Victoria City Council remains divided on sewage plant

MORE ACTION

The City Council:

• Adopted all voter-approved charter amendments from the May 12 election;

• Declared intent to amend phase 1 and 2 of Caterpillar's tax abatement agreement;

• Approved a $46,500 contract with Harrison, Waldrop and Uherek for an annual audit;

• Awarded a $2 million bid to Palacios Marine & Industrial Coatings Inc. for the Downtown Water and Sanitary Sewer Replacement Project;

• Approved a $217,000 resolution for temporary labor from Labor Ready, Goodwin Personnel Services, Austin Personnel Services and Manpower

The legal defense representing Victoria over its proposed sewage treatment plant is not working for free.

After weeks of debates, failed amendments and an executive session over the issue of payment, Victoria City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday to approve a $76,054 cap on legal fees for the hearing.

"I feel like we're too quick to go to outside consultants," said Councilman David Hagan. "Whatever amount we put in there, it could be $200,000, it's going to end up being spent."

Hagan made a failed motion, still unsatisfied with the final figure, to pay $20,000 of the bill from the city's legal budget.

Councilwoman Josephine Soliz seconded the motion, which failed in a 2-4 vote.

Councilman Paul Polasek said it sounded as if Hagan was trying to punish the city's legal staff.

Hagan responded, "You don't have to like it. I don't like a lot of things that come out of your mouth."

Polasek reasoned that because it is a wastewater plant, and the wastewater budget has money for it, the legal fees should be paid from that account.

"I'm sorry, Dave, but with all due respect, it makes no sense," he said of the proposed amendment.

Councilman Emett Alvarez abstained from the vote Tuesday because of his association with the plant's opposition group.

Since April, council members have debated legal expenses for the contested case hearing over the proposed sewage treatment plant, which has put the city against a group of residents organized as Concerned Citizens for the Health and Safety of Victoria.

An ordinance to transfer $175,000 from the water/watstewater fund balance within the department for legal expenses was approved in a 4-3 vote at the May 8 meeting. Former Councilwoman Denise Rangel, Mayor Will Armstrong and Councilmen Tom Halepaska and Polasek voted in favor of that ordinance.

However, after the May 12 election, a new council continued disputing the resolution that would authorize payment to the Austin-based firm Booth, Ahrens and Werkenthin, which they hired to represent the city.

City staff cut the attorney's fees to $76,054, but that did little to appease Hagan and Councilman Joe Truman, who also voted against the original transfer, and the two new council members Alvarez and Soliz.

Halepaska called Hagan's motion Tuesday night "an ambush tactic" that would not accomplish any goals.

Nonetheless, Hagan said he would "take my chances."

Upon returning from an hourlong executive session Tuesday, Truman changed his vote on the issue.

"I had to think of the greater picture for the entire good of Victoria," he said. "They (the citizens group) have a bulldog, we have to have a pit bull."

He said he lost sleep over the issue, and originally voted with Hagan in hopes of inciting mediation between the two parties.

"I tried to stand on principle ... it didn't work," Truman said. "I didn't want to spend another dime on the issue."

He said the city needs the plant for any future growth and development.

"When the toilets don't flush, what's going to happen?" Truman asked.