Residents oppose $13M expense amid COVID-19 downturn

Numerous opponents to Midlothian’s proposed expansion of its community park came out --- in person and in submitted statements --- to air their opposition during Tuesday’s semimonthly meeting of the Midlothian City Council.

On Tuesday’s meeting agenda was the acceptance of a $13 million competitive bid from Dean Electric Inc. (dba Dean Construction) of Cedar Hill for improvements to the new Midlothian Community Park Phase 2. But after an hour-long discussion, the council decided to take no action pending more research. The council will meet on Tuesday in a workshop for further discussion.

The opposition came from residents concerned about spending millions on the park expansion while the COVID-19 pandemic was still ongoing ad unemployment numbers were hitting all-time highs. Some residents also expressed concern that the expansion lacked additional baseball and softball fields to the ones in Phase I. City manager Chris Dick read a stack of online messages, nearly all in opposition to the project.

One in-person speaker, Jackie McDonald, pointed to what she described as major cost overruns for certain park features, such as a playground and a splash pad.

“We’re coming to the table expecting a really good hamburger, and we’re either getting a steak dinner or nothing at all,” she said.

Former mayor Maurice Osborn also addressed the council and said that while he is in favor of the park and its amenities, the park must be completed in a wise and prudent way.

“We are living in unprecedented times with an uncertain future,” Osborn said. “Where we are and where we are headed depends on whether we listen to the politicians or to our health officials and financial experts.”

The city’s current mayor, Richard Reno, read a statement after the conclusion of public comments. Reno listed a number of things the city must do to weather the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, including preservation of resources and capital; managing debt; relieve tax version on citizens; and unity in facing difficult decisions. He added that in six months, the city will have a better idea where it stands financially.

“However, there is good news,” Reno said. “Midlothian is in very good shape for the time to come. Thanks to the people who have come before us, financially we are very sound. We have good reserves, and our debt is very manageable. Our staff has proven itself to provide an excellent job during these last several weeks, and that we can expect services going forward.”

Councilmember Mike Rodgers said the city has $14 million in funds already set aside for the park project, but the original $16 million proposal approved by voters in a November 2017 bond referendum has grown to more than $21 million because of amenities that were added to the plan.

Rodgers proposed taking several weeks to look into other funding sources to go with what the city already has in the bank, to get the project back to its original $16 million figure. Rodgers said the other amenities could be added later.

“I’m not going to be able to vote for this tonight because I think we do have an obligation to provide for the community ballparks and the community side, but within what (citizens) were presented,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t mean you’ll get all the bells and whistles, but we have an opportunity to provide all of it as I see it.”

Dick told the council that paring the park addition down would be difficult because the engineering for the project has already been done, at a cost of about $2 million. But Rodgers said it’s possible to leave out a number of features and add them later, and councilmember Ted Miller added that he was able to get the total expense down to $18.8 million just by crossing out a number of features on the plan.

Dick also told the council that the city has until June 28 to decide on a dollar figure for the bid it wants to accept, but after that the project may have to be rebid.

At a joint special meeting and work session on May 5, the City Council and the Midlothian Community Development Corporation board reviewed and discussed plans for Phase 2 of the park.

Assistant city manager Clyde Melick told the council the improvements that were planned as part of the $13 million contract proposal before the council included an amphitheater, multipurpose sports courts, sand volleyball and basketball courts, pavilion picnic areas, a playground, natural and regular trails, and a splash pad with a cistern and shade structures. Melick also said site work, pond work, landscaping, roads, fire lanes, parking and restrooms were all part of the proposed contract.

Phase 1 of the park broke ground in January 2015 and was opened in February 2017 on the eastern side of 14th Street. The initial phase of the park included 13 soccer fields, two regulation football fields with grandstands, tennis courts, a 5-mile walking trail and parking spaces.

The City Council approved Phase 1 in March 2013 through the issuance of a $7.8 million general obligation bond.

Other items

• The consent agenda was unanimously approved, including an approval of a special event permit for Thursday’s high school senior parade and a resolution authorizing participation in the TexPool Investment Pools as an additional investment pool for the city.

• The council approved a variance to allow for a roof pitch of less than the city’s zoning ordinance on a structure on Stout Road.

• The purchase of a new air conditioning automation system for City Hall from Johnson Controls was approved at a maximum cost of $63,125. The new system, which replaces one installed in 2006, is expandable and can later include other city buildings.

• A retail water project for the Sharka data center at RailPort Industrial Park was approved. The agreement is for a 20-year term and will supply water and wastewater services at the city’s normal industrial rates.

• Pittard Construction Company was awarded a maximum $809,665 contract for work on the city’s water and wastewater improvement project along West Main Street and West Avenue I.

• The council OK’d a recommendation from the Midlothian Economic Development Board of Directors to approve an agreement with Ellis Solar, LLC and Chaparral Steel Midlothian LP to provide a possible incentive of up to $1.5 million for the Gerdau solar project. The incentive would only be paid once the facility and jobs are in place, with a deadline of the end of 2022.

• The council discussed and reviewed the city’s downtown plan.