June 04--The Burleson City Council on Monday approved ordinances allowing the issuance of $22,565,000 in general obligation refunding and improvement bonds, and $10,165,000 in certificates of obligation for 4B projects, including water and wastewater improvement projects. City councilmembers approved the ordinances after learning that Standard and Poor's Rating Services had upgraded the city from AA-minus to AA.
"The next step is AA-plus rating, and I anticipate this city will get to a AA-plus rating in the next [three to five] years, Boyd London, managing director for FirstSouthwest Holdings LLC, told councilmembers. FirstSouthwest advises the city on financial investments.
London said the highest rating would be AAA, the next step up from AA-plus, but that very few cities ever reach AAA status. He said Standard and Poor's assessment indicates Burleson "is doing very well," and that the rating upgrade was based on "adequate economy, strong management conditions with good financial policies, very strong budgetary flexibility, liquidity, budgetary performance and very weak debt and contingent liabilities."
London also said those attributes don't apply just to Burleson, but to "Burleson plus." He said those attributes also include the overlying entities, such as Johnson and Tarrant counties and Burleson ISD.
London said his firm had "sold a lot of bonds for Burleson" on Monday, and that the bond market overall is "in good shape."
Rhett Clark, the city's finance director, told councilmembers the bonds in the ordinance included about $12.9 million of refunding debt to save on interest and the rest of the $22.5 million was debt approved by voters in November to pay for new projects. The list of projects includes a new radio system for the Burleson Police Department, street repairs, a sidewalk improvement program, "traffic congestion mitigation" projects, purchase and renovation of a police station and more.
Clark noted that during the April 7 council meeting, councilmembers instructed him and City Manager Dale Cheatham to prepare the paperwork necessary to begin the process of issuing the bonds. The projected property tax rate increase necessary to service the debt on the bond issue is 5 cents, Clark said.
London said the city had refunded general obligation bonds from 2004 and 2005 and certificates of obligation from 2005, saving about $1,628,000 in the process. None of the refunding, he said, extended the debt service on those bonds.
In a workshop session before the regular council meeting, Director of Neighborhood Services Lisa Duello outlined a proposed new program that will make it less expensive for area residents to reclaim pets picked up by the city's animal control officers. Duello said the program will also help reduce the number of repeat offenses in terms of animals at large in the city, educate the public on the responsibilities of pet ownership and free up shelter space.
According to city ordinance, city animal control officers can collect and impound any animal at large in the city and fine the owner $182. But animal control officers can instead choose to charge owners a fee to reclaim their pets. The fee is $30 for pets who have been spayed or neutered or $45 for those who are not, plus another $10 if the animal's rabies vaccination is not current and an additional $15 to have the animal microchipped if it is not already.
Under the new program, for first-time offenders only, the city will waive the reclaim fee if the owner completes a brief online class on pet ownership within 48 hours. The owner would still have to pay the $10 fee if the animal doesn't have an up-to-date rabies vaccination, and the $15 fee to have the animal microchipped if it isn't already.
"Theoretically, the cost to reclaim a pet could go from $70 to free," Duello said. But, she added, about 89 percent of the pets picked up by animal control officers are not microchipped and do not have a current rabies vaccination. Still, the cost even in those cases will drop from $70 to $25 if the owner completes the online class.
The council approved the change as part of the consent agenda during its regular session.
Also on Monday, the council approved a commercial-site plan for expansion of the H-E-B Grocery store at 165 N.W. John Jones Ave. in Burleson. Bradley Ford, director of development services for the city, said that the store, which opened in 2010 with 88,000 square feet of space, is getting "a pretty substantial" expansion, and that the original plan for the store took that future expansion into consideration.
Ford said H-E-B will be adding another 29,000 square feet of space on the east end of the building, shifting the pharmacy drive-through out to make room. He said the grocery store already has 716 parking spaces, which is adequate for the 117,000 square feet it will encompass after the expansion.
Ford said the necessary landscaping and drainage were also already in place because H-E-B officials planned ahead for growth when they initially designed the store.
Ford said once the expansion and remodel is complete, the Burleson H-E-B will be "more vertically oriented," with "two distinct entry points." The bright colors on the exterior will be "toned down," he said, and the word "Plus" will be added to the name.
"From an economic development standpoint, we're very excited about it," Ford said of the expansion. "I am excited to see what's going to be in the store."
Shetter added, "I may have to drive to Southlake to buy furniture. But people from Southlake drive to Burleson to go grocery shopping, I found out recently."
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