City events to proceed despite COVID concerns

The Odessa City Council on Tuesday agreed to allow numerous upcoming city-sponsored community events to proceed, despite an alarming surge in local COVID-19 cases during the past month.

Council did not vote on the issue, but instead verbally directed City Manager Michael Marrero to not cancel popular annual community events such as Oktoberfest, the Fall Festival and Parade of Lights.

“I think we need to leave it up to the citizens,” Councilman Steve Thompson said during discussion of the issue. “These are all outside events. Everyone understands the risks; they know safety protocols.”

Mayor Javier Joven said he has contacted numerous surrounding communities and none of them indicated they will be canceling any events due to COVID.

“I believe the community is taking this seriously,” Joven said. “We can always revisit this if things change.”

Councilwoman Mari Willis said she could not yet endorse the other council members’ decision.

“We need to move very cautiously,” Willis said. “We still need to be vigilant.”

Willis suggested that vaccination booths be set up at the events, a plan Joven and other council members agreed to.

Council’s decision to not cancel any events came minutes after Medical Center Hospital President and CEO Russell Tippin and City Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Rodd Huber warned that the city must continue to aggressively combat the growing tide of COVID cases throughout the county.

Tippin told council that this past Saturday, MCH surpassed its previous record of 103 hospitalized COVID patients. The good news is that number had dropped to 89 patients as of Tuesday evening.

“It’s the first time in a month that we’ve seen a significant drop,” Tippin said. “We want to see that number continue to curve.”

Following Tuesday’s council meeting, Tippin said he understood council’s desire to proceed with community events. But he warned that decision could be a mistake.

“We all want to put this behind us,” Tippin said. “But we all need to take this seriously if we’re going to defeat this.”

A public hearing on the city’s proposed 2021-22 operating budget was held Tuesday, with no citizens asking to comment.

Council will formally vote to adopt the proposed budget of $239,327,076 during their Sept. 14 meeting. The budget includes giving all full-time city staff a 4 percent cost-of-living pay increase for 2021-22.

Marrero previously noted that due to COVID-19 and financial unpredictably the pandemic posed, no raises were given in 2020. Normally, employees receive an annual 3 percent raise.

Council also voted to approve $1,182,078 for general operations of the Emergency Communication District of Ector County.

The Emergency Communication District of Ector County provides 911 telephone and dispatch services for the cities of Odessa and Goldsmith and Ector County. Odessa, Goldsmith and the county must all approve the proposed budget.

Council approved Odessa Development Corporation’s proposed 2021-22 budget which included projected total revenues of $7,904,068 and projected expenditures of $1,547,729.

Council voted to support a request to authorize the nomination of Odessa Regional Medical Center as a Texas State Enterprise Zone – a designation that will allow the hospital to apply for state funds for their capital expenditure project.

The designation will help ORMC acquire state funds that will help the hospital proceed with a $10 million capital improvement project to expand its facilities and services.

Proposed improvements over the next five years include spending $7.5 million for building expansion renovation projects dedicated to women and maternity care, a letter sent to the city by William Stokes, Steward Health Care’s senior vice president of tax, recently detailed.

Council voted to accept an invitation to participate in the formation of a joint task force committee to address redistricting issues following the 2020 U.S. Census, according to the council’s work session agenda.

The joint committee will include representatives from the city, Ector County Independent School District, Ector County Hospital District, Odessa Junior College District and Ector County. City Manager Michael Marrero and Councilwoman Denise Swanner will serve as the city’s representatives.

Council approved a recommendation to award a $2,351,000 bid to Cooper Construction for the rehabilitation of the city-owned building at 307 N. Lee Street.

The building will house Community Development, Code Enforcement and the Fire Marshal’s Office. The rehab, which includes a roof replacement and the purchase of office furnishings, will be paid from 2019 Certificates of Obligation funds.