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City Council postpones lobbying ordinance, promotes utility assistance program


Star file photo

At its July 6 meeting, the San Marcos City Council discussed the second reading of Ordinance 2021-45, an ordinance that requires registration of lobbyists and periodic reporting of contacts made by lobbyists with elected city officials.
The council voted at its June 1 meeting to approve the first reading of Ordinance 2021-45, but has now decided to postpone the ordinance from taking effect until Nov. 3, one day after general elections.
Councilmember Shane Scott motioned to postpone the ordinance, stating it is too broad and not thorough enough on the instructions regarding who and why someone would need to register as a lobbyist if a person or organization chooses to have a relationship with city officials. Scott adds postponing the ordinance will allow for it to be rewritten in a way that will benefit those affected by it.
“So they can rewrite it in a way, or somebody can put different committees together to go through this and make it work for the community,” Scott says.
The council also allocated funds from the city’s utility assistance program and discussed ways to raise more awareness for the program. The assistance program grants aid to any city utility customer with a past due balance of more than 60 days due to the impacts of COVID-19 or Winter Storm Uri. Citizens can receive up to $1,500 in aid and can apply online.
Funds will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis until all funds are allocated. The program has received $1,075,000 in funding. As of June 30, only $237,000 has been granted to customers.
While the city has informed customers about the program via mail, handouts at local schools and in-person assistance at utility billing locations, the council worries about the low number of applications received.
Mayor Jane Hughson suggests the city should make access to the application more direct so the program gains more attention and applications.
“They’re receiving it, assuming they open your mailbox, but they’re not, for whatever reason, catching on,” Hughson says. “So, somehow, maybe it needs to look like a contest. I printed the application. Maybe up at the top, it needs to say, ‘You may qualify for up to $1,500,’ do it more as, you know as if you were selling televisions or cars or something. Get their attention.”
The council will postpone the decision for disconnecting utilities until its Aug. 3 meeting to allow citizens time to apply for the assistance program before deciding on a date to start disconnections.
The Aug. 3 meeting will take place in person at City Hall due to the ending of the Texas Open Meetings Act on Sept. 1. The act has allowed government bodies to meet virtually due to the pandemic.
City Council meetings will be socially distanced, and members may choose to wear face masks of their own accord. Meetings will continue to be accessible to the public via Zoom. If able within their job duties, staff and assistants can continue to work remotely.
The City Council also appointed Daniel Matthew Burns to a two-year term as an associate municipal court judge for the San Marcos Municipal Court. Ordinance 2021-51 was also approved and requires City Council members, city board commissions and city committees to attend ethics training during the first 30 days of their term in office.
The city’s general and special election date was approved by the council to be held on Nov. 2.
The San Marcos City Council meets virtually at 6 p.m. every first and third Tuesday of each month. For more information, visit the City Council website.

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