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Harvey windfall could lead to faster pothole repairs

November 28, 2018

A sales-tax boon from Tropical Storm Harvey might soon fund a food-truck park, more kennels for the local animal shelter and a faster, better way to fix potholes. The devastating storm could also be responsible, indirectly at least, for a new “Welcome to Beaumont” sign.

The City Council on Tuesday gave city staff an informal go-ahead on five projects that total about $1.4 million to be funded by the city’s reserve fund, which grew post-Harvey as residents purchased replacement appliances and supplies to repair their homes.

As was the case after hurricanes Ike and Katrina, the city put much of the windfall into its rainy day fund. That fund now can be used to pay for projects that have been deemed worthy but never rose to a top priority.

RELATED: Beaumont city employees get raise in FY2019 budget

Spending the $1.4 million would bring the city’s rainy day fund from 32 percent of general expenditures to 31 percent of general expenditures, which City Manager Kyle Hayes called “excellent.”

The projects will again be brought before the council and any residents who want to comment on them before formal approval.

But in the coming days city staff will begin to pursue the purchase or construction of a pothole-repair machine; “Welcome to Beaumont” signage; a food truck area and new restrooms near Rotary Playground; new software for city business; and 13 outdoor kennel spaces at the Animal Care Facility.

“As I walk away today, my marching orders are to” pursue these projects, Hayes said.

The purchase that drew the most attention and excitement is a new pothole fixer.

The city is about 60 to 90 days behind on pothole repair largely because of rain and the process crews have to go through to fill one, Public Works Director Joseph Majdalani said. Rain and wear can further damage roads when there is excessive lag time between when the pothole is formed and when it’s repaired.

As it stands, city crews have to repair potholes by hand, meaning they’re not as compact as the could be, increasing the likelihood that water can seep in and destroy the repair, Majdalani said. They’re also not usually level.

A pothole repair machine would fix those problems and increase the speed that crews can repair potholes, he said.

The machine and a trailer to haul it would cost about $175,000 and require the hiring of five additional workers. Hayes said he’s cutting vacant positions in other areas of the city to cover the new jobs.

“We know how we can pay for the people,” he said. “The question is if the council wants to buy the equipment.”

The city is expected to spend $33,500 on a “Welcome” sign near the interchange of U.S. 69 and Interstate 10.

The Texas Department of Transportation has final approval on placement and engineering, but Beaumont Director of Facilities Keith Folsom doesn’t anticipate problems.

The sign will be engineered in such a way that when the Department of Transportation changes the interchange — a project expected to start within the next three years — it can be unbolted and moved to a new location, he said.

For $320,000, the city is expected to add a food truck area and two restrooms near the Rotary Playground adjacent to the Event Center lake.

The city was planning to construct a food truck area near Riverfront Park prior to Harvey. The area near Rotary Playground would have space for up to four food trucks with water and electrical hookups. There would also be a covered picnic area.

The restrooms would fill a need some council members said they hear about often from parents with toddlers. City staff recommends adding two restrooms — either two unisex or a male and female — at either the north or south side of the playground.

The bathrooms would be open from dawn until dusk.

The city is also expected to spend $342,000 on new software to track residents’ work orders, building permits and other city functions. The software would cost $112,500 for maintenance in its second year of operation and $150,000 yearly after that — more than double what the city pays for its current software, Beaumont Chief Technology Officer Bart Bartkowiak said.

Bartkowiak said the expanded functionality, such as allowing residents to track reports of roads that need to be fixed and fill out building permits online, is worth the extra expense.

The final measure the City Council supported was to spend $31,000 to match a private resident’s donation to fund construction of 13 outdoor kennel spaces at the Beaumont Animal Care Facility.

Councilwoman Virginia Jordan said the city has been working to become a no-kill shelter, but hasn’t made improvements needed to accommodate keeping animals until they can be adopted.

The spaces could also be used to quarantine sick animals, she said.

kaitlin.bain@beaumontenterprise.com

twitter.com/KaitlinBain

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