HOUSTON – The Houston Board of Aldermen met Thursday, Sept. 12, for their public hearing on the proposed budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which begins in October.

A call to order was given by the mayor, and Alderman Frank Thomas gave the invocation.

Only two citizens were present for the public hearing. However, there were some questions asked.

One question was, “Is there enough money allotted to water/sewage?” The board responded that this was just an estimation based on last year’s numbers. It could change at any time because of unforeseen circumstances.

Another question was why there was so much money under the city softball’s budget. The board said that it was essentially a blanket budget, and that the money would be used to benefit all city sports including but not limited to, softball, baseball, football and soccer.

There were a few more questions about the ad valorem tax, and the city’s appraised value. It had seen a decrease since last year, and they wanted to know if Fred’s going out of business had an effect. The board said Fred’s closing did not have an effect.

Ward 1 Alderlady Kellie Atkinson also voiced her concern about money being deducted from the General Fund to add to the Library’s budget.

She suggested that the board, going forward, consider moving money from other places as well. That way, it was small amounts missing from different budgets instead of a large amount from one budget.

Sean Johnson, Director of the Chickasaw Development Foundation, asked the board for a larger appropriation so CDF could accomplish more for the city.

He thanked the city for its support. He then discussed progress CDF had made and how the city’s money had been spent in the 18 months that he had been here. His overview was designed to give a better idea of why extra funding would be a good investment.

Some of CDF’s achievements include $250,000 in grant money, which broke down into $200,000 for the Shannon Building and $2,000 for brochures for the city.

He then discussed open grant applications. One from the Environmental Protection Agency called the Local Foods Local Places grant was for $25,000 for the Farmer’s Market. A Levitt AMP grant for $25,000 is to bring a music series to “musically under-served communities.”

This particular grant would put on a 10-week music series at Legion Lake. He’s fairly confident that Houston should be able to get these grants. He also said that, at least for the EPA grant, that people from Washington DC. come down to assess the situation, and they are the same people who read grant applications. This will give an opportunity for face time with the very people who will be reading the grant applications in the future.

He talked about the different events CDF hosts in the city. They currently host nine fully public events. At the moment, they are almost purely expenses. He said he has some ideas how to make certain events popular in order to cover the expenses for the other events that do not make a profit.

He closed his proposal by asking that appropriations for CDF be increased from $10,000 to $18,000. The request was approved.

The board voted to approve the budget 4-1, with Kelli Atkinson voting no.

After the public hearing portion of the meeting was over, Lamonica Evans came before the board to ask for her deposit back on the Civic Center. She rented the building for two events and decided to cancel.

She said she called City Hall and was told by an employee that she could come and pick her check up and rent the community center that she wanted instead.

She said that when she came to rent the Community Center, she forgot to pick up her check for the Civic Center. She said she did not think anything of it until it went through and overdrafted her bank account.

She was told she was outside of the mandatory 14-day window to cancel and therefore, her deposit check was sent through. She said she never received the rental letter for either of the events that included the 14-day explanation.

Mayor Stacey Parker asked what her address was, and verified it with the application. The board made the point that it was strange that she claimed to not have received either letter, because she had two events booked.

They said that neither of the letters was ever returned to them, which means that they were delivered somewhere. One of the employees, who handles the mailing, told them that they had a few checks returned because of lack of postage. She said she mentioned that to make the point that mail will come back if it is not delivered, and that they had not received either of the letters.

Evans ended her proposal by stating that she wanted a refund of her deposit as well as the overdraft fees. Mayor Parker suggested the board reserve judgment until they could speak with the employee that was mentioned and get their side of the story.

Ultimately, the board voted to table the issue until they could speak with the employee. Evans’ mother addressed the board after the verdict asking why they had even sent the check through if she had said she did not use the building.

They informed her that the deposit was not just for damage caused to the building, but also for lost income in the case of situations such as this one. They explained that when someone has the building booked, they cannot let anyone else rent it, and when the person does not use it, that is a loss of income, and the deposit covers it.

The board then adjourned.

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