Meeting Insights: Waco City Council Meeting – 09/01/20

By Jeffrey Vitarius

(Civic meetings happen in Waco every week – city council, school board, planning commission, and countless others.  Decisions from these meetings affect our lives every day.  Many of us are curious about these meetings, but to be honest, it’s just too hard to decipher the jargon and figure out what’s going on and why it’s important.  Act Locally Waco is trying something new in August! Jeffrey Vitarius follows civic meetings for his work and out of personal interest.  Each week in August he will pick a meeting in our community and highlight one or two items from the agenda to translate from “government-ese” into language we can all understand.  We’re calling the series “Meeting Insights.” Let us know what you think! If you enjoy it, we will try to keep it going!  — ALW )

The Waco City Council meets every other Tuesday. The work session starts at 3:00, that is where most of the explanation and discussion happens.  The business session is at 6:00, that is when the council takes action (votes).  The public is invited to attend either or both of these sessions, although, for the time being due to COVID-19, that attendance is virtual through the Waco City Cable Channel (WCCC.TV/live) with public comments sent in ahead of time. Today we will highlighting Public Hearing Agenda item 2…the Downtown Waco Public Improvement District.

Meeting Basics 

  • Work Session – 3:00 pm / Business Session – 6:00pm
  • To watch the live stream click here (City of Waco Cable Channel, wccc.tv)
  • For the full agenda click here
  • For the meeting packet with the documents pertinent to the meeting click here. Quick note on page numbers: the numbers I will be referring to below are the “packet page numbers” found on the bottom right corner of each page of the meeting packet. These do not always match the number of the page in the pdf. One neat aspect of the packets the city builds for city council meetings is that you can click on the agenda item on the agenda page of the packet and it will take you directly to the relevant materials. 
  • Details on how to provide public comment are listed in the agenda

What’s in a PID? – the Downtown Waco Public Improvement District

Public Hearing Agenda Item 2 – PH-2020-584 Conduct a public hearing and consider an ordinance approving and adopting an updated Service and Assessment Plan, including the Assessment Roll, for providing improvements and/or services in Waco Public Improvement District Number One during Fiscal Year 2020-21. FIRST READING

Two weeks ago we took a look at the Waco Tourism Public Improvement District (TPID) and its service and assessment plan. This week, the service and assessment plan of an entirely different kind of Public Improvement District (PID) is on the City Council agenda.

As I explained in the previous post, a PID allows for the collection of an assessment (more on that below) in a certain geographic area to provide additional services to the property owners in that area. The downtown PID focuses on providing additional services to Downtown Waco. Let’s jump into how the PID is funded and what services it provides. (Full disclosure, I spend a substantial portion of my day job administering and managing some of the programs of the Downtown Waco PID so I may be a little biased.) 

Every property within the PID (there is a handy map below) pays an extra $0.10 per $100 of property value to the PID. This is the “assessment.” These assessments are pooled together to pay for services that benefit Downtown Waco collectively. The service and assessment plan describes the services the PID will provide in a given year. The service and assessment plan for 2021 can be found on pages 47-61 of the meeting packet.

The services the PID provides to Downtown Waco fall into a few different categories. This list is not everything the PID does, but it should give you a pretty good idea:

Clean and Safe – This is the biggest one it is generally over 50% of the budget each year and basically boils down to keeping the public areas of Downtown…well…clean and safe. This can look like landscaping services, using lasers to chase birds out of trees, washing away bird droppings, and painting over graffiti. It also includes a reporting service, which is actually a person whose name is Dave. You can find him riding around Downtown in the Clean and Safe Team golf cart making sure issues are taken care of. If you happen to see him you should say “hi” (socially distant and masked of course), he is a pretty friendly guy. 

Beautification – From time to time the PID funds efforts to make Downtown even more inviting than it already is. If you noticed the red bows along Austin Avenue and Elm Avenue last holiday season, those were a PID project.  The banners identifying the different “districts” of Downtown are a PID project. The PID has also been one of the funders for ARTprenticeship, which has created murals on the Brotherwell building on Bridge Street and along Jackson Avenue between 2nd Street and University Parks

Marketing – The PID operates a website and social media accounts that give Downtown Waco a voice, elevate the efforts of all the folks that make up Downtown, and encourage others to visit. You can find the website (downtownwacotx.com) and you may want to follow the social media (Downtown Waco) to find out the latest about what is going on Downtown.

Programming – The PID has historically supported the Waco Wonderland event. The PID also looks for interesting and innovative ways to encourage or support other kinds of programming that make Downtown Waco an interesting place to visit time and time again. 

Looking through the services, one general theme is that the offerings are for the benefit of all of Downtown. Each of the property owners benefit from Downtown being clean, beautiful, marketed and full of events. The reason for a PID like this is to provide these services that are best accomplished collectively by all the property owners together. 

In terms of process, the property owners provide input on these services through the Downtown Waco Public Improvement District Advisory Board (or PID Board). This board is made up of representatives of at least 50% of the taxable area and at least 50% of the taxable value within the PID. Each year, they review and recommend the service and assessment plan that is then sent to City Council for final approval. As you now know, it’s on the agenda this week. The property owners and other stakeholders also assist the PID by sitting on a variety of committees that oversee different service areas. Most of the day-to-day work is carried out by City Center Waco (where I am employed) and its contractors. This is just one of City Center Waco’s functions, but that is a topic for a different day. 

Over the last five weeks we have touched on a number of topics and board/committees/councils. I thought it might be a good idea to tie them all together with a single example. Let’s say you think it would be a good idea to build a hotel in Downtown Waco. The property you are looking at has recently become much more attractive now that trains will no longer be blaring their horns thanks to the TIF. Perhaps the property is not zoned to allow for a hotel, so you file for a zoning change that ends up before the plan commission. Perhaps you seek TIF funding for some portion of your project. If all goes right, a handful of years down the line you end up with a properly zoned, mostly quiet, fully functional hotel. Each year your guests pay 2% of their room charges to fund the TPID that markets Waco’s hotels across the United States. Meanwhile, you, the property owner, pay $0.10 per $100 towards keeping your part of town clean, safe, beautiful, marketed and programmed. All the while, some portion of the taxes you pay to the City, County, Community College, and School District end up back in the TIF paying for further improvements and developments.

Thanks for coming along with me over the last month. I have appreciated the opportunity to take a closer look at the beautiful, complicated, and ever developing world that is Waco and its public meetings. I hope this has been helpful to you and encourages you to zoom in on whatever local topic sparks your interest. I plan to keep this going as long as I can and I have a few additions (hopefully) taking form in the back of mind. See you again next week. 

Other Interesting (to me) Items From the Agenda

  • A presentation on the Bridge Street project is scheduled for the work session. This is another project CIty Center Waco has been working on and should be interesting.  
  • Budget Watch – we are nearing the end of the budget process. Here is a brief review of how we got here:
    • July 21st – city staff talked through preliminary budget projections with City Council
    • August 4th – City Council discussed the tax rate and set the public hearing for this week (we talked about the tax rates here)
    • August 25th – City Council voted on a resolution to establish when they would take a final vote on the tax rate
    • September 1st – there is a public hearing on the budget followed by two votes. The first will approve the budget and the second will authorize City Manager to spend (formerly expend) certain portions of that budget. This allows City management to pursue certain standard expenses (think payroll and benefits) without having to come back to City Council.
  • There are two resolutions and one ordinance related to the movement of Texas Meter and Device Company from Downtown Waco to a site to be purchased from the Waco Industrial Foundation. This is related to that potential high rise development that might be under consideration for the former Texas Meter and Device Company location. This is an interesting look at the various tools in the City’s economic development tool kit. 

Jeffrey Vitarius has been actively local since early 2017. He lives in Sanger Heights with partner (JD) and his son (Callahan). He helped found Waco Pride Network and now serves as that organization’s treasurer and Pride Planning Chair. Jeffrey works at City Center Waco where he helps keep Downtown Waco clean, safe, and vibrant. He is a member of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and graduated from Baylor in 2011.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.orgfor more information.

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