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Bryan council advances plans to amend city charter

Bryan council advances plans to amend city charter

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The city of Bryan is one step closer to amending its city charter, with updates that would lengthen terms for city council members and could open doors for Bryan Texas Utilities to provide broadband internet service.

The Charter Review Advisory Committee, which formed in April at the request of council, presented its recommendations for updating Bryan’s home rule charter at Tuesday’s city council meeting. The council was in favor of the group’s findings, which included addressing the city manager’s spending authority and said that anyone who runs for city council must live in the city for at least a year, rather than the current policy of six months.

City staff will have an ordinance prepared for consideration at the council’s July 28 meeting that will include the propositions discussed Tuesday so that the charter amendments can be voted on at the Nov. 3 election.

Increasing council terms from three years to four would align Bryan with College Station and Brazos County terms. The recommendation also calls for the city to transition to holding elections in even-numbered years to coincide with College Station elections.

Charter Review Committee member Sonny Lyles said in his presentation that the changes could lead to higher voter turnout and a savings of about $50,000 every other year.

“It makes all the sense in the world,” he said.

Ten people spoke during hear citizens in support of one charter amendment recommendation that would authorize BTU to provide fiber broadband internet service, but would not require BTU to do so. Brazos WiFi owner Jim Bouse opposed the proposed change, citing concerns about high costs if the city were to move forward.

While state law prohibits cities from providing telephone and telecom services, fiber broadband internet should be permitted. Mayor Andrew Nelson requested for city staff to review the term “fiber broadband internet” one more time to see if there is a more flexible phrasing that would still be legal but also could prevent the city from needing another charter election if that type of technology becomes obsolete in the future.

City council approved an increase in Texas Municipal Power Agency’s generation budget. Bryan is one of four cities that owns TMPA, so when TMPA budgets increase more than 20% from one year to the next, all four cities must approve of the changes. The FY21 budget is $21,213,762, while FY20 was $12,895,990, according to the city’s council agenda.

Assistant Finance Director Will Smith said that the FY21 budget increase is mainly due to the planned decommissioning costs of the Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station, which TMPA last ran in 2018.

TMPA is in negotiations with a potential buyer. Smith said that if a sale goes through, then the decommissioning costs are the responsibility of the purchaser, but since there has not been a sale the city is moving forward with plans to fund decommissioning costs.

Smith said that decommissioning is a four- to five-year process, and that steps mentioned in TMPA’s FY21 budget are the first couple in that process. During the council meeting, staff and council said that decommissioning would not come at a higher cost to rate payers since the city has taken steps to put money aside in advance.

A dozen community members spoke against the potential sale and rumored reopening of the TMPA owned coal-powered plant.

Council also approved the 2020 to 2024 5-Year Consolidated Plan and 2020 Annual Action Plan and permit the city manager to submit the documents to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for approval.

Through the annual action plan, the city is applying for $841,233 in CDBG funding and $388,777 in HOME funding.

The consolidated plan outlined goals and priorities that the city wants to fund, with some of its high priorities being to include programs for safe and affordable housing, public service agency group funding to address the impact of COVID-19 and special economic development programs that will aid with the creation and retention of low- and moderate-income jobs and address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alsie Bond, Community Development Services Department manager, said the city is also aiming to address community needs for public service funding that are not specific to COVID-19, as well as a short-term emergency tenant base rental assistance program from HOME funds through Dec. 31.

“COVID-19 has affected how we conduct business as we reach out to our community for input on all needs,” she said via email. “Overall, the pandemic will affect the outcome of services at least in the next year or so. But, we do have additional funding for those related needs from the CDBG CARES funding. We will closely watch community needs and make adjustments if and when necessary in delivery of services.”

For more information on Tuesday’s meeting, including agendas and audio recordings of the discussion, visit bryantx.gov.

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