JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
GRANITE SHOALS — The Granite Shoals Citizens Advisory Group submitted its petition calling for a referendum of the No Deer Feeding Ordinance to the city council during the Aug. 9 meeting.
City Manager Ken Nickel said city staff are doing their part now that the petition has been submitted.
“We’re in the process of verifying all the signatures,” he said.
During the meeting, the council also edged closer to a 2016-17 fiscal year tax rate.
As for the deer issue, the advisory group’s executive secretary, Michael Steenbergen, said the members gathered 107 signatures in all, but he had an old database that only validated 75.
Nickel said staff will let the council know if they can verify the signatures. He added he wouldn’t comment further because “I’d be talking prematurely.”
Steenbergen said the group understands something needs to be done about the city’s large deer population. But the group has issues with the ordinance, which the council adopted in July.
After the grace period ends on Sept. 12, citations will be issued. The first is a warning; the second is a $50 fine; the third, fourth and fifth are $200 fines each; and a sixth citation results in $1,000 fine.
Steenbergen said the council had gone too far with the fines. Instead, the Granite Shoals Citizens Advisory Group wants an annual fee system that would allow residents to feed deer for $25 or pay $75 to use a larger bin. The collected money will go into an educational fund so people can learn about urbanization.
Another issue is the group believes city leaders haven’t exhausted all other solutions. Steenbergen said he was told that a resident approached city hall about installing a deer fence in the east side of the city and offered to pay half the cost. Steenbergen said the resident told the group he never heard back from the city.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department suggested deer fencing as part of the maintenance phase after an initial reduction phase is implemented. The department emphasizes at least a 50 percent reduction of the current population because anything less than that percentage “typically (doesn’t) provide significant relief from density-related problems.”
The city council approved a bowhunting program that will begin this fall in an attempt to decrease the number of white-tailed deer within city limits. Residents applied to be part of the program and must undergo written and field tests. Once chosen, bow hunters will be allowed to hunt deer in specific locations within the city when deer season begins this fall.
Deer fencing restricts the ingress of additional deer and gains more control over the deer herd, according to reports. But deer managers should have long-term deer management plans in place before initiating deer herd reduction operations.
With at least 50 signatures on the petition, city staff told the council during its regular meeting July 26 there’s a possibility a November ballot item will be required.
The deadline to be on the Nov. 14 ballot is Aug. 20, Nickel said.
The city council also passed a “not to exceed” tax rate during the latest meeting as part of an annual calculation performed each year.
City council is allowed to approve a maximum increase of 8 percent for the maintenance and operation side. This year’s maximum number is 55.72 cents per $100 valuation.
Nickel said he believes staff will recommend less.
“But we won’t know that until we get the budget agreed upon,” he said. “At Monday night’s special meeting, I’ll have a better feel for some things.”
The city is holding a budget workshop at 6 p.m. Aug. 15 in the council chambers, 2221 N. Phillips Ranch Road.
An increase offsets other expenses of running the city such as purchasing fuel, maintenance of equipment and other everyday activities as well as 3 percent merit-based raises.
He’d also like to hire another staff member for the street and parks department who would be in charge of maintaining Manzano’s Hike, Bike and Run Trail, named after local Olympian Leonel Manzano, and beautifying the area surrounding city hall. That individual also would assist the street department in its responsibilities.
Nickel emphasized the city will not purchase new vehicles for the police or fire departments.
The public hearings on the budget and tax rate are 6 p.m. Aug. 23 and Sept. 7; action to adopt the budget and tax rate is 6 p.m. Sept. 16. The hearings are at the council chambers.