MIDLOTHIAN — Among a host of other agenda items, a request by Midlothian Police Chief Carl Smith to the Midlothian City Council to act on a communications agreement with the City of Fort Worth was unanimously approved by the most recent regular Tuesday meeting. The agreement will allow Midlothian and the North Ellis County Emergency Dispatch District to connect to a 700-megahertz master switch located in Fort Worth.

“Our planned Motorola 700 MHz trunked simulcast system requires a connection to a switch to function properly. We opted not to purchase our own switch due to the additional $1 million expense involved. Our best option is a connection to the CFW Project 25 Master Site located at the Eagle Mountain Communications Site at 6869 Bowman Roberts Road, Fort Worth, Texas,” Smith explained. [...] The [current] Very High Frequency (VHF) system does not operate correctly. We have problems with officers' communication from their handheld units."

Smith noted that the 700 MHZ band is a clear channel band designated by the Federal Communication Commission several years ago to be used strictly as a public safety frequency. Ellis and neighboring counties have already moved to the higher band to improve communications.

“This will not only allow our system to function properly, but it also provides greatly enhanced interoperability with most of our neighbors,” Smith said.

The cities that currently participate in the North Ellis County Emergency Dispatch District are Midlothian, Red Oak and Ovilla. Both the police and fire departments of each of the cities use a centralized dispatch located in Midlothian.

Switching over to the high band frequency will incur a yearly operating expense per a subscriber basis with each base station, mobile and portable unit being a subscriber unit, according to Smith.

The MPD Chief of Police also noted that the subscriber costs were reported to be $2.10 per unit plus software maintenance fees so that all portions of the system will be upgraded at the same time.

“We anticipate starting with approximately 250 subscriber units between the three cities of Midlothian, Ovilla, and Red Oak. This will incur $6,300 per year in subscriber costs. Our software maintenance fee will be approximately $28,948 annually, so the total operating expense will be a little over $ 35,000 annually,” Smith said

While Midlothian will be the emergency district's central dispatch, all of the member cities will pay their share of the per unit and maintenance fees.

RATES GOING UP

The Midlothian City Council also unanimously approved an ordinance to increase water and sewer rates, effective on February 1, 2017. The new rates will appear on statements issued March 1, 2017.

This ordinance will automatically establish a new base and usage rate for both water and wastewater service over a consecutive five-year period, with the effective date for rate years 2 through 5 being October 1st.

The staff is recommending that for year one, the effective date for the rate adjustments be March 1, 2017, with customers seeing the effect of the rate changes in their bills due in May. Customers will be notified of impending rate changes in their January and February bills, as well as through the City’s website and social media sources.

Residential and commercial consumers will see a combined rate increase of between three and five percent. The rates will continue to grow through 2021.

SWIMMING THROUGH THE AGENDA

Both council and staff heard a request by a Midlothian homeowner, Lamar Pinkett, for the city to allow the construction of a swimming pool in his back yard. Plans for the pool involve construction along a tree-preservation easement.

In addressing the council, Pinkett illustrated where there are already several pools in his subdivision that are in or close to conservation easements.

“I want the pool so that my children will have a safe place to swim and recreation in their own backyard,” Pinkett said.

Councilman Mike Rogers said he did not see the need for the easement and the disadvantages of the easement requirement.

“The homeowner loses 20 feet of his property,” Rogers explained.

However, Midlothian Mayor Bill Houston said he saw the need of the easement.

After further discussion, the council approved Pinkett’s request by a 6-to-1 decision, with Councilman Ted Miller casting the sole declining vote. The council decided further cases would be decided on an individual basis.

A proposed rate schedule concerning vehicles for hire was also unanimously approved. The action came from a request by Charles Pinkstaff of Silver Bullet Taxi who proposed his own rate schedule, which is based on a per-mile rate. Pinkstaff also requested the city’s ordinance requiring taximeters be revised, as Pinkstaff uses a Google map program to determine rates.

Discussions between staff and council agreed the taximeter requirement was not essential and with only one taxi service in town, the Google Map program was satisfactory.

Midlothian City Attorney Joe Gorfida joined in on the discussion by stating the council could remove the meter requirement, but it could not be a part of this ordinance change.

“You can approve the rate change now and come back at a later session to approve removing the meter requirement," Gorfida explained, as the item was not previously posted on the action agenda.