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Granite Shoals water bill software problem slashes donations to first responder groups

Granite Shoals Police Association's Fill the Boat toy drive

Residents making a monthly donation with their water bills help fund #OperationFillTheBoat Toy Drive and Truck and Car Show, a community activity hosted by the Granite Shoals Police Association. Courtesy photo

Donations are down from Granite Shoals residents to the Granite Shoals Police Association, the Granite Shoals Fire Auxiliary, and Marble Falls Area EMS. The drop is due to complications with the city’s new software that many residents use to pay their water bills online.  

Water customers are asked if they want to add a $3 donation to each water bill when they pay. The money is split evenly between the police association, fire auxiliary, and EMS, which provides ambulance service to the city.

“It’s a complicated issue,” Finance Director Russell Martin told councilors at the City Council meeting Tuesday, Sept. 14. 

When residents donated the $3 online, they were instead given a $3 credit.

“We spent 90 minutes on the phone (with the software company to try to resolve it),” Martin said. 

Before the software problem, the city sent the police association monthly checks of about $1,500. The last check received was for $300, said Sgt. John Ortis, the association’s president. That will cut into the budgets for community activities such as the annual National Night Out, the Easter egg hunt, and barbecue fundraisers for other nonprofits. The fund fronts the food money for the barbecues, which is paid back after the events. 

Atop the funding list is the annual Christmas Outreach barbecue, which last year raised $14,000 to ensure children in Granite Shoals had presents to open. 

The Easter event is another big one.

“We have 20,000 eggs in our Easter egg hunt, which is the largest in Burnet County,” Ortis said.

Other ways donations have been used are assisting domestic violence victims and their families; paying for hotel rooms, clothing, and toiletries for people who have lost their homes in a fire; and building wheelchair ramps for elderly residents.

“We have repurposed that money to our community,” Ortis said. 

And if an officer is hurt or killed, the association has money set aside to help the family, Ortis continued. And with limited city budgets, the association will also pay for extra officer training.

The association was started nine years ago in part because of a letter to Santa written by a Highland Lakes Elementary School student asking for food stamps. A school counselor contacted Ortis asking if the police could help. The department paid for the family’s school and church clothes, food, and all utilities for three months. 

To help offset the drop in donations, the association is selling tickets for a gun raffle. Tickets are $50 each or $150 for four. Ortis has 100 tickets left. Only 400 are being sold. 

“Whoever buys in this last 100 gets an opportunity to win a guided three-person bow fishing trip,” he said. “Each ticket gets you a spot in all four guns, so one ticket gets you into all four drawings. 

Email Ortis at ortisjohn1605@gmail.com for more information. 

As for long-term solutions, the council decided to do more research into the software problem and return to the discussion at a future meeting. 

In other business at the Tuesday meeting, the council adopted the 2021-22 tax rate at $0.5986 per $100 valuation and the 2021-22 budget at $12,740,037, a $4 million increase because of the water bond money that’s already in the bank. The council approved spending about $2 million on the water tower and about $1 million on water plant improvements. 

To comply with House Bill 2073 and Senate Bill 1359, the council approved two personnel policies affecting the Granite Shoals Police Department. One relates to officers who test positive for COVID-19 after contracting the virus while on duty helping a resident. Officers can receive compensation and do not have to use sick time while recovering. The second bill relates to mental health. Officers can take time off for mental health reasons without having to use sick days. 

jfierro@thepicayune.com