendent to replace Superintendent Michael Holland, who announced his resignation last month.
Stephens currently serves as assistant superintendent at Magnolia ISD and previously worked as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal at Temple ISD. He has a bachelor's degree from Abilene Christian University, a master's from Tarleton State University and a Ph.D. from Prairie View A&M University.
Two Lamar County VFDs receive federal grants
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Grants and Training recently awarded a $14,678 grant to the Chicota Volunteer Fire Department and a $19,751 grant to the Blossom Volunteer Fire Department.
In Chicota, the grant will be used to buy hoses and nozzles, with some funding going toward a second fire station in the district the department is working to establish, said Fire Chief James Cooke. The Blossom VFD will use the grant to purchase boots, a thermal imager and four helmets, said Chief Heath Thomas.
West Central Texas ECD wins $150,000 federal grant
The U.S. Economic Development Administration recently awarded a $150,000 grant to the West Central Texas Economic Development District to create and implement an economic development strategy for the 19 counties in that district.
Counties included in the West Central Texas ECD are Brown, Callahan, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland, Fisher, Haskell, Jones, Kent, Knox, Mitchell, Nolan, Runnels, Scurry, Shackelford, Stephens, Stonewall, Taylor and Throckmorton.
New Braunfels approves $10.2M bond issue
The New Braunfels City Council recently approved the issuance of $10.2 million in bonds by New Braunfels Utilities to pay for improvements to the city's water and wastewater system.
Most of the bond funding will be used to pay for relocation of a lift station from its current location in a floodway to the opposite side of the Guadalupe River adjacent to the existing treatment plant, said Paula DiFonzo, chief executive officer for NBU. Other improvements to the water and wastewater system also will be paid for with bond proceeds, she said. Under a capital improvement plan adopted in October, NBU is planning an estimated $150 million in construction projects in the next five years.
Fort Bend County complex construction slated
Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert (pictured) said the county could start work on a planned judicial complex as early as mid-April thanks to a recent stabilization of the municipal bond market.
A recent AA+ bond rating by Standard & Poors will allow Fort Bend County to sell the bonds required to finance construction and secure an approximate 5 percent interest rate in the process. The 215,000-square-foot complex will house various courtrooms, new offices for county clerk and district clerk employees, and an 830-foot tunnel connecting the complex to the Fort Bend County Jail across the road.
Longview Fire Department wins $500K federal grant
The Longview Fire Department recently won a $500,000 grant to buy safety and rescue equipment and to improve training and operations. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the grant to help local emergency responders meet public safety needs.
Assistant Fire Chief Claude Ford said he is awaiting notification of the grant and is not aware of any specific decisions regarding how the grant funds will be used, but said those decisions will be made soon.
Seadrift to replace
Texas Lyceum plans April public conference
The Texas Lyceum's 24th Public Conference, "The 2009 Stimulus Package: What's in it (or not) for Texas," will be held Friday, April 3, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the AT&T Executive Conference Center on The University of Texas campus. Among the invited speakers are Paul Hobby, deputy chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Ray Perryman of the Perryman Group and former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Among the topics will be a federal view of the stimulus package, next steps and how the stimulus will affect the state budget. To view the agenda, click here. To register, click here.
SETAPP to host conference for public purchasers
The Southeast Texas Association of Public Purchasers (SETAPP), the local chapter of NIGP (National Association of Governmental Purchasers), will host the 2009 Lone Star conference for public purchasers the week of May 3-6 in Galveston. Keynote speaker on Monday will be Nancy Brooks, director for procurement at Iowa State University. The conference will also feature a variety of breakout sessions regarding topics from construction project delivery methods to disaster recovery. For program, registration and hotel information, click here.
DIR to host Power to Purchase Technology Expo
The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) will host the Power to Purchase Technology Expo on Thursday, April 30, at the Palmer Events Center in Austin. The Expo is free to all government and public entity personnel and will feature leading technology products and services. The Expo is customized for state, local and education sectors and will bring together DIR-contracted technology vendors and show public entities how to maximize their buying power through DIR information and communications technology contracts. Breakout sessions will be offered regarding ICT Contracts training, new products and services on contract, emerging technology and other technology issues. Attendees can earn continuing education credit. For more information and to register, click here.
National Hurricane Conference slated in April
The 2009 National Hurricane Conference, the nation's forum for education and professional training in hurricane preparedness, is slated for April 6-10 at the Austin Convention Center. The event will feature workshops, training sessions, exhibits and an awards banquet. Nearly two-dozen emergency response agencies and organizations will participate and provide a national forum for federal, state and local officials to exchange ideas and recommend new policies to improve emergency management as it relates to hurricane preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation to save lives. Attendees will discuss lessons learned from previous hurricanes, hear information on state-of-the-art programs, hear about new ideas being tested or considered and receive information from assistance programs. For more information, click here. For registration information, click here.
TASSCC plans March Technology Education Conference
The Texas Association for State Systems for Computing and Communications (TASSCC) will hold its Technology Education Conference (TEC) from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 26, at the Commons Center in Austin. "Web 2.0 - Services and Innovation in the Public Sector" will be the thrust of the conference. TEC 2009 will focus on several popular Web-based applications and give real life examples of how government organizations can provide improved services to the state of Texas. Early bird registration is under way and will end Thursday, Feb. 26. Online registration ends Friday, March 20. For more information, click here. Sponsorships are available.
2009 Texas Homeland Security Conference set in March
The 2009 Texas Homeland Security Conference will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio March 23-26. It will combine all of the workshops, presentations, training classes and resources normally associated with the Texas Hurricane Conference and the Texas Homeland Security Conference. Workshops and presentations from a wide variety of experts will focus on the full spectrum of homeland security goals: Prevention, Protection, Response and Recovery. The conference is sponsored by the Governor's Division of Emergency Management and brings together representatives of law enforcement, border security and port security, transportation and cyber security, as well as firefighters, emergency medical personnel, Texas Military Forces, voluntary organizations and private sector representatives. Attendees also will include officials from higher education, public education, health and medical care and public officials from local, state and national governments. Representatives of more than 30 state agencies on the Governor's Emergency Management Council and federal officials also will attend. For more information on conference registration, general session speakers, workshops and training opportunities, click here.
TxDOT to host small business briefings
The Texas Department of Transportation will conduct a series of briefings throughout the state to educate small and minority-owned business owners on how to do business with TxDOT, particularly relating to how TxDOT procures services and purchases products. General Industry Sessions will include an Overview of TxDOT Toll Projects and Contracting Opportunities on Toll Way Projects, Professional Services Consulting Contracts and State Contracting for Information Technology Products and Services. Other breakout sessions will target small and minority businesses on Small and Minority Business Certifications, Resources for Small Business Development and Marketing Your Business to the State. TxDOT contracts include, but are not limited to, engineering, real estate professionals, IT services, computers, printing, construction, maintenance, goods and services and more. The briefings will be held March 26 and 27 in Houston and April 15 and 16 in Odessa. For more information, click here. To register online, click here.