JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
GRANITE SHOALS — The Granite Shoals City Council approved a two-year contract extension and a 6 percent pay raise for City Manager Ken Nickel on June 28 to bump up his salary to $101,500 a year.
The increase was the result of an annual review.
“I passed on a raise last year,” he said. “A 6 percent increase is a nice increase. It’s a two-year contract, but I don’t get a raise my second year.”
Mayor Carl Brugger said the reason for the council’s decision was pretty simple.
“Because he’s doing an excellent job,” he said and declined further comment.
Five years ago, Nickel started out at $44,000 a year as the city’s finance director, a position he held for about 18 months. Then, he became the assistant city manager and finance director. Nickel was appointed acting city manager in January 2013 until the council voted to hire him permanently several weeks later.
The city council is also looking at annual reviews for other employees as well in the future.
The reviews are designed to give employees feedback on what they did well and what the council would like to see improved, Nickel said.
The council also approved allowing homeowners to improve houses built before July 1, 2016, without meeting requirements that eaves cannot extend more than five feet from a house to the property line or that homes must be at least 20 feet from the street.
For the past several months, homeowners haven’t been allowed to add things such as new bathrooms to their existing homes because of the ordinance.
But new homes built after July 1 must meet the current ordinance, Nickel said.
“If you add another room, you must make sure there are five-feet setbacks,” he said.
The council is allowing homes built before July 1 an exemption to be fair to residents who have lived in their homes for years and found it difficult to meet the eaves requirement.
Back when many of the affected homes were built, the city didn’t have restrictions, Nickel said.
“Some homeowners built them 40 years ago,” he said. “Given what we did with the guidelines (that were approved several months ago), we limited their ability to update and expand.”
Thanks to feedback from several residents regarding proposed road construction plans, council and staff members spent time discussing ways to improve Valley View along with Prairie Creek and Phillips Ranch roads. No action was taken.
The city looked at road improvements that included curbs and gutters on Prairie Creek Road, while standard drainage ditches would be constructed at Phillips Ranch Road and Valley View. The project comes out to about $5 million.
After receiving comments from residents, Brugger studied Valley View and the other roads in person and offered three alternatives:
• Not do as much on Phillips Ranch Road. That means the improvements will end at New Castle, just past the Black Pearl store. That leaves money left over to address Valley View and Prairie Creek for the same $5 million.
• Do all of Valley View and Prairie Creek up to the Forest Hills Drive intersection. This also includes Phillips Ranch Road to Newcastle to Bluebriar Drive, which would increase the street paving by approximately 3,000 feet. The projected cost would increase to $5.5 million. If the council chooses this alternative and approves asking residents to vote on a bond, the projected bond would be approximately $2,250,000.
• Do all of Phillips Ranch Road, Prairie Creek and Valley View, which would raise the projected cost to $6.3 million. If the council choses this, it could increase a bond proposal to $2.6 million. And the grant application would ask for $3.5 million. The remaining balance would come from the city’s budget.
Originally, Valley View was part of phase II improvements that were not set to begin until 2021, Nickel said, since it was repaired about five years ago. However, when the city conducted a traffic study, Valley View ranked No. 3 in the number of vehicles that use it behind Phillips Ranch Road and Prairie Creek.
Staff members concentrated on Phillips Ranch Road and Prairie Creek because of the number of industrial and commercial vehicles along with privately owned vehicles that use those streets, Nickel said.
“We didn’t think (Valley View) was as bad as the other two,” the city manager said. “The mayor looked at it. Valley View has some areas that need repair.”
Nickel said the city has limited resources, and he is trying to avoid getting into long-term debt. That’s why obtaining a grant is a priority to help offset costs of the road repairs. One possible grant is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If the council decides to ask residents to vote on a bond, the amount would be at least $2 million. If voters approve a bond, the USDA could award a grant of $3 million.
“But in government, to get what you need, you may have to get into some long-term debt,” Nickel said. “Nothing has been finalized, and we’re still researching things based upon if we can get the grant.”
Nickel said the council will continue conversations.
The council also examined an ordinance that would prohibit feeding deer, though no action was taken. This proposed ordinance is based off advice from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Nickel said.
The proposal, if passed during the regular meeting July 12, states that residents will be given 60 days to get used to the new ordinance of not feeding deer. Residents who break the ordinance the first time will be given a warning. A second infraction within a 12-month period will result in a fine of $50. A third, fourth and fifth offense warrants fines of $200 each during a 12-month period. A sixth offense results in a $1,000 fine during the same period.
“We have to get people to help us get this deer population healthy, and feeding them corn is not the right thing to feed them,” Nickel said. “At feeding bins, they’re passing ticks to each other.”
Corn is also not a very nutritional food for deer or other wild animals that might visit feeders.