Written by Phil Cerroni
The City Council approved $22,350,000 in General Obligation Refunding Bonds and $40,035,000 in Water/Sewer System Refunding Bonds on July 26. The General Obligation Bonds, which will be used to finance streets, libraries, radio equipment and economic development, sold at an interest rate of 2.27 percent. The Water and Sewer Bonds, which will be used to make improvements and extensions to the system, sold at an interest rate of 2.07 percent. These rates produced a total savings on the General Obligation debt of $590,207 and $4,493,503 on the Water/Sewer System debt.
Source: City of Irving
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 August 2012 12:02
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
Most of the Irving news lately has been about the economic growth and progress in our city, but the poor accompany the rich – 8.8 percent of Irving residents live below the poverty limit.
These numbers recently took on greater significance in light of Congress’ proposed cutes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). For those who do not know, SNAP is the new name for the food stamps program. Many of the families living in Irving will be severely affected by these cuts.
“A $4.5 billion cut to SNAP is proposed by a Senate bill. A House Agricultural Committee bill proposes a $16 billion cut, and 300,000 people would lose SNAP in Texas. Those are the two extremes,” said Kim Aaron, vice president of policy, programs, and research at the North Texas Food Bank. “The other thing’s that disconcerting is that the majority of the people receiving SNAP are families with small children and seniors. Twenty-thousand seniors in Dallas County aren’t collecting food stamps although they are eligible.”
Over the years, poverty has been becoming less an inner city problem and more a suburban one, with poverty slowly seeping away from the cities.
“Over these past many, many years, there’s been incremental increase in the number of clients served by Irving Cares,” said Irving Cares CEO Teddie Story. “It goes up 10 percent to 12 percent every year.”
If proposed SNAP cuts go though, local food pantries that are already working at capacity may be strained to the breaking point. Last year, Irving Cares served, on average, 700 families a month. This past June they served 900 families, and the increase volume is starting to take its toll. The North Texas Food Bank is in a similar situation.
“We provide access to over 100,000 meals a day,” Aaron said. “The demand is estimated at 300,000 a day. We aren’t meeting the demand for food in the area we serve right now. The simple and set truth is that there is more demand for food than we as a food bank have the ability to meet.
Story elaborated on the hardships facing families and charities.
“More and more people are having more trouble finding jobs. They’re either completely unemployed, or their hours are reduced, or maybe there’re just unexpected expenses that happen,” she said. “When you see all the press about reducing SNAP benefits, it’s going to take an average of $90 of benefits from each family. Ninety dollars a month out of your grocery bill, how would that effect you?”
“The thing that is really hurting us is that this donated food is staying about the same. When you look at the number of families we served, it’s going up. Last year there was a 30 percent increase.”
One thing that can greatly help the mission of local food pantries is awareness of their needs.
“We don’t need corn and green beans,” Story said. “What we need is peanut butter and jelly and cereal and soup – the things we spend money buying.”
Another way to contribute is to give money with which food pantries can buy food at greatly discounted rates.
“Because of our purchasing methods, we can acquire food through the North Texas Food Bank and that costs twenty-eight cents a pound where retail costs about $3 a pound. We buy as much as we can through them, but sometimes they don’t have what we need, or they don’t have enough quantity. So if we can convince people to make cash gifts, we can use the money to buy food cheaper than people can retail.”
Aaron put this issue into perspective with the other difficulties facing our country today.
“People who receive food stamps usually have other issues they’re struggling with. Eating is fundamental,” Aaron said. “If you don’t address the food problem, you can’t address the other problems. Taking one burden off of their plate and allowing them to focus on other things. If we can help them solve this one it puts them in a much better decision to help them start attacking the others.”
Whether or not SNAP benefits are cut, charities are quickly becoming unable to support the growing number of impoverished families in the city, and it is going to be up to the rest of us to justify the city’s place as one of the best destinations for families to move.
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 August 2012 11:57
Written by Phil Cerroni
In 2012, Texas shoppers get a break from state and local sales taxes on Aug. 17, 18 and 19 – the state's annual tax holiday. As in previous years, the law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies and backpacks priced under $100 from sales and use taxes, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend.
All sales of qualifying items made during the holiday period qualify for the exemption, including items sold over the Internet, television or by mail. Lay-away plans can be used to take advantage of the sales tax holiday.
Clothing and Footwear
Retailers are not required to collect state and local sales or use tax on most footwear and clothing that are sold for less than $100 during the holiday. The exemption applies to each eligible item that sells for less than $100, regardless of how many items are sold on the same invoice to a customer. For example, if a customer purchases two shirts for $80 each, then both items qualify for the exemption, even though the customer's total purchase price ($160) exceeds $99.99.
The exemption does not apply to the first $99.99 of an otherwise eligible item that sells for more than $99.99. For example, if a customer purchases a pair of pants that costs $110, then sales tax is due on the entire $110.
Backpacks priced under $100 sold for use by elementary and secondary students are exempt during the sales tax holiday. A backpack is a pack with straps one wears on the back. The exemption includes backpacks with wheels, provided they can also be worn on the back like a traditional backpack, and messenger bags.
The exemption does not include items that are reasonably defined as luggage, briefcases, athletic/duffle/gym bags, computer bags, purses or framed backpacks. Ten or fewer backpacks can be purchased tax-free at one time.
Texas families also get a sales tax break on most school supplies priced at less than $100 purchased for use by a student in an elementary or secondary school.
Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 August 2012 11:56
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
A capacity crowd of approximately 330 small business representatives converged on Irving’s Convention Center Aug. 2 to take part in the Governor’s 2012 North Texas Small Business Forum and Expo. Billed as an event focused on “Helping Small Business Grow Revenue”, the Forum offered training segments in accessing government contracts, tapping the growing Hispanic market and engaging with the Texas Workforce Commission.
Don Williams, Director of Business Retention and Expansion for the Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, called the event an unqualified success.
“We’ve been planning this since January,” Williams said. “We worked closely with the Small Business Development Centers, the Governor’s office, the Texas Workforce Commission, and with Work Force Solutions in both Dallas and Tarrant counties.”
Williams credited partnerships, promotion and good programming for the Forum’s success, adding, “Having Nolan Ryan as a keynote speaker doesn’t hurt, either.”
Indeed, the winning pitch for most participants was the chance to hear from the CEO and President of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.
Ryan told the group that he knew the day would come when he was no longer able to play baseball.
“I would do things in the off season to try to prepare myself,” he said. “I was fortunate to play a long time and meet a lot of people that could open the door. Getting involved in the community, and getting to know the business leaders, and trying to learn what I could paid big dividends for me.”
The appreciative crowd included State Representative Linda Harper Brown, Irving City Manager Tommy Gonzales and Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who recognized that the City needed to invest not only in infrastructure but also in the community’s marketing, advertising and business community.
“Our small businesses in Irving really are our life blood,” she said. “Seventy percent of our tax base is in our business community, so we must be responsive to [their] needs.”
Dr. Kent Smith with Sleep Dallas was one of the small business owners targeted by the Forum. While his firm doesn’t count on doing business with the government, he did see a lot of value in learning how to access the Hispanic market.
“I was impressed,” Smith said after the presentation, which featured J. R. Gonzales, a noted expert in Hispanic market trends and past president of both the U.S. and Austin Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
“There were a few things I didn’t know – for example, that the Hispanic population on average is ten years younger than other demographics. That youth makes them more attuned to Internet capabilities, and they’re very savvy, even more so than other young people.”
For his part, Gonzales challenged the attendees to examine their perception about Hispanics.
“Understand the market,” Gonzales said. “You need to think about hiring Hispanics who will represent your business to our community, because we won’t do business with people who don’t know us.”
Representatives from the Texas Workforce Commission were also on hand to inform participants of the many programs to support Dallas and Tarrant County employers who claim fewer than 100 employees. Their initiatives, free or at small charge, have impacted 18,000 Dallas County employers, 350,000 job seekers and 5,000 trainees.
With something to inform everyone, the Governor’s 2012 North Texas Small Business Forum may be just a start, as Don Williams reflected on changes they might consider in the future.
“It’s hard for a small business owner to get away for a whole day,” Williams said. “Maybe we’ll have expanded lunch sessions in the future and see how that works.”
Meanwhile, though, he and the Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce are pleased with the post-event surveys they’ve received from participants. And one other thing, according to Williams: “Representatives from the Governor’s Office and from TWC made a point of telling me it was one of the best forums they’ve had anywhere in the state of Texas.”
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 August 2012 11:55
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
At twelve years of age, Shrishti Kshi already knows her own mind. A home-schooled student, she is participating in ‘3D Public Speaking for Youth’ at the Irving Valley Ranch Library this summer.
“I have to develop the skill of public speaking,” Shrishti said. “This year I’m joining a debate club, so this will be good practice for me.
“I like giving speeches. You stand in front of the room, and there’s only you, and you speak out.
“This is only my second class, but already I’ve learned not to rock but to stand still. To be more confident, to speak loudly, and to look right at the people you’re addressing.
“It’s very moving when someone can step on stage and speak confidently. They can almost make you cry.”
For Shristi’s teacher, Coretta Turner, it’s a joy to lead children on this journey of confidence.
“Our children have their own voices and their own stories to tell,” she said. “Too often, a parent will fall into the habit of speaking up for the child. There’s a muting of children going on.
“You risk losing a future ambassador or advocate when you shut them down that way.
“The goal here is that each child would be more confident speaking up when the child decides to. I want to hear their story.
“They will need to learn how to express themselves while relating to others. If they spend all their time texting but not interacting – that’s not a road to success. That won’t get them a job.”
On this day, students have each been told to introduce themselves, speaking for only a minute. Chairs in the classroom are set in a ‘U’ configuration with approximately 15 students, aged 10 – 16, facing either the teacher or the speaker of the moment. At the back of the room, an assistant videotapes each young person.
For each speaker, the presentation begins the same way - by sharing a firm handshake with the teacher. And as each student speaks, Turner takes notes. “Thank you for going first,” she told one participant. “How did you feel about that? Do you have some ideas for making it better?”
For another participant, Turner praised her animation and promised her they would learn together how to use gestures more effectively.
Yet another heard that he needed to slow down (a frequent observation) and speak out more loudly.
Turner would often ask fellow students to offer observations about the speaker. Sharp-eyed peers noticed pockets in hands or a lack of eye contact, with the reassurance from Turner that “we all have something to learn –and something to teach.”
While it’s traditional for Irving libraries to offer free classes each summer, this particular venture is new for the City, according to Marianne Follis, Youth Services Librarian for the Valley Ranch Library.
“Our City Manager, Tommy Gonzalez, is passionate about leadership skills. The City is making a conscientious effort to help our students gain confidence.
“This is the first offering in our Success Zone workshop series, loosely based on Stephen Covey’s ‘The Leader in Me’, and the materials developed by his son, Sean Covey. We have a collection of those materials here – picture books, non-fiction books for children and young adults, and even pieces for parents.
“We’re the first library to have the program, but this is a multi-pronged approach. We’re also working with the Rec Center, where they’re using some of the same leadership tools in their after school programs.
“We hope to branch out into the school districts, too.”
Evaluation of the program’s success will come through satisfaction surveys with parents and with students. As the library gains its own confidence in this first outreach, they will roll out additional Success Zone pieces.
But one parent has already made up her mind.
“I think that it’s wonderful that the library offers classes like this during the summer,” said Shristi’s mother, Neena Kshi. “It gives students a chance to try out something, and if they’re truly interested, they can pursue it further.
“The library is nearby and very convenient for us, so this is fabulous.”
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 August 2012 11:54
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