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Moody's $8 million to fund tutoring, development

The majority of $8.6 million in grants the Moody Foundation is giving to four Galveston education groups is tabbed for summer and after-school care and professional development for educators, foundation officials said Wednesday.

“We wanted to support programs that provide continuous academic success for every student,” Angela Blair, the foundation’s director of education, said.

Foundation officials announced late last week the Galveston Independent School District, the Moody Early Childhood Center, Odyssey Academy and SMART Family Literacy would receive the first grants meant to improve academic achievement on the island.

“The focus and the need is concentrating on programs, with the idea of raising student achievement,” Blair said. “We aren’t focused on facilities at the moment.”

Much of the $8.6 million in grants is going to the Galveston school district, where it will be used to fund five years of summer and after-school care and tutoring, Blair said.

Foundation officials Wednesday declined to comment on exactly how much money was going to each entity.

Galveston school district officials said services funded by the grant would not necessarily be restricted to district students and employees.

“Because of this investment, Galveston ISD will be able to open its doors to educators and students in both the private and public sector,” said Annette Scott, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the district.

Part of the grants also will go toward professional development at Moody Early Childhood Center, Blair said.

“And that will be open to all infant and toddler programs on the island,” Blair said.

The Moody Foundation announced a new program called the Generation Moody Educational Initiative in October 2017, calling the awards that are part of the program an “investment in the next generation of Galvestonians.”

Foundation officials named Blair as the education director of the initiative.

The foundation created the program after commissioning a study of needs on the island and learned that education was one of seven areas that most affected growth and the economy, Blair said.

Foundation officials have been meeting with local educators since the group was created to determine how grants would be distributed, Blair said.

Officials hope to track data from the programs the grants are funding to determine their effectiveness and hope to work on a longer-term strategic plan for the island, Blair said.

The recently announced grants are just the first in what will be more, Blair said.

The Moody Foundation is a 75-year-old Galveston-based philanthropic organization founded by William Lewis Moody Jr. in 1942 to manage his substantial fortune. The foundation reported more than $2 billion in assets on its most recently available financial reports.


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In League City, it's settle up soon or pay more

LEAGUE CITY

League City residents whose water has been shut off for nonpayment will have to put up a nonrefundable $200 deposit to get it turned back on, if they let the problem linger too long, officials said.

A new utility billing ordinance stipulates that anyone who lost water service because of an outstanding balance that led to collections efforts will have to pay the $200, utility billing manager Nancy Massey said.

“This is if you have left us with an outstanding balance, and we have gone after it diligently in collections,” she said.

But residents who fall behind on their bills but settle up before the city begins collection efforts would have to pay far less, officials said. Those residents can pay a $40 processing fee plus the past due amount to get the water back on.

The updated utility billing ordinance has other changes the city council approved Tuesday after a second reading. The council voted 6-0 with council members Keith Gross and Nick Long absent. The council unanimously approved the changes on the first reading Feb. 13.

The changes include how the city staff refunds customers in case of a leak or some other anomaly.

For Gina Conklin, who lives in the Hidden Lakes neighborhood, the anomaly in 2017 was a malfunctioning city water meter, she said.

“I was getting these crazy high bills,” Conklin said. “They were more than $400 a month.”

City staff initially told her that perhaps she left the sprinkler on all night, and then they suggested that perhaps a leak inside the house was causing the problem, Conklin said.

The city tested the meter, but warned Conklin if it wasn’t the meter causing the high bill, she would owe the city an extra $50, Conklin said. But it turned out that it was the meter causing the problems, and because Conklin paid the high bills each month, she amassed credits to cover water usage.

Conklin’s average water bill now ranges from $60 to $100 a month, she said.

The new ordinance gives staff more power to make decisions.

Massey, in her role as utility billing manager, will have the discretion to reduce water charges inflated by leaks. The reduction can be up to 50 percent of the bill once every 12 months if residents make a written request within six months of a leak and their account has been in good standing for six months, according to the document.

Customers also can appeal the decision to the finance director who has the final say, according to the new ordinance.

Most of the changes to the billing system are to align it with new financial software the city is using.

Other changes are updating the language for 2018, such as getting rid of the word “fax.”

“We don’t have faxes,” Massey said. “We update now with emails.”

The new ordinance also stated that tampering or damaging meters is unlawful. Someone damaging the meters or trying to rig them to get free water is stealing water, Massey said.

Massey, who has 20 years experience with the city, went through the ordinance carefully to make the changes, City Manager John Baumgartner said.

While the billing ordinance is now updated, the billing rates have not changed. The base residential rate for water service remains at a $7.13 a month with other charges depending on how many thousands of gallons of water the resident uses.


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Park board weighs in on arts, historic preservation funding

GALVESTON

The Galveston Park Board of Trustees has weighed in with recommendations for a city ordinance about how hotel tax money will be spent on marketing for arts and historic preservation projects as the city considers revisions to how that money is allocated.

For more than a year, the city has been exploring changes to the way hotel tax money is distributed by the Arts and Historic Preservation Advisory Board. The board selects groups for grants using money derived from taxes tourists pay to stay in local hotels.

The money comes from a portion of the hotel occupancy tax and is earmarked for marketing to increase tourism to the island. Some of the groups that receive funding include The Grand 1894 Opera House and the Galveston Historical Foundation.

The city’s expected to vote on those changes next month, Councilman Craig Brown said Tuesday during a park board meeting.

The park board has asked that the advisory board keep its makeup, with tourism-related business representatives and marketing professionals filling most positions on the board, said Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.

The park board also recommended the city develop ways to quantify the return on the investment for attracting tourists, she said. The park board already has ways of measuring tourism investments, which could be adopted by the city for the fund, according to the park board. Mayor Jim Yarbrough also has said he wants to see better verification that the money spent results in “heads in beds.”

The park board’s tourism committee analyzed other cities that use hotel occupancy tax for the arts and found many dedicated additional money from other funding sources to such programs, she said.

“Arts and historic preservation is a backbone of our community character and we’re squabbling over three-quarters of a penny only from hotel occupancy tax that has a restrictive nature to it,” de Schaun said.

“Instead of arm wrestling over a little pie, let’s make the pie bigger.”

In a January letter and subsequent meeting with city council, the park board spelled out some of its recommendations for the allocation process, including allocating funds to beneficiaries based on a percentage of total resources and paying out the grant on a monthly basis.

Those recommendations were well received, though not all were adopted in the draft ordinance, de Schaun told trustees Tuesday.

The park board has since met with representatives from the arts and historic preservation board, the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Galveston Hotel and Lodging Association, the Galveston Historical Foundation and The Grand 1894 Opera House to develop additional recommendations for amendments to the Arts and Historical Preservation Ordinance, de Schaun said.

The city started exploring changes to the arts and preservation ordinance in late 2016. Yarbrough has talked about restructuring the way the money is allocated to projects to get the “highest impact” out of the spending.

The city has drafted an ordinance allocating up to $50,000 of the fund to public art projects selected by the Arts Commission, a separate board.

Yarbrough at one time floated the idea of eliminating the advisory board and giving the responsibility to the park board, which doles out hotel occupancy tax money for other grants. The new draft ordinance names the board the Arts and History Fund Advisory Board.

The park board had recommended spending the tax allocation in full on marketing projects. The grants aren’t used to pay salaries or debt, nor are there administrative costs for it, so the board didn’t think the fund needed to have a reserve set aside, de Schaun said. But the latest ordinance does keep a 5 percent reserve fund, according to the city document.

The city council meets March 22 and could vote on the new ordinance then, Brown said.


Coming soon

A World War II veteran, part of a disappearing population, shares his experiences from the war and offers his thoughts about the future.


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Isle's Harborside Drive to get $2.3 million makeover

GALVESTON

Galveston plans to spend about $2.3 million on Harborside Drive to improve the traffic flow along the highway and make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the street, officials said.

The Galveston Industrial Development Corp., a nonprofit funded through a portion of sales taxes, is paying for the construction, but contracted with the city to design and oversee the work.

Once the state transportation agency’s review is completed, the city will begin the bidding process for construction projects, city spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.

The city expects the projects to be completed by late 2019, she said.

Harborside Drive is a heavily trafficked route, particularly on days cruise ships arrive and depart, and also runs through the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital campus.

“With almost 1 million people cruising out of the Port of Galveston in 2017, Harborside is an important gateway for visitors and a vital corridor to downtown and UTMB,” Fortin said.

“However, the project is intended to not only improve the aesthetics of Harborside Drive, but to also facilitate safe travel and encourage reinvestment along the waterfront and the historic downtown area.”

The Texas Department of Transportation in 2014 began a study of the 6.2-mile corridor running between Interstate 45 and the western end of state Highway 87, identifying areas for improvement, including new light signals and crosswalks.

The agency, Port of Galveston, city, University of Texas Medical Branch, Downtown Partnership and Mitchell Historic Properties had all searched for ways to improve safety and access. The corridor study was completed in 2015.

The construction likely will include several changes to improve safety, including moving the Cruise Terminal 1 entrance to 23rd Street and the Cruise Terminal 2 entrance to 33rd Street, according to the Harborside Drive transportation study.

The study also calls for a sidewalk plan and landscaping to help areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, according to the study. The work also will include raising medians between 20th and 33rd streets and adding wayfinding signs for drivers and pedestrians, according to the plan.