|What’s Happening in Copper Canyon – April 2011|
|Written by Copper Canyon Mayor Sue Tejml|
|Tuesday, 12 April 2011 20:52|
Copper Canyon Resident Marshall Warren to Climb Mount Everest!
Marshall Warren and his wife Pam Warren have lived in Copper Canyon for 15 years. And Marshall told me they have no plans to move elsewhere. Professionally, Marshall is a pilot for Delta Airlines. But his dream has been to climb Mount Everest! To make his goal a reality, he has been steadily working out this past year to increase his physical strength and endurance. He left in March to become acclimated to the altitude in Nepal before he begins his climb. Friends and supporters have established a website so they can follow Marshall’s unique adventure. His neighbors and our deputies are committed to watching over Pam and their home while he pursues this lifelong goal.
You may remember that Marshall was the Chairman of our very successful Town Clean Up day last October. He humorously commented that all the lifting of tires, television sets, and gallon paint cans just aided his serious fitness regime in preparation for his climb of Mount Everest. As always, I am amazed at the caliber of persons who live in Copper Canyon. The Town seems to attract unique individuals!
Flower Mound’s Court Victory is of Benefit to all Surrounding Towns
“The nonprofit Inclusive Communities Project Inc. filed suit in 2008, claiming that the town [Flower Mound] refused to participate in a financial-assistance program that would help developers build low-income housing. The organization has filed similar complaints against McKinney, Allen, Frisco, and Sunnyvale. On Tuesday, March 29, 2011, U.S. District Judge Michael Schneider in Sherman ruled that ‘race was not a factor’ in Flower Mound’s refusal to work with ICP or identify land for the project.” (Dallas Morning News, Metro front page 1B, March 31, 2011)
It is hard to underestimate the significance of this decision. Had this decision gone the other way, all towns in North Texas would have been forced to work with any organization proposing to aid low-income housing developers, regardless of the merit of the proposal. The towns would have had little or no discretion in choosing which organizations to work with. My sincere thanks to Flower Mound for the strength and courage to stand up and fight this intrusion on local choice for all our towns.
Flower Mound Town Attorney Terry Welch said “the ruling demonstrates that it takes more than statistics showing that a community has a low number of minority residents or affordable housing units to prove discrimination. You must show some motive to discriminate in land-use decisions…”
(NOTE: I am very proud that Terry Welch has also been Copper Canyon’s Town Attorney for the last five years. His legal expertise and his pro-active approach in defending Copper Canyon have helped maintain our town as a rural oasis surrounded by a sea of high density development.)
Legislature considering a variety of bills on Gas Well Drilling, Fracking, and Emissions
Denton County has a population of more than 650,000 residents and at least 2,500 gas wells. Our State Representative Tan Parker has introduced two bills that would affect our county. HB 2125 would require the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) to give priority to oil and gas well inspections for counties with a minimum population of 650,000 and with a minimum of 2,000 oil and gas wells within the county. Parker’s proposed HB 2126 increases penalties for safety or environmental violations from $10,000 to $20,000 for counties as described above.
Senator Wendy Davis of Fort Worth would create and fund a well inspection fund (SB 1873). Davis also proposes that oil and gas waste in highly populated areas be disposed of in the Ellenberger formation or deeper (SB 105).
Senator Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay would require the state to oversee a nonprofit organization’s installation and maintenance of 20 air monitors in the 16 county Barnett Shale area (SB 527).
Representative Lon Burnham of Fort Worth would prohibit the state from issuing a gas well permit, if the well is located within 1,200 feet of a public school.
Representative Jim Keffer of Eastland would require public disclosure of chemical fracking fluids involved with natural gas well drilling, with an exception for trade secrets - which might gut the bill’s effectiveness. The bill does not attempt to regulate fracking fluids per se; just requires disclosure of the contents – with the noted trade secrets exception.
Of specific interest is a new oil and gas well industry willingness to endorse disclosure of the chemicals involved in the fracking process. “While the industry has fought disclosure in the past, officials may now recognize that this isn’t a winning strategy. Some states have already passed disclosure laws, and some companies have volunteered to reveal the information.” (From the Dallas Morning News, page 6B, March 31, 2011.)
Trail Clean-up Day is Saturday, April 9th from 9:00 to 1:00
As the former President of the Cross Timbers Equestrian Trail Association (popularly referred to as CTETA), Deb Valencia has the respect of the equestrian community both in Copper Canyon and the more extended area of North Texas.
Volunteers will meet at the entrance to Pilot Knoll Park, located at the eastern end of Orchid Hill Lane, one block east of FM 2499. There is parking outside of the gated entrance to the park. Any limb loppers, hand nippers, chain saws, trash bags or weed eaters you can bring will be helpful. Do wear work gloves. Copper Canyon’s Trail Advisory Committee will provide morning coffee and donut refreshments in appreciation of your volunteer efforts. And thank you to Robin Grider for once again posting the Trail Clean Up notice signs around Town.
Challenges Copper Canyon has met in the Last Decade
This is a brief “history lesson”, if you will, and just from my point of view. But I have had the rare opportunity to observe from a very “hands on” vantage point. Our Town has faced some incredible challenges in the last decade.
Copper Canyon defends its Rural Oasis, while surrounded by a sea of High Density Growth
Anyone who has lived in Copper Canyon more than ten years can remember the delightful drive from DFW Airport out the wandering country road of FM 2499. That peaceful drive was through pastures and wooded areas with no retail or commercial areas in sight. But about a decade ago, our North Texas area, and especially Denton County, exploded with growth. We were able to preserve the rural setting of Copper Canyon’s subdivisions and interior roads. But our Town was not immune to the incredible high density development in the towns surrounding us. On multiple fronts that high density growth has breached our 25 to 35 year old perimeter roads, causing serious deterioration to their physical condition and drastically reducing their useful road life.
And along with the long, long lines of rush hour traffic backed up on FM 407 have come the bottlenecks that made it so difficult for our residents to exit the southern end of Copper Canyon. Taking our children to LISD schools or getting to work in the DFW Metroplex has become a real challenge.
Roads stressed by multiple commuters and traffic gridlocks when exiting Copper Canyon have required the Town government to work far more closely with our County Commissioners than in the past. And our Council and Staff have had to develop a far more cooperative working relationship with the elected officials and staffs of the towns on our borders.
Along with the tremendous increase in “cut through” commuter traffic has come the potential for serious crime and opportunistic thefts. The people driving our roads are no longer simply our neighbors in Town. We don’t personally know these people.
In addition, Copper Canyon has suddenly been thrust into the natural gas development of the Barnett Shale. The Town has needed to devise ordinances that would both protect our town’s people from noise and light pollution from the drilling and still allow our many mineral interest owners to develop the natural gas under their land. And we have had to negotiate pipeline routes that would not “clear cut” our trees and intrude on homeowners’ front and back yards.
Our major challenge has been to maintain our rural setting and small town environment in the midst of this tremendous explosion of growth in our area. We have been able to control the growth within the Town by maintaining our requirement for minimum one acre home sites. In contrast Denton County’s population around us this last decade has increased 53%, from 432,973 to 662,614.
Our second challenge has been to maintain the property values of our homes and to keep our Town virtually free of serious crime. We have been able to do this on minimal tax increases, even though almost 40% of the appraised value of land in Copper Canyon pays no property taxes due to the State agricultural exemption. This means the 60% valuation from our homesteads must shoulder the entire tax load for the Town. This is not a negative. For the 40% of the Town that is open acreage now of pastures and crops will eventually contribute to the future value of all of Copper Canyon.
Former Mayor Larry Johnson & the 2002–2004 Councils lead the Transition to Long Range Planning for the Town
Our Town was blessed with an outstanding Mayor and Council 8 years ago. Beginning in 2002, these dedicated volunteers – Mayor Larry Johnson and Council Members Joe Chiles, Steve Hill, Ken Karnes, John Brothers, and Jeff Mangum – helped successfully transition our Town into this century. The task was monumental. And if they didn’t succeed, it was doubtful that Copper Canyon could have continued to survive as an independent municipality. They worked together to create a long overdue “long range plan”. This resulted in the adoption of the Town Master Plan and a superlative financial tool known as the Pro Forma Budget.
The Master Plan: The development of the Master Plan was fundamental to long range planning for the Town. Wisely, the Council solicited input from every Town resident through a written survey. Basically, citizen replies stressed four factors:
(1) Keep the Town’s rural atmosphere by maintaining minimum one acre home site residential lots. And do not add any east-west roads, thus preserving the natural beauty of the secluded heartland of the Town.
(2) Limit all retail development to the FM 407 corridor.
(3) Provide only basic Municipal Services (fire protection, ambulance and emergency medical services, law enforcement, roads, building inspections, and code enforcement)
(4) Do the above on a minimal property tax rate with minimum Town employees.
Items (1) and (2) could be accomplished with the Master Plan.
Mayor Larry Johnson bequeaths a Debt Free Town with Updated Facilities
I will be forever grateful to my predecessor, Mayor Larry Johnson. He and the Council maintained a debt free Copper Canyon, while making major improvements in the Town’s management, facilities, and a serious beginning on the rebuilding of our then 20 to 30 year old roads.
Mayor Johnson and Council recruit a Professional Town Manager:
Larry Johnson was spending endless hours as Mayor on Town issues, while maintaining a busy international law practice. And the Town was faced with all the new challenges mentioned above from the high intensity growth all around us. In addition, the State had mandated timetables for complying with Budget filings, figuring tax rates (even without a proposed increase), and procedures for retaining and destroying municipal records It was time to recruit a professional manager for daily and ongoing Town business.
With the help of Town resident Scott Kilpatrick to screen possible candidates, Mayor Johnson and the then Council retained the services of Paulette Hartman as our first Town Administrator. It was a good fit. Paulette brought much needed professional expertise to the management of the Town’s state required municipal responsibilities. And it meant that the Town now had a second full time staff person at Town Hall for five business days a week to help answer calls and respond to any issues. When Virginia Moore became Town Secretary for a year, she kept a detailed Town Hall log. The log showed an incredible increase in the volume of telephone calls, emails, and personal appearances of residents and other persons at Town Hall who had inquiries and questions. So, beginning in 2004 the Town now had a total staff of two and a half full time employees: the Town Secretary, the new Town Administrator, and a part time Municipal Court Clerk.
The Mayor of a small general law city like Copper Canyon remained by state law the Chief Executive Officer of the Town. But the Mayor of Copper Canyon has never had a desk, much less an office, at Town Hall. (I still don’t. As Mayor I use my home office and personally pay for all Town related office expenses, except for Town stationary and the Mayor’s business cards.)
Renovation of our 30 year old Town Hall
Mayor Johnson and his Council also undertook the renovation of our decades old Town Hall. The 30 year old frame building was seriously deteriorating. The septic system was ancient. (The toilets literally overflowed onto the Council Chambers carpets during a Council Meeting with standing room only. It was gross.) The plumbing, heating, and air conditioning were old, inadequate, and needed updating. The roof had structural problems, and the wooden exterior badly needed painting.
Copper Canyon resident and architect Gary Beavers is to be thanked for designing and overseeing the much needed first renovation. He preserved the historic look of Town Hall, while adding much needed space for a new Council Chamber from part of the old, unused fire bay. Also included was storage space for state required preservation of municipal documents. Otherwise, the Town would have had to pay for off-site rental storage with the mandatory (also state required) air conditioned space. The bathrooms were made to comply with the required accessibility for the disabled. The resulting office work space and Council Chambers were not luxurious by any standard, but they were far more functional. And thankfully, we put in a new septic system.
NOTE: The Town wasn’t able to fund the entire renovation of Town Hall all at once. Our current Town Administrator Donna Welsh worked hard to secure a $21,000 energy grant for Copper Canyon last year. With that money we were able to complete the final renovation, install much needed insulation in the attic, replace aging windows, and correct a serious structural problem with the roof over the Council Chamber. These final renovations will allow our decades old venerable Town Hall to be usable for many more years.
New “cut through” commuter traffic requires Law Enforcement Options:
With the opening of the new Old Alton Bridge, Copper Canyon became a major north-south artery for persons in Denton and Corinth traveling south to jobs in the DFW Metroplex and students traveling north to UNT and TWU in Denton. The new “cut through” commuter traffic in Town resulted in a need for law enforcement patrol services to slow down the speeders. The volume of “cut through” traffic also meant that the Town was no longer isolated and immune to opportunistic thieves. To remain crime free, the Town needed a regular “law enforcement” presence.
Mayor Johnson asked me and former DEA agent Will Travis to investigate the feasibility of establishing a two person police force for Copper Canyon. (Mayor Johnson asked me to participate, as I had once been a Municipal Prosecutor and Police Advisor in a small Texas town of 18,000 population.) After onsite visits to a variety of small police forces in Denton County, Will and I came to the conclusion that Copper Canyon’s budget would not allow the Town to adequately fund the salaries, benefits, training, vehicles, and equipment that would be reasonably required for even two officers. So, Mayor Johnson negotiated a contract with the Town of Double Oak for their police officers to do traffic patrol in Copper Canyon and respond to 911 calls.
A new Municipal Court for Copper Canyon:
Mayor Johnson inaugurated a new Municipal Court for the filing of the traffic citations in Town and any code violations (i.e. non moving junk cars, eighteen wheeler trucks parked in homeowners’ front yards, dilapidated old vacant houses, piles of old tires retaining water for mosquito breeding, excessive fire hazard trash piles in front and back yards, etc.) Mayor Johnson inaugurated Town Clean Up Days and recruited Adopt-a-Spot volunteers to keep the sides of our residential roads reasonably clear of trash. I asked the Denton County Juvenile Parole Officer to let juveniles work off their required community hours by picking up litter on Copper Canyon’s perimeter road right-of-ways. We are justifiably proud now of our neat, clean front yards and roadsides. It was not always that way.
Mayor Johnson recruited a very experienced Municipal Judge to preside over the new court. Judge Aniela Werner had been a Municipal Court Judge since 1987. She already presided over municipal courts for nine other small towns. Judge Werner has a reputation for unfailing courtesy to all who come before her – but – a no-nonsense business approach to the more egregious offenders. (Judge Werner presently still has a vote of confidence from nine Town Councils, for she continues to be the presiding Judge for nine small towns like Copper Canyon.)
Municipal Court Fines help fund Law Enforcement in Town:
Approximately half of the fines received in municipal court are required to be forwarded to the State’s general fund. However, the balance of those fines were placed in Copper Canyon’s general fund to offset the cost of the patrol services of the Double Oak police officers and the monthly court proceedings. It was a win-win situation. Speeding commuters knew that they might be held accountable by receiving citations. Fortunately, most town residents already obeyed the speed limits in Copper Canyon.
The Town was also able to fund a part time Municipal Court Clerk, who helped man the front desk and answer the many telephone calls to Town Hall. We were fortunate to have Carolene Folse. She did an outstanding job of organizing our new court records and many of the official documents at Town Hall. Carolene brought order out of a chaotic paper trail.
Establishing a Close Working Relationship with our Denton County Commissioner
Mayor Pro Tem Joe Chiles took the lead in this endeavor. Previously, Copper Canyon had had a fairly non-existent relationship with its designated County Commissioner. The practical result of that was very negative for the Town. Copper Canyon lost all of its Extraterritorial Jurisdiction east of Chinn Chapel Road to Highland Village. The one positive thing the Town salvaged from that loss of acreage was to NOT have FM 2499’s extension north to Corinth be routed up Chinn Chapel Road. That routing would virtually have destroyed the rural atmosphere of the Town.
Mayor Pro Tem Chiles realized that a close relationship with Copper Canyon’s Precinct Four County Commissioner would be of immense benefit to the Town. As a result of Joe’s efforts, our then Commissioner Jim Carter included the rebuilding of Copper Canyon Road as a possible Denton County 2004 Road Bond project. Copper Canyon Road was ultimately chosen to be rebuilt with County bond funds, as the road had become a major north-south artery for many non-Copper Canyon residents of Denton County. This project provided almost $4 million in county bond funds – not Town property taxes – to rebuild this very long road.
(NOTE: A current candidate for Council erroneously said that Copper Canyon had “ceded” Copper Canyon Road, Orchid Hill Lane, and Chinn Chapel Road to Denton County in return for county bond funds to rebuild the three roads. That is incorrect. The County has a policy of rebuilding a road to current standards and then transferring jurisdiction of the road to the adjacent town. In return the town maintains the road (and maintenance is minimal on a newly rebuilt concrete road) and polices it for traffic.
At present, in some areas our town has jurisdiction over only the east lane of Copper Canyon Road and the County has jurisdiction of the west lane. This creates understandable confusion for both maintenance and traffic patrol. Once Copper Canyon Road is rebuilt, Denton County will transfer all jurisdiction of Copper Canyon Road to Copper Canyon. Our town will thereafter maintain the road, patrol it with our law enforcement officers, and the road will remain under our Master Plan. Copper Canyon’s Master Plan has no retail or commercial facilities allowed on Copper Canyon Road, except in the Town Center North area. (This area is on the northeast corner of Copper Canyon Road and FM 407.)
Commissioner Carter also had the County partner with Copper Canyon to rebuild Bishop Lane, which was the only access road for equestrians to reach the parking lot for our trails on Corps land. And of even more importance to many Town residents, Commissioner Carter had the County partner with the Town to fund the rebuilding of Chinn Chapel Road. Chinn Chapel was, and still is, the major access road for most of Copper Canyon’s residential subdivisions. Unfortunately, even with this extensive county financial aid and accumulating tax dollars for several years, the Town did not have enough money to permanently fix the major drainage problems at the southern end of the road.
Bottlenecks at Southern Town Exits
However, Commissioner Carter’s most important early achievement for the Town was to persuade TxDot to place a traffic signal at the intersection of FM 407 and Chinn Chapel Road. Before the installation of that red light, it was extremely difficult to leave Town via Chinn Chapel Road during the morning and late afternoon rush hours. (The situation was similar to trying to exit Jernigan Road onto FM 407 during rush hours now.) And this was before Harlington Drive and FM 2499 existed as exit routes from Town to the east. The only other southern exit from Town was on Copper Canyon Road, which also had no traffic signal at FM 407. Traffic on Copper Canyon Road backed up then almost to the “S” curve at the gun range during rush hours. Once again, Commissioner Carter came to the Town’s rescue. He asked Rick Strauss, Lantana’s developer, to donate land so that Copper Canyon Road would line up north to south with the Town of Double Oak’s Cedar Crest Drive. The resulting strategic road alignment persuaded TxDot to install a traffic light on FM 407 at its intersection with Copper Canyon Road.
Our Town is suddenly thrust into the midst of Barnett Shale Gas Well Drilling
Copper Canyon had not anticipated becoming a part of the horizontal drilling that characterized the suddenly dynamic development of the Barnett Shale natural gas field. Quite abruptly, our Town residents were being offered leases to develop their natural gas mineral interests. Many of our residents did not have a clue what a mineral lease included or which terms were the most important. My “Anatomy of a Gas Lease” article tried to explain, in layman’s language, the basic gas lease fundamentals and which clauses protected the landowner’s interests. Next came industry pressure for landowners to allow seismograph exploration, some of which required cables right through homeowners’ front and back yards. Thus began the Council’s and our Town residents’ mutual education on mineral leases, gas well drilling, and pipeline routing – especially in a residential setting. The Town would host several public hearings at Town Hall for residents to express their questions and concerns.
The one-paragraph ordinance Copper Canyon had at that time simply stated that there would be “no oil and gas drilling” in Town. Mayor Johnson and I, both attorneys, realized that this was not a prohibition that was legally defensible. The owners of mineral interests in Texas had a historical right to reasonably develop their property rights.
None of our Council Members at that time had any prior experience with the mechanics of gas well drilling. So, we arranged onsite visits of actively drilling gas wells. These well site visits allowed us to judge for ourselves the noise and light involved and how intrusive the drilling sites would be to Town residents.
Jeff Mangum chairs drafting of first Gas Well Drilling Ordinance
Mayor Johnson appointed Council Member Jeff Mangum, also a mechanical engineer, to chair a committee including myself and Town Administrator Paulette Hartman to draft the Town’s first gas well drilling ordinance. Jeff was familiar with the fundamentals of noise pollution through his engineering background. He was also a dedicated environmentalist and looked to the Town of Flower Mound for their leadership in that area in their ordinances. For several months Jeff and I and Paulette studied a spreadsheet that compared the gas drilling ordinances of surrounding towns in Denton County. We looked at required distances of a well site from a home and water well, maximum decibels of noise allowed from the drill site during daylight hours and in the evening, gas well inspection requirements for safety, variance procedures, road remediation fees for damage to our Town roads by heavy vehicles associated with the drilling, and an assortment of other details. It was an intensive self-education for all three of us in the mechanics of gas well drilling in a municipal environment with homes nearby.
And as usual in Copper Canyon, homeowners were asked for their input on the proposed new gas drilling ordinance at public hearings. I was very grateful that the ordinance passed just before I became Mayor. It continued to be a work in progress, but the original ordinance at least gave us a basic regulatory foundation on which to build.
Six Years Ago Mayor Sue Tejml and Council Continue Long Range Planning
Mayor Larry Johnson and I first met in the back of a pickup truck. We had both been collecting litter from our Town roadways at Copper Canyon’s annual Town Clean Up event. He had been looking for a volunteer to run for Council. He wanted someone who had some background in municipal government. When he learned that I had been a City Attorney for six years for a Town with a population of 18,000, he recruited me. After serving as a Council Member for less than a year, Mayor Johnson surprised me by announcing that he would not seek a second term. He asked me to run for Mayor based on my prior background of having served as a City Attorney.
I was very surprised when Larry asked me to run for Mayor, because we had several very qualified Council Members who were far more familiar with the current issues Copper Canyon was facing. But all the other Council Members also had full time careers, and not necessarily in Copper Canyon’s immediate area. Both John Brothers and Ken Karnes were American Airlines captains, piloting planes out of state and out of the country. Steve Hill was constantly traveling all over the world as an international financial consultant. Engineer Jeff Mangum commuted to Carrollton each day, and apartment owner Joe Chiles commuted to the Dallas area. My most practical asset was that I was retired and could devote the hours required of a volunteer Mayor.
So, in May of 2005, I became the unlikely Mayor of our Town. It has been a labor of love ever since. I treasure the great Copper Canyon people I have had the opportunity to get to know and to work with for the general good of our unique small town.
An Experienced Council was Invaluable:
Experienced Council members like Joe Chiles, Ken Karnes, Steve Hill, and Jeff Mangum were invaluable. And new Council Member Gene Colley, an experienced builder, was a huge help on construction issues. Together, the five Council Members and I split up the tasks of Town Government. Joe was our liaison to the County and road chief. Ken oversaw Town Hall and office equipment. He also tried to identify home businesses in Town, so that the State would forward to the Town the sales tax legitimately due to Copper Canyon. (Unfortunately, some of our hard earned sales tax appeared to be sent to surrounding municipalities by mistake. Our current Town Administrator Donna Welsh has corrected that leak of Town revenue.)
Steve Hill was our Investment Officer and developed the Pro Forma Budget for forecasting revenue and expenses of the Town. Jeff Mangum was the Council’s liaison to Planning & Zoning and handled gas well drilling issues. Gene Colley reviewed building ordinances. The Town Administrator and I split the remainder of the tasks. We came together as a “team” once a month at Council Meetings to resolve any differences of opinion. A nicer, more hard working, conscientious Town Council, I can’t imagine. To a man, they were an absolute pleasure to work with. There were no massive egos on the Council, no temper tantrums, no hidden agendas. These five men just wanted what was best for the Town as a whole.
Involving our Town Residents in all Major Decisions
The Council and I wanted to give our Town Residents a chance to participate regularly in our Town Government, and especially to be able to voice opinions on new or controversial issues. For over a decade, each Council Meeting had begun with Public Input. Anyone could address the Council on any topic relevant to Copper Canyon. But the Council and I wanted to add Open Meetings, where residents could comment in depth.
The small size of our Council Chambers limited the number of people who could participate in an Open Meeting. So, Cross Roads Bible Church very graciously allowed us to use their spacious auditorium and audio-visual equipment free of charge. The Town held two Open Meetings at the church: One, on the subject of the cost and future availability of water to homeowners via Bartonville Water Supply Corporation and Upper Trinity Regional Water District; and second, on whether to raise taxes solely for road rebuilding in Town. The consensus of that last Open Meeting was that the Town lacked an overall game plan for rebuilding all our residential roads. (That specific resident suggestion was the forerunner of the Long Range Planning Task Force for Roads.)
Over the past five years, the Council and I have held many Open Meetings on issues of concern to residents. Homeowners on Copper Canyon Road wanted Commissioner Eads to know that they wanted the Right-of-Way width to stay at 60 feet, because to widen the ROW to 80 feet would take a 20 feet strip of trees from their front yards. Commissioner Eads listened. Copper Canyon Road’s right-of-way remained only 60 feet wide, and the venerable old oak trees were saved.
Similar Open Meetings were held for the residents along Orchid Hill Lane and Chinn Chapel Road. Each group had a chance to express their opinions and suggestions for the engineering layout for the rebuilding of those two roads.
Open Meetings were also held for gas pipeline routings. CrossTex had proposed to strip a 40 foot wide strip of trees from the backyards of homes on the eastern side of Ranch Road, Crepe Myrtle Road and Bridle Path Road. This route also impinged on the back yards of homes on the western side of Copper Woods Lane. By sheer negotiations, the Town was able to get CrossTex to move its gas pipeline route primarily outside of Copper Canyon’s western town limits. The backyards of homeowners mentioned above remained private with trees, woods, and privacy intact.
A similar Open Meeting was held for the homeowners on Orchid Hill Lane. By negotiating successfully with Energy Transfer Corporation, the Town was able to keep ETC from clear stripping a 20 to 40 foot wide easement across the front yards of Orchid Hill homeowners. Instead, ETC bored a pipeline routing 12 to 20 feet deep in Orchid Hill’s northern road right-of-way.
Open Meetings were also held on the original drafting of our first Gas Well Drilling ordinance. In our small Council Chambers, these meetings often occurred with standing room only.
Long Range Planning Continues:
After I became Mayor, the Council and I continued the “long range planning” strategy that Mayor Larry Johnson had initiated. We continued to analyze the needs of the Town and how to best tackle them, while keeping Copper Canyon basically rural. Several ongoing issues were obvious:
(1) Long Range Planning: We needed more accurate financial forecasting of revenue and expenses. Without this tool, we couldn’t plan realistically for the long term.
(2) First Rate Legal Advice: We needed a Town Attorney willing to attend each Council Meeting, update all our ordinances and codify them online, and be familiar with any issues concerning the surrounding municipalities that would impact Copper Canyon.
(3) Emergency Services: We needed reliable fire fighting and emergency medical personnel and equipment at a fairly predictable cost.
(4) Communication: We needed a means to keep Town residents informed of issues in the Town.
(5) Law Enforcement dedicated to Copper Canyon: We could not rely on the 2 to 4 roaming Sheriff’s deputies that were available to cover all of Denton County.
(6) Roads: We needed a complete overhaul of our perimeter roads and residential streets for safety and to maintain the property values of our homes. This project would require:
(a) A diversified engineering firm that could handle both concrete and asphalt roads, drainage issues, boundary surveys, update building codes for both residential subdivisions and FM 407 retail areas, and Master Plan design capabilities. We were fortunate to find our current very capable Town Engineers in the most reputable Halff Associates. (Halff has over 500 engineers and professional personnel in Texas, with a Flower Mound office that responds promptly to our Town’s issues.)
(b) Seek County Funding to Rebuild our Perimeter Roads in concrete to
(c) Rebuild our aging residential roads to maintain the property value of our homes
(7) Gas Well Drilling and Pipeline Routing: The evolution of the “Best Practices”.
(8) A Retail Area along the FM 407 Corridor: This would diversify the Town’s tax base, add sales tax revenue, and enable the property tax on Copper Canyon homeowners to remain low.
What we have accomplished in the Last Six years.
Items (1) through (4) are complete. Item (5), dedicated law enforcement, is partially complete. But, this item may not be totally achieved and funded until the Retail area on FM 407 is a reality. Item (6) Road Rebuilding will be completed by the end of 2011, except for the completion of Copper Canyon Road and the northern end of Chinn Chapel Road which will occur in 2012. Item (7). FM 407 Retail Area, has been delayed the last two years due to the negative economic climate. But the Council is tackling that final item now.
The above seven goals have not been easy, and they would never have been accomplished without a dedicated Council of neighbors willing to work together. Each Council Member took the responsibility for one area of concern and guided our joint efforts as a team. We were – and are – very fortunate to have Council Members with a variety of professional expertise and experience, which they are willing to donate for the benefit of the Town.
(1) Reliably Predicting the Town’s Financial Income and Expenses
The Council realized that we had to have reliable estimates of the Town’s revenue and expenses or we couldn’t do realistic long range planning. Steve Hill is an international financial consultant with KPMG, a major American accounting firm. He spent hours devising the complicated formulas for a Pro Forma Budget for Copper Canyon. Then Town Administrator Paulette Hartman and I researched detailed records of past years expenses and revenues of the Town, so that Steve could translate any predictable percentage annual gains into the formulas. The result was an incredible tool.
Each month we could look at every individual line item for revenue or expense and see if we were on track for our adopted annual budget. If any line item was ahead or behind in the amount it should be at that stage in our fiscal year, we could adjust to the new reality. For example: sometimes sales taxes exceeded expectations; sometimes unexpected road repairs had to be funded. We have been using our Pro Forma Budget for six years. It is invaluable. (In fact, the Double Oak Town Council asked Steve to come to their Council Meeting and explain to them how it worked.
(2) First Rate Legal Advice and Online Code:
A first rate Town Attorney was the best defense a small town like Copper Canyon could have. Quality legal advice, given in advance of a problem developing, keeps a Town out of trouble.
As a former City Attorney myself, I had noticed Terry Welch before I became Mayor. He was at that time the outgoing Chairman of the American Bar Association’s Municipal Law Section. He lectured on municipal law subjects at seminars across Texas and the other 49 states. He also had been the City Attorney for Flower Mound for years, so he was intimately acquainted with all the issues that concerned the towns surrounding Copper Canyon’s borders. I asked him if he would even consider representing a town as small as Copper Canyon.
Terry said he was impressed with the way our Council worked together as a team and the notable lack of political bickering. He agreed to be our Town Attorney and to be at each monthly meeting, so he could answer legal questions as they came up during the Council’s discussion of issues
Terry has helped us update all our antiquated ordinances, eliminate some useless ones, and resolve contradictions between others. We now have our Code online, where anyone can search it by key word or type of ordinance. He has helped us negotiate contracts and be sure the legal language protects the interests of our small town. He understands the inter-dynamics of the towns that surround Copper Canyon and how we can best work together for the good of our mutual geographic area. Having a Town Attorney of Terry Welsh’s caliber has been a priceless asset for Copper Canyon.
(3) Reliable Fire and Ambulance Services at Predictable Cost
The Argyle Volunteer Fire District’s Fire Chief is Mac Hohenberger, a resident of Copper Canyon. Mac is my neighbor, and a more dedicated man you will never meet. Every year, Mac had the monumental task of soliciting financial support for fire and emergency medical services from 7 different towns. The geographical range of the district was immense – from Copper Canyon west through Lantana, Bartonville, Argyle, Corral City, unincorporated Denton County, to all of the huge area of the Town of Northlake west of 35-W. This was an incredible expanse of territory for a volunteer fire district to cover – and especially with no guaranteed annual revenue. Financially, it was untenable.
The Fire District could make no long range plans, as it had no annual income it could rely on. Thus, it could not reliably plan on the purchase of individual bunker gear to protect the firemen; the purchase of fire engines, ambulances, or medical supplies; or the building of much needed local fire stations to reduce critical response times to fires and medical emergencies.
The Successful Campaign for Emergency Services District #1
Our County Commissioner for Precinct Four at that time was Commissioner Jim Carter. He recognized the need to establish an Emergency Services District that would reliably fund fire and emergency medical needs. ESDs in Texas were traditionally funded through a property tax on those residents who would directly benefit from the ESD’s services. The ESD was a way for small towns to band together and provide reliable fire and ambulance services that they could not possibly provide individually.
Several dedicated volunteers headed the Steering Committee that did its best to educate voters in the area about the benefits and the costs of an Emergency Services District. From Argyle, there was Jon Donahue and Bob Swanbeck; from Bartonville, there was Kathy Bradham and James Price; from Copper Canyon there was Fire Chief Mac Hohenberger and myself Mayor Sue Tejml; and from Denton County’s Commissioners Court, there was Commissioner Jim Carter.
We worked hard to inform the voters, so that they could make an educated choice. ESD#1 passed with a two thirds majority vote. It is the first Emergency Services District in Denton County – but it will not be the last. ESD#1 will be a model for those to come in the future in other parts of our county. An ESD is the only way for multiple small towns, in close proximity to each other, to band together to provide quality fire and emergency medical basic services for their residents. Once again, our small town of Copper Canyon helped lead the way to a practical solution for a common problem. (Note: Town resident Kim Cumings served as the volunteer Secretary for ESD #1 for the next few years.)
(4) Communication with Copper Canyon Residents – the birth of the “What’s Happening in Copper Canyon” monthly mayor’s articles
How could we keep Copper Canyon residents updated on things happening in Town? Mayor Johnson had tried a quarterly two page Newsletter with each Council Member writing a paragraph or two on a single topic. As best I could tell, the Newsletter was regularly tossed without being read.
At that time LaRue Johnson was editor and owner of a monthly newspaper called The Cross Timbers Gazette. Its circulation was to western Flower Mound, Double Oak, Copper Canyon, Lantana, Bartonville and Argyle. LaRue especially liked to include local news from the small towns, so she suggested that I write a monthly Mayor’s column. Thus was born the “What’s Happening in Copper Canyon” articles.
For six years, I have been tackling this writing task once a month. I usually don’t finish until midnight of my deadline date. (My husband Emil says that I have created my own “monster” – and a lengthy one. And he’s right.) But I want to thank the Copper Canyon people who take the time to read the article. If you want to know what is happening in Town, you can usually find it in the article. And if you missed the monthly Gazette newspaper, the “What’s Happening” articles are archived on the Town website. (www.coppercanyon-tx.org. Top left corner of the home page, click Mayor’s Corner.)
The Cross Timbers Gazette’s circulation is second only to the Dallas Morning News in Denton County
Max Miller of Lantana has been the owner-editor of The Gazette for over 4 years now. He has done an incredible job of building the monthly newspaper’s circulation to 26,500, the second largest newspaper distributed in Denton County after the Dallas Morning News. To put Max’s phenomenal achievement into perspective, the daily Denton Record Chronicle has a subscriber base of only 15,000.
My sincere thanks to Max for allowing me the space to write extensively about Copper Canyon – and sometimes about subjects of general interest to our geographic area. (For example: the cost of water for our homes, gas well drilling and pipeline routing in residential areas, possible toxic gas well drilling emissions, achieving clean air in North Texas, topics before the legislature, timetables for the rebuilding of area roads, etc.)
Max and I have a good working relationship. I appreciate the extensive column space he allows me gratis. He appreciates my monthly reporting – also gratis. The Gazette is mailed monthly, free of charge, to every home in Copper Canyon. It has been my method of keeping Town residents informed of any issues affecting Copper Canyon or our general area.
Copper Canyon creates its own Town Web Site
Town Administrator Donna Welsh is the creator of Copper Canyon’s website. Current news alerts are on the home page, such as the countywide Burn Ban in effect now. Anyone can go online to look up ordinances or find information about our Municipal Court procedures. Traffic fines are listed and can be conveniently mailed in, thus eliminating a time consuming trip to municipal court.
There are links to the Argyle Fire District website and forms to request that our Sheriff’s Deputies keep a “close watch” on residents’ homes while they are out of town. There are also forms that can be filled out to submit recipes for Copper Canyon’s Cookbook, information for the Town’s pending Telephone Directory, information for the Town’s also pending Vendor’s Guide of local businesses, and an application to volunteer for various Town Committees. Notices are given for Town events and photos are posted of general interest to residents. A Town Map is also included with a street guide.
Council Meetings, Agendas, Meeting Packets, and Approved Minutes:
Each Council Meeting is posted on the Town Web Site Calendar and the Agenda and all underlying documents for the meeting are also included. Anyone can download the same Meeting Packet that the Mayor and Council receive. Under the Consent Agenda is the monthly Pro Forma Budget, the bank balances of all Town accounts, and a check register identifying every payee for the month and the amount of the check. Any contracts and ordinances being considered are also included. After the Minutes are approved by the Council, they are also posted on the web site. The same procedure is followed for all meetings of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Adjustment. These meetings are grouped annually by year and archived on the website.
Copper Canyon is recognized by the State Comptroller’s Office for Financial Transparency:
In 2009 Copper Canyon was recognized by the State Comptroller’s Office for Financial Transparency. On the Town web site is the Adopted Budget for the current fiscal year, any interim Budget Amendments, the monthly Pro Forma Budget (which is the monthly status to date of revenues and expenses for that stage of the fiscal year), and a check register identifying every payee for the month and the amount of the check. Also included is the latest approved annual Financial Audit.
Besides the annual Audit, the Town has the auditor do a mini quarterly audit three times a year. The quarterly audits can identify any possible financial problem developing and allow for early resolution. If any Town resident wants to know how their property tax dollars are spent, they have only to look on the Town’s web site to find the answer. The Council, Staff and I were very proud to be only one of two small towns in Texas to be so recognized for our fiscal transparency and conservative financial management.
(5) Law Enforcement Options Evolve:
As I mentioned, under Mayor Larry Johnson the Town had tried an arrangement with the Double Oak Police Department. Double Oak Mayor Dick Cook, the Council, and the police officers were great. But there were limited police vehicles for the officers to use. And if a vehicle was out for servicing, it was invariably (and understandably) the one assigned to patrol Copper Canyon. And a police officer “on foot” simply can’t be effective patrolling Copper Canyon’s four square miles.
Next we tried an arrangement with Denton County Constable John Hatzenbuhler’s office. Two constable’s officers were assigned to Copper Canyon and the arrangement was working fairly well. However, our arrangement with the Constable was an anomaly in Denton County. The Commissioner’s Court wanted all law enforcement contracts to be under the umbrella of the Denton County Sheriff’s Office. Thus, Copper Canyon’s law enforcement contract with Denton County was switched, with barely two days notice to me and the Council, to the umbrella of the Sheriff’s Office.
Law Enforcement Contract with Sheriff Benny Parkey is a real Plus
Actually, this was a positive move for the Town. Sheriff Benny Parkey and Deputy Chief Lee Howell had instigated an extensive training program for their deputies. And the DCSO had seasoned supervision over our deputies with Captain Mike Caley, a former DEA undercover agent. The Sheriff’s Office offered a real benefit with its fleet of vehicles. If the vehicle our dedicated Deputies were driving needed repair, the Sheriff could substitute a vehicle from his fleet for as long as needed. This was a tremendous plus, because Copper Canyon would not be without law enforcement presence just because our vehicle was in the shop. The Sheriff also provided backup deputies when our officers were in training or on vacation or personal leave.
The Council realized that the Town could not yet afford 24/7 law enforcement coverage. At best we could afford two deputies. This coverage was expensive. It cost approximately $75,000 to $80,000 per deputy. This included the deputy’s salary, medical benefits, retirement, training, supervision, personal equipment (gun, bullet proof vest, cell phone, etc.) and his patrol vehicle, fuel, and maintenance. The patrol vehicle was also equipped with siren, lights, video camera, portable radar gun, and tough book computer for instant access to 911 dispatchers and the state’s criminal database.
Was this expense worth it? Absolutely. You have only to witness neighboring Lantana’s problems with ongoing crime and theft, due to no regular law enforcement presence. Criminals operate where the “pickings” are easiest. They are very aware of local areas that have NO regular law enforcement presence. The Council and I have never wanted Copper Canyon to be on that list of “easy opportunities” for thieves. We do all pay Denton County taxes and the roaming Deputies in Denton County will respond to our 911 calls. BUT – there are only possibly 4 roaming deputies for all of Denton County at any one time. And it is a long way for a Deputy to travel from many places in Denton County to here.
Neighborhood Watch Program is sponsored by the Sheriff’s Office
Because the Town does not have 24/7 law enforcement coverage, the Council and I decided to instigate a Neighborhood Watch. There are now approximately 60 Block Captain Volunteers and almost every street in Copper Canyon is covered. Each Block Captain is invited to the Watch training sponsored by the Sheriff’s Office, and each Block Captain receives a map of the homes on their block and the personal emergency contact information provided by the individual residents. (If the resident does not respond with personal information, the Block Captain is provided with whatever public information is available for that resident.) This information is not subject to Open Records Requests. Each Block Captain has only the information for their street. The Town Administrator and the Mayor have a master list, and that information is provided to law enforcement on a “need to know” basis.
Emergency notices only go out to the areas specifically concerned. For instance, the siting of the mountain lion two years back only went to the northeastern part of Town. The mailbox theft warning went only to the southeastern part of town, which appeared to be the targeted route of the mail thieves. Other possible instances where the Watch would become involved are a missing child or senior adult with memory problems or a wildfire or train derailment in the immediate area.
(6) Long Range Planning Task Force for Roads meets the Fall of 2009
39 residents from every subdivision and most every road in Town met for 3 months with the Town Council to discuss roads. The Task Force realized that the physical condition of each road could not be determined solely by a visual inspection. Developer and homeowner Bob Day suggested that the Town invest in geotech road borings to determine the facts. The borings, at every 500 linear feet of road, determined the varying soil under each section of road; whether there was a base – and if so, its condition; the thickness of the current pavement, and its condition. Based on this factual information, the Halff Town Engineers listed all Town roads prioritized by estimated useful life remaining and cost to rebuild or resurface.
The Task Force also asked for Traffic Counts on each arterial road – Woodlands Drive, Rolling Acres Drive, Jernigan, East Jernigan, and Estates Drive. Woodlands Drive was overwhelmingly the most heavily traveled arterial road in Town.
Task Force votes 37 to 2 to recommend a Road Bond Election to Rebuild Roads.
Seven Task Force Members and two Council Members live on private roads. The seven Task Force Members and two Council Members voted for the Road Bond Election, even though their additional property taxes would not directly benefit their residential streets. (These nine individuals were obviously looking out for the good of the Town as a whole, and not just their individual wallets.) The Task Force recommended that the tax increase to service the road bond not exceed ten cents per $100 valuation or $100 annually per $100,000 appraised property value. This recommendation allowed every tax payer in Copper Canyon to accurately predict his property tax increase, if he voted for the road bond.
Large voter Turnout Approves Road Bond by two to one Majority.
The Council could have approved Certificates of Obligation to fund the proposed rebuilding of our residential roads. That procedure would not require a town wide vote. But the Council felt that every tax payer should have an opportunity to vote on a property tax increase for our roads.
Town residents Mark Pape, Paul Bosco, Bob Day, and Anthony Lauchner headed up a committee to inform Copper Canyon voters about the Road Bond election and the facts supporting it. Marshall Warren volunteered to put out small individual yard signs that said “Vote Yes” for the road bond. The voter turnout was one of the Town’s largest. The Bond passed by a healthy two to one voter margin.
Standard & Poors awards the Town an outstanding AA- bond rating!
It is highly unusual for a small town the size of Copper Canyon, on its first bond issue, to receive an outstanding bond rating. Standard & Poors justified its superlative AA- rating for Copper Canyon, based on the Town’s consistent conservative fiscal management for the previous five years. The rating enabled the Town to sell its first $2 million bond issue for the exceedingly low rate of under 3.5 percent. Though the term is for 20 years, the Town can – and intends to – pay off the full bond amount in ten years. (The bond sale was finalized with no prepayment penalty, if the principal was paid off after 10 years.).
Town receives Huge Value for its Road Dollars!
Because of the negative economic climate, contractors are drastically cutting their profit margins so that they do not have to lay off personnel and can meet payments on their heavy equipment. This is to Copper Canyon’s incredible advantage. By the end of this year, the Town will have rebuilt almost 90% of its 25 to 35 year old interior residential roads – far more than originally anticipated. Capital Improvement Project 2010 of road rebuilding is complete. (Very minor check off items remain.) CIP 2011 road projects will be completed by December of this year. Engineering is already completed. The low bid has been accepted. Actual road construction will begin this month.
Town Spends Under Budget for 3 years; Surplus rolled into Road Fund
When the Town completes this year’s 2011 CIP, there will still be over $300,000 remaining from the original $2,000,000 road bond. That amount, plus the accumulated amounts the Town has saved the last 3 years and rolled into the Road Fund, may be enough to rebuild Woodlands Drive. Woodlands is the most heavily traveled interior road in Town.
The other Town road in dire need of rebuilding is Jernigan Road. It is not heavily traveled at present. But it will be in the future. I have discussed this with Commissioner Eads as a possible candidate for the County’s 2012 road bond program. Rolling Acres Drive was rebuilt 8 years ago and has an estimated 10-15 years of useful road life left. It received some unexpected recent construction traffic from the Chinn Chapel area and will be monitored.
Part Two of our Recent Town History in next month’s May Issue.
The “Best Practices” for gas pipelines and gas well drilling, FM 407 Retail Area, Committees, Cookbook and College Scholarships, Town Telephone Directory, Vendors Guide of Town businesses
Commissioner Andy Eads to moderate Candidate Forum Sunday April 17th 2-4 p.m. at Town Hall for positions of Mayor and Council Members #2 and #4
Andy Eads, Our Denton County Precinct Four Commissioner, has graciously agreed to again moderate the Town’s Candidate Forum. The Commissioner always conducts the forum with fairness and good humor. He has asked the candidates to submit written questions to him. He will ask each candidate to answer the same four general questions on different issues of interest to Town residents. The candidates will be emailed the questions a week in advance of the Forum, so that they can prepare their answers. Written questions will be taken from those attending. Each candidate can also make an Opening and Closing Statement if they wish.
Copper Canyon candidates drew for the following positions on the ballot:
For Mayor: #1 Sue Tejml, #2 David Linder
Council Member #2: #1 Jeff Mangum, #2 Mike Sommers
Council Member #4: #1 Charlie Nicholas #2 Mike Brasberger
Denton County is combining polling places this year to save money on the number of very expensive voting machines required. The General Election is Saturday May 14th from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Double Oak Town Hall. Copper Canyon residents will also vote for LISD and DISD candidates at Double Oak’s Town Hall. Early voting will be at the Double Oak Town Hall from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday May 2nd through Saturday May 7th and on Monday May 9th and Tuesday May 10th from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Candidates can elect to use, or not use, political signs. Some candidates place their signs early in the campaign; others wait until later just before early voting. Our Town ordinance requires political signs to be placed at least ten feet from the edge of our road pavements. This keeps the signs from obstructing motorists’ line of sight along a road and keeps the signs from being an obstacle to mowing of our road right-of-ways. Common courtesy requires that a candidate obtain the landowner’s permission before attaching a sign to a fence or placing it in a homeowner’s yard. Candidates are responsible for removing their political signs the day after the election.
(Sections of the Texas Transportation Code further govern political signs. The Denton County Election Commission enforces the state laws regarding political signs. If any sign is in violation of the Town ordinance, it will be placed behind Town Hall, so that the candidate can easily retrieve it and replace it legally.)