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'Operation Save the Animals' takes off in Longview; $6M streets project included in budget

By Sherry Koonce
Aug. 23, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Longview Mayor Jay Dean announced the name of a new task force that will be charged with finding a solution to the city's animal overpopulation problem.

During the next two or three weeks, people from all walks of the community will be asked to serve on the "Operation Save the Animals" task force, Dean said at Thursday's meeting of the City Council.

Once formed, the task force will take 60 to 90 days to work toward a solution to overcrowding issues at the Humane Society of Northeast Texas animal shelter serving Longview, which receives financial support from the city.

The Humane Society has said it is taking in upwards of 1,000 stray and abandoned animals every month. Of that number, from 600 to 700 are euthanized because of overcrowding.

The shelter was designed to handle 140 animals monthly from Longview, but it has begun taking in animals from surrounding communities as well.

Dean said the task force would include members with backgrounds in finance, veterinary medicine.

"This is not just a City of Longview issue," he said of the shelter, which also receives financial support from Gregg County. "Other cities and counties are involved. I know we need a plan, we need a long-term plan."

Kelly Heitkamp, a Longview attorney, appeared at the meeting to present the results of a forensic accountant's study of the Humane Society's books. But Heitkamp said she had agreed to withhold the information to give the mayor's task force a chance to move forward.

In other matters, council members mulled a proposed $152.1 million budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget, and a 50-cent tax rate per $100 valuation to fund it.

The proposed tax rate was discussed in a public hearing, the first of two scheduled before a rate is adopted on Sept. 13.

For the owner of an average residence valued this year at $137,860, the proposed tax rate would generate $690.54 in city property taxes. The proposed tax rate will generate more tax revenue during the 2012-2013 budget year because property values have increased overall.

Property taxes paid on last year's average $135,465 homestead generated $678.54, for a difference of $12 between the two years.

The proposed budget contains funding for mid-year pay raises of 3 percent for all employees, $600,000 in added money for streets programs, $155,000 for traffic signal improvements, and a new internal auditor position costing $90,000.

Water and sewer customers will see a rate hike in the proposed budget.

For the average customer using 7,000 gallons of water with a 5/8-inch meter, the bill would increase by $3.58, up from $49.87 to $53.45 a month.

The increase is necessary to offset many years when increased costs were not passed on to customers, according to City Manager David Willard. He said the city needs more large volume water customers, and is currently talking with one.

"If we can find more customers, it will help with the water rate," he said.

Also in the budget is funding for construction of a $6 million downtown street improvement project along a three-block area of Green Street, from Cotton to Whaley streets, is moving forward.

Longview City Council members approved a $6.3 million contract, submitted by low bidder, East Texas Bridge, a Longview company.

The Green Street re-construction is the second largest project of the $52.6 million street bond package passed by voters in 2011.

Construction is expected to begin in October, During that time traffic is expected to be delayed.

As part of the project, brick lined streets that are caving in will be reconstructed in the fashion of Fredonia and Tyler streets.

Construction of a new traffic signal system at the intersections of Center, Tyler, Methvin and Whaley streets are also included in the Green Street project.

City Council also agreed to purchase right-of-way parcels for the Hollybrook Drive widening project. Estimated cost of the four parcels is $79,000. Hollybrook Drive is slated to be widened from two lanes to four between Eastman Road and Loop 281.



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