Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mayor milks office as May election moves nearer

Well, that just about takes up my  monthly allotment of letter M usage.

Tonight on Pro8news, Mayor Raul Salinas again appeared honoring several small business in town. It's funny how he never did that in the first 7 years of his two terms.  However, during this past year, the Mayor has made the most use of his office in gaining weekly (sometimes daily) visibility. Of course all of this while on the taxpayer's dime.  Is it any coincidence that the timing on these almost weekly "honoring ceremonies" happen to coincide with his current campaign for Webb County Treasurer?

In the meantime, if you own any business whatsoever, you might want to contact the Mayor's office and get in the action. In the process, you might get a little bit of free advertisement for your business,  just not as much free advertising as the Mayor will probably get.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

City of Laredo should follow other cities in regulating payday lenders

Laredo's city politicians have a record of being very business-friendly while at the same time virtually ignoring the plight of the less fortunate.  With their approval of the $1 per transaction fee, they once again bowed to the wishes of HEB.  Many probably agree with this because no one wants to be waiting in line trying to figure out how many bags are going to be needed (fee per bag).

The Mayor pretended to be concerned about the "poor" having to pay for their plastic bags. If this was a genuine concern, he should have also opposed the $1 dollar fee as well.  Also, the mayor was silent when later on in the council meeting, the discussion turned to making our recreation centers more affordable for veterans or the disabled.  Surprisingly, even councilman Garza mentioned the difficulty of a family with four children having to pay $200 in fees anually ($ 50 per year).  Not so surprisingly, no one on the council seconded Garza's concerns.

But I digress; going back to the payday lenders.  The following is from the Dallas Morning News. Notice that the article does not mention Laredo at all when it calls for other cities to follow Dallas's lead in regulating payday lenders. Why is this? Is it indicative of how the rest of the state doesn't really consider Laredo a part of Texas ?   Given our "only in Laredo" style of politics, I wouldn't be surprised.

From The Dallas Morning News

Proponents of payday loans point out that the operations provide a way for cash-strapped consumers to obtain quick cash to tide them over until the next payday. While many of the loans initially are for small amounts to be repaid in full in a short time, consumers who can’t do so often get caught up in a never-ending cycle of debt and fees. In turn, that can engulf neighborhoods and entire communities in cycles of debt, as this newspaper has made clear in editorials throughout the six-years-plus of its “Bridging Dallas’ North-South Gap” project.
The state’s high poverty rates and the number of consumers who don’t have bank accounts make Texas ripe for payday lenders. Dallas ordinances don’t outlaw payday loans but wisely restrict the loan amount that can be extended and the terms under which the loan must be repaid, and require lenders to register and meet tougher zoning rules.

El Paso, Houston, Austin and San Antonio have smartly followed; action from Fort Worth, Irving and Arlington would strengthen the call to action. Cash America and Ace Cash Express, two of the nation’s major payday lenders, are based in Fort Worth and Irving, respectively.

Adding more cities to the coalition is important because, so far, state lawmakers have largely refused to take action against an industry with an enormously active lobby in Austin. Meanwhile, payday lenders have found cracks in municipal enforcement, such as increasing operations in inner-ring suburbs or going online
Reasonable regulations
This newspaper would like to see policymakers:
• Limit payday payments to an affordable percentage of a borrower’s income. Research indicates that monthly payments above 5 percent of gross monthly income are unaffordable.
• Spread costs evenly over the life of the loan.
• Guard against harmful repayment or collection practices.
• Require concise disclosures that reveal both periodic and total costs.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Laredo's plastic bag ordinance: The devil's in the details

Once again, from the Monday, April 21, 2014 Laredo city council meeting agenda:

C. Request by Council Member Cynthia Liendo 
1. Status report on the plastic bag ordinance, with possible action.

Hmmm, not much information on this one.  We know that the city council did pass a plastic bag reduction ordinance last year but left many of the details blank. For one thing, the ordinance seeks to reduce plastic bag usage in the Gateway City, not ban it.  In the process, the question has become whether to bring about a reduction by charging a per-bag fee or a flat fee regardless of how many plastic bags will be issued.

Understandbly, the biggest grocery stores such as HEB have long made it known that they would prefer a flat fee, (say $1.00) per customer per visit.  This is preferred because that way the merchant does not have to keep track of how many bags they will need for each particular customer/visit.  However, this may not necessarily do much for the purpose of reducing the number of plastic bags used in our city. If this route is taken, Laredoans can expect to see about the same number of plastic bags strewn all over town resulting in an offending eyesore to all.

The LaredoTejas editorial board has determined that the more effective method of reducing the number of those annoying fly-away plastic bags is to instead charge a per-bag fee.  This way, people who have a great deal of groceries in their cart might want to avoid paying a few extra dollars for so many plastic bags and start thinking twice about taking along their reusable bags.

Bruni Plaza water fountain to be finally fixed?

It seems that anything with the word Plaza takes a looong time in the City of Laredo.  For decades,the old Plaza Theater has sat vacant. Every few years, someone will bring it up at a city council meeting and the talk will usually go something like this:  The city will finally start moving on renovating the Plaza Theater and soon it will form the anchor of a revitalized downtown.

Well, in case you haven't noticed, the Ol' Plaza is still barricaded and closed.

Now, the subject is the Bruni Plaza water fountain.  There is an item on Monday's 4/20/2014 city council meeting that appears to finally address the dilapiated and dried out old water fountain. Here is what it looks like:

2014-O-051 Authorizing the City Manager to accept the Lamar Bruni
Vergara Trust Grant in the amount of $50,000.00 for the purpose of
repairing the fountain at Bruni Plaza and to amend the FY 2013-2014 Capital
Improvement Fund budget by appropriating said funds.

As far as accepting the  money, that's a given.  Now, as far as using the money as intended, that's anybody's guess.  It won't be the first time the city accepts a grant only to give it back later on because it could not comply with its requirements.

It would be nice to see that old water fountain at Bruni Plaza be fully operational again.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

City to increase water conservations fees, fines

The city council continued its war on the taxpayer by introducing several increases to fees and fines as a way of conserving water. Perhaps money is the only thing the taxpayer will listen to when it comes to saving water.

The question is:  Is the city still selling water to the fracking companies?? If no, then that's a good thing.  If yes, how much water is being sold monthly and why punish the taxpayers for following the example of the city in regards to water usage?

From the April 7th, 2014 agenda

Public hearing and introductory ordinance amending the City of Laredo
Code of Ordinances, Chapter 31, Article III, Division 4, Water Conservation
and Drought Contingency Plans in multiple sections to include a reduction in
the gallons per capita per day consumption (GPCD) from 150 GPCD to 130
GPCD by year 2019 and 110 GPCD by year 2024, a change from 6 stages
to 4 stages in the drought contingency plan, one change to the water
treatment plant capacity, four changes to the water demand triggering
conditions, one change to include a $20.00 water surcharge to customers
using more than 15,000 gallons of water per month during a Stage 4, one
change to adopt the same water waste fees from the Water Conservation
Plan for Stage 1 of the Drought Contingency Plan, one change to increase
the penalty on the Drought Contingency Plan to $500.00 per violation per
day, and one change to establish higher water waste fees for Stages 2, 3,
and 4 of the Drought Contingency Plan; providing for publication, severability
and an effective date. (Approved by Operations & Finance Committees)