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Council, manager prioritize Kilgore's future

By Glenn Evans
Dec. 3, 2011 at 11 p.m.

KILGORE - OK, get to work.

That's basically what the Kilgore City Council told its new city manager last week after Scott Sellers walked his bosses through an exercise to codify their priorities for dozens of projects.

"The product was just what I was looking for," said Sellers, who took administrative command of the city Oct. 31 and devised Monday's four-hour work session to prevent him from spinning his wheels.

The product, as he called it, lined up 37 programs, ideas and projects by averaging scores of 1-9 given to each by each member of the five-man council. He told the council, after printing up the final list, that he won't spend time on the last 11 on the list and will dive immediately into the top 10.

The top 10 are, beginning with No. 1:

Drawing up a road improvement plan;

Giving a green light to a citywide liveability study by Stephen F. Austin State University graduate students;

Creating a sewer restoration and damage fund for residents in homes damaged by sewage backup;

Creating a long- and short-term capital improvements plan;

Creating a strategic plan;

Designing a comprehensive plan update mechanism;

Enlisting developers in a roundtable;

Drawing up a model of sewer networks;

Exploitation of the oil derricks as a unique downtown symbol;

And devising a smarter investment policy.

"You can see, a lot of the top ideas that emerged really provide opportunities for us to look holistically at providing for the whole city ... capital projects, liveability, downtown or economic development," Sellers said. "So, really, these plans give the context, a justification, for spending. And that's what I was trying to achieve. I want us to have a plan for spending, for developing the city, and direction."

Some of those overlap with each other and one or two items in the 11th through 15th priority tier. One public recreation item, building a disc golf course, made the top 15 cut coming in at No. 14.

"Disc golf - it's a pretty inexpensive form of recreation to create," Mayor Ronnie Spradlin said. "But it's enjoyed by so many, it's really a no-brainer. ... Overall, (the list) was a really good outcome, I thought. It's nice that he wants our point of view."

Sellers was not surprised that roads led the council's list.

"Typically, when you survey your public, street improvements, road improvements, come back as No. 1," he said.

The SFA study might have ranked so high because it is free. The university in Nacogdoches approached the city with the proposal.

"They are going to look at socioeconomic indicators, city services, the schools, housing, social infrastructure, health care," Sellers said, defining "social infrastructure" as the level of all residents' involvement in civic affairs. "And they'll put together a plan, and they'll come back and help us implement the plan. I've invited them to the next council meeting to come and get this thing started."

'Good gesture'

Sellers pitched the Sewer Restoration and Drainage Fund as a way for residents whose houses flood with sewage, through no fault of their own, to apply for a maximum of $5,000 to reclaim their home.

"Nobody wants to be left holding the bag when the sewer backs up," he said. "If it's in the main (lines, owned by the city), you're just completely victim to a grease ball stopping in front of your home. It happens more in low spots on your line, or in a very flat area. I actually plan on bringing that up at the Dec. 13 meeting as well."

The "good gesture," as he described the fund, actually tied with the SFA study for No. 2 on the council members' ranking.

Tying it all in

Items 4-8, plus creating a sidewalk improvement plan and a storm sewer map coming in respectively at Nos. 11 and 13, represent the projects Sellers described as ideal for his holistic approach to spending tax money.

He registered mild surprise at the lack of a capital improvement plan. Those documents lay out large expenditures and set each on a calendar so they can be budgeted year to year.

Sellers said his proposal to introduce a public works director position to city staff, eliminating a director position being vacated by a retirement, dovetails with the capital improvements plan.

"Without a capital improvements plan, the council doesn't have the ability to make decisions holistically, knowing how one project ties into the next," he said. "They need to tie into a rate structure that can pay for these improvements. We pay as we go."

The sewer model, a water system model and a storm sewer model all fall in line with the budget-as-you-go philosophy.

"When done correctly, they identify issues that require future capital improvements," Sellers said of the models, or maps. "So, we'll have everything in our (Geographic Information System). They'll do flow-meter testing, so we'll know if we have capacity issues. It could (show) that in another 20-30 years we will need another wastewater treatment plant."

Gushers again

And then there are the derricks. Every city with initiative, Sellers said, tries to identify some symbol for its central business district, or downtown.

The derricks are like a gift from the marketing gods, easily recognized icons representing the industry that lifted Kilgore from a muddy pioneer outpost. Sellers will work closely with newly hired Main Street Project Manager Clara Chaffin to exploit the tall, physical symbols with another essential downtown tool - water.

"I'm a downtown guy," he said. "A lot of my experience is in revitalizing downtowns. (The derrick) is a primary lure that brings in primary dollars, and it's unique to your town. Most cities with downtowns would give anything to have a primary lure - they're just downtowns."

An ongoing Derrick Park project, forming with private donations, could somehow incorporate the water element in Sellers' vision, through a splash pad or fountain.

"Water downtown equals sales equals people," he said. "The No. 1 attraction to downtown anywhere is water."

Smart growth

Spradlin said much of the priority list reveals the council's aspiration to take the city sensibly toward a more urban future. Developers are in various stages of plans for about 80 homes, some 30 town homes and about 35 multi-family residences inside the growing city limits, he said.

"Hopefully, we're entering a period where we're going to grow some," Spradlin said. "And, we've got to get more organized if we're going to grow."

The mayor also liked the revision of the city's investment policy, giving it straight 9s, the top, in the ranking he contributed at Monday's work session.

"We have some old-fashioned policies," he said, noting that they require the council to deal only with Kilgore-based banks.

Sellers indicated he wants to pass each project finish line in a way that keeps the residents who elected his bosses happy about their decision. And that means having transparent and justifiable reasons for spending the public's money, he said.

"In the end, it will tie everything together nicely, so we can see the nexus between one spending priority and the next," he said.



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