The first year of the Neighborhood Integrity Program may be its last in Little Elm, but not before its work is completed. At the Little Elm Town Council meeting last week, officials discussed the demise of a program that was once thought to be a staple of the future in large part due to sweeping changes to state laws. While Mayor David Hillock lamented the legislature’s restrictive actions, it did not stop council from awarding potentially two projects before the sunset of the program.
“There has been a massive change in state law this year on how tax assessments are managed. Limitations on the rate of growth is basically going to eliminate all projects like this. I will project our revenue will decrease every year until this law goes away. Extras like this will go away,” Hillock said.
The Neighborhood Integrity Program is something that was born out of a wish to have residents upgrade their living spaces. HOAs and neighborhoods could apply through a formal application to have the town match funds to help pay for upgrades that would enhance public life. The agreement, as stipulated in the outline of the rules, would be that town provides half the funding and the HOA provides the other half as the same rate.
According to Director of Development Services Fred Gibbs, officials received four bids in the inaugural year of the initiative. Bay Ridge, Stardust Ranch, Woodlake and Wynfield Farms all lobbied for public money to help with fencing projects to help the aesthetic of the town. The current funds allocated for this in the current budget are $285,000 for all projects.
Officials “greenlighted” the construction of an 8-foot precast concrete screen wall at the Bay Ridge neighborhood. The Bay Ridge fence serves as the gateway to Little Elm, according to Gibbs, and an improvement to this 600-linear-foot long fence would benefit how people view the town. The project also includes enhancements to the entrance sign. The estimated total cost would be $188,000, with $94,000 paid by both the town and the HOAs.
“The people in the neighborhood voted to change their HOA bylaws, which require two-thirds of the vote, to help fund this. The homeowners want this. It has been in the works for four years,” Councilman Neil Blais said.
“I think we have more responsibility to take action on this. We encouraged them to go down this path, and for me it is a no brainer,” Hillock said.
Problems did run into the funding portion of the endeavor however. The project guidelines stipulate that the HOA must provide and spend their half of the funds before a single dollar of public money can be used. The Council strayed from this strict interpretation though and indicated a different agreement could “customized”, according to Town Manager Matt Mueller.
Instead, the town has floated the idea that they would insert money into the project before all the funds were accounted for by the HOA and just take yearly installments of the payment from Bay Ridge. Hillock said he wanted to avoid a “10 year project” and this would do just that. The residents would pay are large portion up front and then yearly installments over a 10-year period. It would be modeled after a contract the town agreed to with Glen Cove to perform similar renovations.
The other project that the staff was directed to look into further was a brick screen wall at Wynfield Farms. The project would total $409,500, $204,750 coming from both parties. The HOA at Wynfield has not taken any action to receive a vote for funds though, making council wary to give its full approval.
Councilman Tony Singh worried about approving these contracts without final estimates being taken for these renovations. The councilman was concerned the cost could go up and with the fact that the funds allocated for $285,000 but these expenditures could possibility run up to $294,000. With the crossing over of fiscal years though, and a new budget slated for August, that concerned appeared to be mitigated.