Schertz officials discuss plans to reopen local businesses

Megan Armstrong San Antonio News

With the local COVID-19 pandemic curve possibly flattening out, members of the Schertz City Council at their April 14 meeting learned of potential plans to open up their community again.

Unlike a number of other suburban cities, Schertz continues to hold its meetings in person, with appropriate social distancing and with staff members disinfecting the chamber’s podium and microphone between each speaker’s presentations.

Fire Chief Kade, who also heads the city’s emergency management efforts, told the council that the number of reported coronavirus cases have plateaued within the last week.

“If you look at the data the past few days, it has been a much smaller increase each day, so that’s been good to see,” he said. “It hasn’t outpaced our medical capabilities at this point, and that was the whole goal of flattening the curve.”

Kade advised city council that the next move should be to create “some type of sustained approach to reopening instead of just saying everything is open on Friday at five o’clock and hope for the best.” The state’s guidelines for reopening businesses will need to be factored into any plans by Schertz, Kade added.

City Manager Mark Browne added Schertz is developing its plans in light of both the governor’s and the individual counties’ expected instructions and guidance. Schertz sits within three counties, Bexar, Guadalupe and Comal.

“I don’t see a scenario where they say to mayors and county judges that it’s up to you and you do whatever you want,” he said.

Mayor Ralph Gutierrez noted specific details on any local actions would need to be developed.

Councilman Michael Dahle suggested the city be proactive in helping local businesses hurt by the mandated shutdown orders.

“I don’t know if we can or if we’re able to,” he said. “We know that some of these businesses are not going to reopen and some others may be on the edge, but if there’s some way we can look at options to help them — possibly through the Economic Development Corp. — I certainly would like to explore that conversation. I think, long term, it would be less expensive for us to help save a local business than try to attract another one,” Dahle said.

The council took no action on the issue, but on another concern, voted to abolish pet licensing within Schertz, replacing it with mandatory microchips for all residents’ dogs and cats.

The city’s animal services currently provides a microchipping service for $15 an animal, as do vendors, local shelters and veterinarians. In the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Schertz collected $2,254 in licensing fees and issued 270 metal tags, which had to be renewed annually. Inserting a microchip is a one-time event, said Assistant Police Chief Marc Bane, and can save residents money.

Councilwoman Scott objected to the process, saying her research turned up multiple studies using rats and mice as test animals that indicated between one and 10 percent of all microchipped animals could develop malignant cancers.

The primary reason for the change, Bane explained, is that using microchips makes reuniting pets and their owners simple.

“When you look at the grand scheme of things, how many thousands of animals in this region go into a shelter and don’t make it out because an owner can’t be located,” Bane explained, “we’re saving a lot more lives (with microchips) than we are by hurting.”

Scott was not convinced. “I realize that one percent (of pets potentially developing cancer) doesn’t seem statistically significant, but if that’s your dog or cat that could be problematic,” she told Bane. “I feel like it is my conscience to be an advocate for the animal. I think technology is a wonderful servant but a horrible master, and I don’t like doing stuff just because you can.”

Scott called for further investigation into the process.

The rest of council did not agree. The ordinance was passed 6-1, with Scott alone voting no.

In other actions, council unanimously approved additional spending not to exceed $857,739 to Fuquay Inc., a New Braunfels infrastructure contractor. The work is part of the city’s 2018 comprehensive resurfacing project, and the original contract for $755,000 was approved Feb. 11, said John Nowak, a Schertz city engineer.

The work centered on streets in Greenfield Village, the Estates at Wilson’s Preserve, Deer Haven and Lone Oak subdivisions, as well as Randolph Avenue, Live Oak Road and Curtiss Avenue.

Designs for the work to repair or replace road surfaces in various areas of the city were completed a year ago, but when Fuquay officials examined the areas they were to rebuild, they discovered old problems had worsened and uncovered some new problems.

“One of the things that surprised us with this project was the lag time we had in getting bids and actually getting things to construction,” Nowak told the council. “The other thing that was very shocking was just how fast that extra deterioration occurred.” The new areas of erosion and damage were located primarily on Live Oak Road, at a cul-de-sac in Greenfield Village and in the Lone Oak subdivision, he said.

The extra requested funding may not be absolutely necessary, he added. “What’s reflected in this resolution is going up to the maximum cap (of spending on the approved contract) so we would not have to come back to you for additional approval or request additional funding if something else was encountered on this project,” he said.

Any money not spent on this contract would be shifted to one of the more than a dozen other road repair projects currently planned for this year, Nowak said.