In The Field with Public Works

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On Aug. 26, the city’s Communications staff had the pleasure of going behind the scenes with Public Works to learn more about the department’s schedules & processes for maintaining the city’s alleys, sidewalks, and residential streets.

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Newly Certified Arborist applies knowledge to city’s trails

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The City of The Colony boasts one of the highest ratios of per-capita park acreage in the state of Texas. Much of that green space includes Corps of Engineers property along Lewisville Lake, but there’s a sizable amount of parkland and trails that must be maintained by the city’s Parks Crews.

All those trails and parkland means there’s lots of trees in The Colony. Not to mention more and more new trees are planted each year as part of the city’s annual Tree City USA re-certification.

Playground Inspector and Trails Specialist Marlisa Jemison has been with the city almost five years. She is one of many Parks & Recreation staffers charged with maintaining the city’s green spaces.

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Playground Inspector and Trails Specialist Marlisa Jemison.

“We do a lot of tree-work on the Parks Crew. You can see how many trees we have,” she said while standing amid the forest of Bill Allen Memorial Park, one of the more densely wooded areas in the community.

Jemison, whose educational background is in biology and natural sciences, took it upon herself earlier this year to earn certification as an arborist so she could do an even better job, particularly along the trails where pushing back the overgrowth is important.

“We can’t constantly monitor every tree, of course, but I wanted to make sure I’m doing what I can to keep the trees I encounter in the best shape possible,” she said.Marlisa1

Arborists, for example, learn about the Compartmentalization of Decay in Trees (CODIT), which explains how wounded trees protect themselves by forming walls around the wound to slow the spread of disease or decay. Jemison applies this knowledge when trimming back the foliage along the trails.

“Trees are living creatures, and it makes a big difference in the health of the tree depending on where and how you cut a branch,” Jemison said. “You don’t want to cut it too far out and you don’t want to cut it flush to the trunk. You want to cut it so it grows properly.”

Jemison said trimming trees the right way at the right time (especially new ones) prevents development of weakened structures and things like “co-dominant leaders,” where a tree seemingly has two trunks.

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An example of “co-dominant leaders.” This tree has grown naturally but Jemison would try to prevent such growth in new trees along the trails.

Beyond trimming, proper tree maintenance also includes things like planting them at the right depth and not staking them too tight.

Other, bigger cities around the state often have one or more devoted staff members maintaining the city’s urban forestry. For her part, Jemison is simply trying to fill in the gap in her community.

“This certification doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know about trees but every bit helps and I love to learn new things,” she said. “I also love hiking trails, so it feels good knowing I’m contributing to the experience of other people getting out on our trails.

“We have lots of beautiful trees we want to keep healthy. Learning how to do that better simply provides a better trail experience for our residents.”

In the Field with Water Meter Technicians

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On July 19, our Communications staff rode out with the city’s water meter technicians to share info about meter reading as well as everything else they do to maintain & repair the city’s meters. Providing quality customer service is their No. 1 goal.

 

City Council funds vital infrastructure upgrades

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Improvements include remote water-quality monitoring, increased safety

At its regular meeting on April 16, The Colony City Council approved $1.5 million in funding for improvements to the electrical instrumentation and controls for two of the city’s four pump stations. Pump stations are located near each of the city’s water towers and perform a simple function implied by the name: They pump water through the water distribution system.

It may sound simple but those stations are critical components of the city’s infrastructure. Combined, the four stations help pump almost 6 million gallons of water through the system each day. The price tag isn’t cheap and it’s the kind of project that may not get much fanfare but it couldn’t be more important to the city’s overall mission in service to its residents.

“These are the types of large-ticket items that are absolutely necessary. Cities all over Texas have to do these projects in order to keep up with the services the cities are responsible to providing their residents,” Council member Richard Boyer said at the meeting. “[Projects like this are] needed items but they’re not necessarily the things people see as amenities. They’re basic responsibilities.”

Clover Valley water tower

The Colony City Council recently approved important safety and security upgrades to the pump station at the Clover Valley water tower.

Much of the equipment at the stations pegged for improvements (Nos. 1 and 3) has been in use since the city’s formation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, meaning their electrical infrastructure is antiquated, in particular. Aging equipment not only increases the odds of something breaking down, it creates a potentially unsafe environment for employees. Public Services Director Evan Groeschel said the upgrades will give city staff better access to the stations and provide more safety, reliability, operability, and efficiency.

Improvements to Pump Station No. 1, located near the water tower on Clover Valley, total $70K and primarily include installation of an online water quality monitoring station that will enable operators to observe and respond to water-quality changes in real time from the control center at Office Creek Pump Station. An operator at Office Creek, which is staffed 24/7, could then adjust the chlorine levels at Station No. 1, for example, should that chemical’s concentration peak or dip.

Improvements to Pump Station No. 3, located near Fire Station No. 2 on North Colony, are more extensive. In addition to the same water-quality monitoring station as Pump Station No. 1, significant upgrades to the station’s actual structure, power supply, and security features are scheduled. The total cost for work at Pump Station No. 3 is $1.45 million.

These improvements are just a few among many currently underway within the city’s overall water and wastewater services, including a $2.8 million project to replace a mile of sewer lines; cleaning and repainting the Office Creek storage tanks; and other ongoing maintenance to the city’s wells and water towers.

Office Creek control station

Operators at the Office Creek Pump Station can monitor water quality throughout the city’s water system. Soon, they’ll be able to make remote adjustments to the water at multiple off-site pump stations.

Phase 1 of an $18 million expansion at the Stewart Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) began in 2016 and was wrapped up earlier this year, bringing the plant’s treatment capacity up to 4.5 million gallons per day. The plant will eventually need additional expansion in order to reach build-out capacity of 6.1 million gallons per day in concert with continued growth and economic development in the community.

Back in March, the City Council approved $2.5 million in funding for design services and engineering of WWTP improvements Phase 2A, which will upgrade the plant’s “dewatering” facility to build-out level. Dewatering helps to facilitate separation of the solids and liquids, and enables disposal of the plant’s byproducts. Currently, the dewatering facility operates 8 to 10 hours per day, 7 days a week. Normal operation is approximately 4 to 5 days a week, 5 to 6 hours a day. Engineering should take about a year, with 15-18 months of actual construction.

“Without the ability to dewater the solids and dispose of the byproduct, the plant would, in effect, lose the ability to treat wastewater,” Groeschel said. “Those reasons, combined with increased flow of solids due to Phase 1 expansion, make improving the dewatering facility a critical next step.”

Recycling Revisited

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Customers encouraged to help cut down contamination

For decades, Americans have been steadily embracing the concept of recycling as a means to help keep the environment clean, preserve resources, and beautify their communities. From cardboard and glass to plastics and aluminum, we have become accustomed to throwing many things in the recycling bin rather than the trash can.

bottles-57139_1280No more so than right here in The Colony, where our customers continue to be active participants in the city’s recycling program. Through its partnership with Republic Services, The Colony residents recycled almost 4,000 tons of materials this past year.

Times, however, are changing. Searching the latest news stories online about recycling reveals an industry in flux as international markets for raw materials shrink, driving up the costs of collecting, transporting, and storing recyclables. As a result, it has become more important than ever for customers to adhere to recycling best practices such as keeping contaminated items out of the recycling stream.

Those best practices for reducing recycling contamination include:

  • all paper and cardboard items (such as pizza boxes) must be free of food particles;
  • all food and beverage cans must be empty and rinsed clean; and,
  • lids from plastic containers must be removed and discarded.

In addition, the following items should NOT be put in the recycling bin:

  • plastic bags;
  • grass clippings, brush, or limbs;
  • household trash;
  • tires;
  • batteries;
  • paints or hazardous waste;
  • automotive/window glass, ceramics, or china;
  • light bulbs;
  • Styrofoam;
  • plastic toys;
  • wax paper/food containers; or,
  • aluminum foil.

Efficient collection of trash and recyclables also helps keep costs down for everyone. Residents are reminded to put their carts out on the curb by 7 a.m. on their regular trash/recycling collection days. They may also put them out the night before. Collection occurs anytime between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Also, modern collection trucks are equipped with cameras and GPS tracking devices, facilitating effective oversight of the drivers’ route, performance, and any issues they encounter during the day.

For more information about recycling or related programs, please contact the city’s Environmental Services Department at 972-624-3131.

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Annual budget: Road map to the city’s future

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When September rolls around each year, many folks are eagerly anticipating “cooler” weather as fall arrives or absorbing themselves in the start of a new football season. But for city governments throughout the state, September is crunch-time for arguably the most important component of municipal management: the annual budget.

The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. While September marks the end of the process when the City Council approves the final budget as prepared by City Administration, the process begins in the spring when the Council meets for its annual retreat. That’s when priorities for the coming year are established.

Often times those priorities carry over year to year. Two things are consistently atop the list: public safety and roadway maintenance. On the former, it’s primarily a question of working to ensure that response times for emergencies trend downward. That means providing The Colony Police and Fire departments with the necessary personnel, equipment, and facilities to perform their duties.

The Colony Police Department patrol vehicle

Providing public safety and emergency services personnel with the tools they need, such as fully equipped and reliable patrol vehicles, is always a budget priority.

The 2018-19 budget, which the City Council approved on Sept. 18, includes funding for six new paramedics, an assistant fire marshal, and four new patrol officers. Six new vehicles are being added to The Colony Police Department fleet as well – four new Chevy Tahoes for patrol officers that will replace the last of the department’s aging Crown Victorias; and two Ford Tauruses for detectives.

The budget also includes funding for construction of Fire Station No. 4, which will start taking shape this year at the corner of Plano Parkway and Destination Drive. Station No. 4 will serve as the new operations center for The Colony Fire Department. It will be about 22,000 square feet in size, include five bays for TCFD apparatus, and be equipped with the latest fire services and EMS technology and equipment. It is estimated to be completed by the end of 2019. Plans are also in the works for Fire Station No. 5, to be located in The Tribute area.

The Colony Fire Station No. 4, front elevation

The Colony Fire Station No. 4 is being built this coming year at the corner of Plano Parkway and Destination Drive.

As for roadway maintenance, the city typically budgets about $5 million per year for significant repairs to residential streets and alleys. In 2018-19, $4.5 million will go toward fully reconstructing the following roadways: Thompson Drive from Blair Oaks to John Yates; Darby Lane from Strickland to Hetherington; Baker Drive from Petit to Morning Star; Blue Glen from Amhurst to Clover Valley; and the Melroy alley.

Street reconstruction is funded as capital improvement projects (CIP). The city hires contractors to oversee major projects of that nature, which are different than routine repairs to sidewalks and potholes. Those repairs are handled mostly by the Public Services Department’s “hot shot crew,” which goes into action based upon documented requests from residents and day-to-day observations of city staff on patrol through the community.

Public Works sidewalk repairs

Outside of major reconstruction projects, the Public Works crews handle much of the street, sidewalk, and alley repairs in the city.

Beyond emergency services and roadways, another consistent budget priority is improving the city’s water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure. Each year, the City Council specifically directs city management to keep up with infrastructure maintenance. The longer a project is delayed, the more it will cost to undertake when it finally begins.

In 2018-19, important maintenance and upgrades to the city’s stormwater infrastructure take center stage. As the city continues to develop and grow, there is an increase in the city’s total amount of impervious surface area, which increases stormwater runoff. More flow means more wear and tear on the system and more erosion along streams that funnel runoff into the lake. Development in adjacent communities that feed The Colony’s creeks and streams as well as extremes in weather conditions also contributes to the volume.

Taylor Street stream bank

This past year, the Engineering Department has been overseeing a project to stabilize the banks of the stream along Taylor Street, north of the Aquatic Park.

For example, many residents may be familiar with the repairs currently underway to the stream bank along Taylor Street behind the Aquatic Park. There’s about $2 million worth of similar stormwater CIP projects included in the 2018-19 budget.

As for wastewater infrastructure, Phase I of the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) expansion is expected to be completed by January 2019. The new budget includes funding for the engineering and design work for Phase II of the expansion. Reconstruction of the North Trunk Sewer Line, one of the city’s primary conveyors of wastewater to the WWTP on East Lake Highlands, will get underway this year, too, at a cost of about $2.9 million.

Whatever the project, City Administration often hears concerns from residents regarding the costs and pace of infrastructure improvements. Yes, there has been significant economic development within the community in recent years that has grown the city’s budget but that was not always the case. Many important CIP projects (which are collectively funded with revenue leftover after accounting for basic operating expenses) have been delayed in the past for lack of funding prior to economic development.

The City Council has also voted to lower or hold steady the property tax rate for 18 straight years as development has begun to shift some of the tax burden from homeowners to commercial properties. Still, the city boasts healthy balances in all its “rainy day funds” as well as excellent credit ratings from Moody’s and S&P, indicating the city is doing a good job managing its finances.

Throughout the budgeting process, the city is required by state law to adhere to truth-in-taxation practices, which include posting notice when revenue in the new budget exceeds the “effective tax rate.” The effective tax rate is the rate necessary to generate the same amount of revenue as the previous fiscal year on the same properties (excluding new construction and new properties).

Budgets that exceed the effective tax rate are not uncommon, especially in growing communities such as those throughout the North Texas area. The City of The Colony’s 2018-19 budget is the first under the current City Administration in which the effective tax rate was not exceeded, indicating the city’s revenue and expenses are lining up as best they can.

With Scheels All Sports, Galaxy Theaters, and Andretti’s Indoor Karting expected to open in 2019, among other big-name developments, the city’s revenue is anticipated to continue increasing alongside increasing demands for maintenance and infrastructure improvements throughout the community. The city’s leadership also hopes to continue putting downward pressure on the tax rate and explore the possibility of homestead exemptions in future budget years.

In the field with Community Image

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Officers hit the streets to patrol residential, commercial zones

On July 23, staff from the city’s Communications Department spent the day with Neighborhood Enhancement Officer Danny Dill from the Community Image Department to live-tweet a “day in the life” of a Community Image officer. In case you missed it, here’s a rundown of the day’s activities: