By Valerie Weber
IVANHOE – The City of Ivanhoe held a Town Hall Meeting at the Ivanhoe Community Center on Thursday, Oct. 4. The purpose was to discuss the upcoming $2 million Road Improvement Bond election. The meeting was also live-streamed on the “Ivanhoe Texas Community Watch” Facebook page. Attendees and viewers were encouraged to ask questions about the proposed Road Improvement Bond.
Mayor Cathy Bennett and a quorum of city council members were joined by Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette and Municipal Judge Judith Haney. Allen Sims of LJA Engineering was also in attendance to address questions were the drainage and road construction consultant, and the financial bond consultants Jim and James Gilley of US Capital Advisors were present.
The Road Improvement Bond was on the ballot this past May and lost by a narrow margin. Suggestions were solicited by Ivanhoe’s Public Works Coordinator David Marshall on how to address road improvement without funds from a bond sale. Several suggestions were received such as; let volunteers improve the roads, purchase Monarch Water Company and use the operation profits on the roads, and un-incorporate the city so that road maintenance would revert to Tyler County.
It was explained that the city cannot incur the liability for volunteers to maintain the roads because the potential for accidents or utility damage is too great, and there is no guarantee that volunteers could provide appropriately engineered roads. The idea to purchase Monarch Water Company was deemed infeasible because the company is not for sale and even if it were, it is estimated that the cost would far exceed the Road Improvement Bond cost. Blanchette confirmed Bennett’s assertion that un-incorporation of the city would not solve the issue because Texas transportation codes would require the roads to be improved to county standards before the county would assume responsibility. Tyler County Commissioner Martin Nash sent a letter to Bennett also confirming this answer.
If the city were un-incorporated, the funds available to improve the roads to county standards would be the Ivanhoe Property Owners Improvement Association funds, which would charge $6 per property annually. However, the IPOIA only receive those funds from approximately half of the property owners. Even if all the property owners paid their annual dues, the approximate annual total of $24,000 would not begin to address road improvements.
Bennett explained that the majority of the council concluded that a second Road Improvement Bond was needed. She said that the city cannot address road improvement in any other way, because the current budget and tax base is insufficient to maintain the 46 miles of roads inside the city. Additional research, planning and appropriate communication was needed to illustrate how essential the Road Improvement Bond is to address the deterioration of the existing main roads.
Bennett reported that in the past several months, an economic advisor called Veridus Group provided free services via a grant program to survey and report on the current status and potential improvements for the city. She read a section of a preliminary report from the survey, which stated that the city’s roads are in dire need of repair. The report compared Ivanhoe’s roads to those in developing countries. Bennett also noted that US Mail service has ceased on several roads due to the roads’ deteriorated condition and also mentioned a letter from Warren ISD complaining about the wear and tear their school buses receive on many of Ivanhoe’s roads.
Ivanhoe Councilman David Herrington presented a PowerPoint presentation which explained how the Road Improvement Bond would be implemented if passed. A major goal of the Road Improvement Bond is to ensure safe passage to the Ivanhoe Community Center, which is used as an emergency shelter and communications hub during emergencies, and to improve the common paths used for hurricane evacuation. This would address improvements to the main arterial roads through the center of the city, plus roads in the northeastern and central sections of the city.
Herrington added that another important reason to pass the Road Improvement Bond is that it makes Ivanhoe eligible for certain drainage and road improvement grants. Luckily the grants’ deadline has been extended to the end of this November. If the Bond passes, the City will submit for these grants which could in effect quadruple the original $2 million bond funding for drainage and road improvement work. If all the grants are approved, they would provide up to an additional $6 million. The Bond funds plus successful grant funds could result in a total of $8 million to improve most, if not all roads in the City. If the Road Improvement Bond is not passed, the city cannot apply for these grants.
Bennett noted that a distrust of city expenditures has been voiced by citizens in the past. She explained that a separate bank account for bond funds is a legal requirement to which Ivanhoe will adhere. She invited citizens to form an audit committee to review monthly road improvement expenditures from this separate account.
Another Ivanhoe Town Hall Meeting on the Road Improvement Bond is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, and all citizens are invited to attend with questions and comments. This Town Hall Meeting will also be live-streamed on Facebook. Citizens can find the proposed map and PowerPoint presentation as well as a question and answer section on the City’s website at www.cityofivanhoetx.com. Citizens can obtain hard copies of the presentation and question and answer section at the Ivanhoe City Hall, 870 Charmaine Drive East, or call 409-283-3299 or 409-429-6752 to have hard copies hand-delivered to their homes.