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Performer Vanilla Ice awarded key to Galveston

Vanilla Ice’s performance Sunday in Galveston — a homecoming of sorts for the Dallas-born musician — was all about the memories.

“There’s something about Texas,” Vanilla Ice said. “It gets in your blood.”

The performance capped the Lone Star Rally, a four-day motorcycle festival that officials say brings about 250,000 motorcyclists and a half-million visitors to the island. It’s the largest-known four-day motorcycle rally in the country, organizers say.

“It’s amazing,” Vanilla Ice said of the rally. “I do a lot of these — like the Sturgis and one in Florida.”

Vanilla Ice and his crew took time during the rally to walk the streets of downtown Galveston and take in all the motorcycles, a particular treat as Vanilla Ice is a longtime Motocross aficionado, he said.

Visitors and fans attending Sunday’s concert were equal measures amused and excited by the presence of a childhood memory incarnate at one of Galveston’s biggest tourist events.

“It’s pretty cool,” Texas City resident Maria Notarnicola said. “I remember him from my childhood. Mostly from the Ninja Turtles song and Ice Ice Baby.”

The performer, known mostly for the hit song “Ice Ice Baby” and his performance in the 1990s movie “Ninja Turtles II,” was hoping to capitalize on fans like Notarnicola as part of his “I Love The 90s Tour.”

“I want to bring everyone back to the ’90s,” Vanilla Ice said. “Between 2000 and 2017, there’s nothing definitive, culturally. Which is not to say that there hasn’t been anything good, music-wise. But people remember the ’90s.”

For Vanilla Ice, visiting Galveston brought back memories of childhood trips to the island to escape what he said were larger crowds at South Padre Island.

“I come here and I think about Tex-Mex food and my mouth starts watering,” Vanilla Ice said.

Vanilla Ice was born Robert Matthew Van Winkle at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, he said.

With a brother in Houston and other friends and family in the area, Vanilla Ice said he expected a familial tint to Sunday’s audience, which was played to benefit Hurricane Harvey victims.

Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell and Councilwoman Amy Bly joined Vanilla Ice after Sunday’s performance to give him a key to the city for his efforts to help Harvey victims, Maxwell said.

“We haven’t given a key to the city to any musician since Bret Michaels was here about four or five years ago,” Maxwell said.

The two Galveston officials were excited to present the key, both having memories of listening to Vanilla Ice back in the early ‘90s.

“It’s Vanilla Ice,” Bly said. “He is who he is. Brian texted me and asked if I wanted to help give him a key to the city. I asked him if it was a joke. Yeah, absolutely.”

Galveston officials also hoped Vanilla Ice’s presence on the normally more lightly attended final day of the rally would increase turnout to the island, Maxwell said.

The rally in 2016 contributed about $115.6 million to Galveston’s economy, and about $113 million of that came indirectly through retail, food and lodging spending, according to an economic impact study.

“We’re working to increase Sunday for more of a local draw and more families,” Maxwell said.


News
City considering replacing employee health program

LEAGUE CITY

League City could save $426,000 it spends on an employee medical clinic if it doesn’t renew its contract with Tennessee-based CareHere.

The CareHere contract is up Jan. 31, and the city has another option in mind.

University of Texas Medical Branch has proposed a preferred network arrangement for city employees that city officials are calling a “win-win.”

“We’ve been working on this since May,” city consultant Julian Fontana said.

Fontana, who works for Dallas-based IPS Advisors, worked on details of League City’s 2018 medical benefits package for city employees with Cigna Health Insurance. The city changed its health insurance provider to Connecticut-based Cigna last year. Before that, Austin-based Boon-Chapman was the city’s health insurance provider, and Boon-Chapman encouraged the CareHere program.

A missing piece of the 2018 benefits package was the medical branch deal that IPS sought to replace CareHere. The proposal wasn’t in place before the council had to vote on the city’s budget in September.

The appeal of CareHere clinics is that they allow employees to use the services without paying a copay or deductible and offer some generic prescriptions for free. League City opened its CareHere clinic in 2014 in partnership with Galveston County.

But a survey of 244 League City employees showed that while most of them rated the CareHere clinic as fair to good on providing basic care for basic illnesses, the employees wanted more, Human Resources Director Janet Shirley said.

The employees wanted quality, availability and flexible scheduling, according to the survey.

“All of these are answered with the UTMB system,” Shirley said.

The medical branch is proposing having early or extended hours for employees to better accommodate their schedules. It’s also offering to set aside a block of appointment times for city employees.

With the medical branch as a preferred provider, employees would have to pay a copay for a doctor’s appointment, but it would be at a reduced rate. Fontana described it as an incentive to encourage employees to use the medical branch services for more of their needs.

Also, under the proposed two-year contract, the medical branch would give the city an additional 10 percent discount.

The overhead expenses of CareHere cost League City $426,000, city staff said.

Switching over to the medical branch and closing down the CareHere clinic will have some costs, Fontana said. Setting up the system would cost the city at least $16,335, he said.

Also, the free over-the-counter generic prescriptions employees got for allergies, acid reflux and headaches would no longer be free, but this is a detail to iron out, Fontana said.

The city’s contract with CareHere requires a 30-day notice that the city won’t renew it, Shirley said.

If council approves the deal, it would save the city money and would benefit employees, Councilman Nick Long said. It also would keep League City patients and people in League City, he said. League City money would stay at home.

“We win on a three-level basis,” Long said.


Coming Tuesday

Who’s suing who and over what? Find out Tuesday in The Docket.


News
Only 26 voters to decide $213M MUD bond issue

No more than 26 registered voters will decide Tuesday whether to grant the board overseeing Galveston County’s Municipal Utility District 56 permission to issue up to $213 million in new bond debt to build out a 633-acre swath of Texas City’s sprawling Lago Mar residential subdivision.

As of the first of the year, those 26 homeowners were the only residents on MUD 56’s tax rolls and in the county’s voter registry.

The district was created in 2007, but sat idle until development began in 2014.

“The total 2016 assessment on the district’s 26 properties was $303,641,” Tommy Lee, the president of Friendswood-based Assessments of the Southwest Inc., said of MUD 56’s most recent tax collection.

“This year, we are sending out tax bills to 330 property owners in the district. That includes homeowners, builders who have purchased lots and developers on lots they haven’t sold.”

MUD 56’s 26 registered voters have total say over the multimillion-dollar bond issue on Tuesday’s ballot, Lee said: “The only people who can vote on this are the registered voters within the district.”

The proposed MUD 56 bond issue — it calls for a debt ceiling of $139 million for water and storm and sanitary sewers; $17.55 million for recreational facilities; and $56.6 million for roads — dwarfs Galveston County’s three-pronged, $80 million bond issue, also on Tuesday’s ballot, for infrastructure improvements throughout the county’s 378 square miles and 13 municipalities.

Residents inside MUD 56 as of 2015 paid a total of nearly $4 for every $100 of assessed valuation, including $1.54 to Dickinson ISD; 1.33 to Galveston County and $1 to the municipal utility district.

Yet, Lee, whose company also assesses and collects taxes for about 160 other MUDs statewide, said he expects that should the MUD 56 bond issue be approved, residents of the district likely won’t see their current municipal utility district tax assessment of $1 on each $100 of property value rise anytime soon.

“The tax rate should stay the same for now,” he said.

Should the district’s registered voters approve the bond measure, the board that oversees MUD 56 may never sell all of the $213 million, tax-exempt bonds it’s requesting.

“The directors have calculated how much in the way of bonds are needed to build out the district,” Lee said. “This vote would give them permission to issue the bonds; it’s not saying they will actually do so.”

The five-member board’s primary interest is in seeing that the developer of the 2,033-acre Lago Mar subdivision, Houston-based Land Tejas Cos., recoups its infrastructure investments in the three years since construction began in MUD 56, one of several such districts within the overall subdivision.

“MUD 56 was created in February 2007, and development began in 2014,” Sherri McElwee, with Bellaire-based engineering firm Jones Carter and the district engineer for the 633-acre MUD 56, which comprises just less than a third of Lago Mar’s total acreage. It is on the cusp of expanding, she said: “Currently, there are 369 lots platted in MUD 56.”

There is a good deal of room for more lots, both in MUD 56 and in the entirety of Lago Mar, whose master plan calls for 4,000 total homes.

Current homes in Lago Mar average 2,600 square feet and sell for a median price of $285,000, according to the Houston Association of Realtors.

Tuesday’s MUD 56 bond vote is not the only municipal utility district issue on Tuesday’s ballot.

In one such vote, a developer wants voters to create Galveston County MUD 76 to benefit the proposed subdivision of Sweetwater Cove, on the island’s west end.

MUD 76’s multiple propositions asks voters there to approve the new district, elect a five-member board, as required by Texas statute, and grant permission for up to $116.1 million in bond authority.

MUD 76 would join no fewer than three dozen MUDs currently in Galveston County, some of which have yet to break ground. Statewide, there are at least 949 MUDS, with a combined $60 billion in outstanding bond debt.

According to the ballot measure, the proposed MUD 76 wants permission to issue $23.1 million in bonds to install water and storm and sanitary sewers; $7.2 million for recreational facilities; $10.5 million for roads; and $17.25 million for navigation facilities, while not taxing residents more than $1.5 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Today, only a few people live in the proposed district, yet by state law fewer than a handful of people must live at least 30 days in a proposed MUD to trigger an election to create such a district.

As recently as 2008, MUD 187, which serves a retirement community comprising 519 acres in Fort Bend County, came into existence with just two residents voting their unanimous approval to sell up to $188 million in infrastructure bonds.

“That’s all it requires,” Galveston County Tax Assessor Cheryl Johnson said. “They have to place a handful of occupied trailers on the property for 30 days in order to establish voter registration. That’s what the law says.”


News
Almost $2M remains in island neighborhood fund

GALVESTON

The city of Galveston has yet to spend nearly $2 million from its neighborhood improvement fund, four years after starting the program.

The fund began with a $1.4 million grant from the Industrial Development Corp., which oversees some types of sales tax revenue, and $215,000 from downtown parking fee revenues, according to city documents. Most of that money was spent by 2016.

But since the city council voted to allocate more money to the projects in 2014, which ended up being $2.9 million, just more than $1 million of that money has been spent, documents show.

Pete Milburn, a city program manager who oversees the projects, attributed the time taken to spend the money to administrative duties that slow down the process.

Planning for spending the $2.9 million didn’t begin until mid-2015 because the city was still spending from the original Industrial Development Corp. grant.

“Being that you have six different districts, and multiple projects per district, it was just a cumbersome process,” Milburn said.

The biggest portion of the fund was spent in 2017, however, with $1.04 million in projects completed, according to city documents. Another $897,000 in projects is in progress for the year, and $966,000 is planned for 2018, the documents show.

Money in the fund is specifically allocated to each of the council’s six districts. The city hopes to see the fund depleted by early 2018, Milburn said.

City Councilwoman Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon, of District 5, has spearheaded the program since being elected in 2012. Her last term ends in 2018, and she said she hopes the projects in her district will be complete by then.

“It’s a project that I started, but still my projects are being put on hold,” Tarlton-Shannon said. “Year after year I’ve been told that my projects will get done, but that day has not come yet.”

Tarlton-Shannon said her biggest annoyance is the lack of progress on curb and sidewalk improvements in Colony Park. Those projects slowed after being moved from the Industrial Development Corp. funding to the council allocation, she said.

“There’s no reason why they shouldn’t have been done,” Tarlton-Shannon said.

Councilman Frank Maceo’s District 3 projects are underway, although none have been entirely completed, according to an October city manager’s report. Maceo’s projects include repairing downtown gas lamp fixtures, placing decorative street lighting around District 3, improving Lindale Park and improving Adoue Park.

“One of the biggest frustrations I’ve had since getting elected is watching how slow things happen,” Maceo said. “That’s nothing that has to do with inefficiencies of the city, it’s the bureaucracy that slows things down.”

No new money has been allocated to the fund since 2015. Maceo said he’d be open to seeing more money allocated, as long as the projects are planned thoroughly and bid on in bulk so as to save money for the city.

“I think it’s a great program,” Maceo said. “Is it running at its best and most efficient manner? I don’t know.”

It’s easy to believe that the projects are progressing slowly, but that’s not the case, Milburn said.

“The fact of the matter is these things take time, between scoping the projects and getting to the point where they can be put out to bid,” Milburn said. “Me, being consumed and being so involved in these, I feel like there’s been continuous progress.”

Despite the lack of completion of many of Tarlton-Shannon’s projects, the fund has been and will be extremely beneficial to the city, she said.

“It has instilled that we are making neighborhoods a priority, whereas before I got on council people felt neighborhoods got neglected,” Tarlton-Shannon said. “I had a lot of obstacles to overcome with these projects. I’m very happy; I just want to get my projects done.”