August 21, 2017

Stephenville Council, Place 1

Mark McClinton
  • Mark McClinton, incumbent – Place 1

1. What should be the top priorities of city government? Is the council effectively working to address them? 

The primary responsibility for any local governing body is the provision of public health and safety services. Many factors must be included in any discussion of health and safety including police, fire, EMS, water systems, waste water systems and road surface condition. I believe the city is making strides in strengthening health and safety issues.

The recent announcement of the K-9 unit, a cooperative effort between the city and many generous local business partners, improves area wide safety effectiveness. Likewise, the inter-local agreements approved by council allow Stephenville Police, Erath County Sheriff and District Attorney’s office to jointly fund a special crimes unit. These and other actions specifically attempt to improve public safety efforts.

Stephenville Fire Department recently had the “roll in” event for a new rescue truck purchased to replace an obsolete and well-worn vehicle. This vehicle came equipped with an infrared camera that firefighters laud as an invaluable tool in firefighting efforts. This allows not only improved safety for citizens but also the firefighters who risk everything on our behalf.

A recent conversation with EMS personnel indicated the city had provided a robotic compression tool that allows precise and sustained CPR compressions while freeing the hands of paramedics to prepare their patients for transport.

Over the last two years council has also worked to improve basic infrastructure. Water line replacement on Oak Street (in conjunction with TDA grant), street reconstruction and infrastructure replacement on Vanderbilt Street (partnership with TSU), storm water project near Alexander Road, parking lot replacement in city park and street maintenance projects throughout the city all are efforts to improve public health and safety.  Certainly there is more to accomplish but I believe an honest attempt has been made over the last two years to forward the top priority of local government.

2. If you could gain the support of council members in implementing a new program/policy/service to benefit citizens and improve the quality of life in Stephenville, what would it be?

I have mentioned on numerous occasions my belief that the city of Stephenville needs to have a long range water plan in place. The city currently has an adequate supply of water from both ground and surface sources to meet the needs of its citizens. To ensure that supply into the future we need to create a long term plan. Several years ago the city purchased 536 acres of land south of town with the expressed purpose of developing a new water well field. A long range water plan would incorporate maximum utilization of that tract and a pathway to replace existing production assets with new over time. Other considerations must include distribution pipe systems, storage facilities and optimization of existing surface rights. Stephenville, like every other community, is in a fiercely competitive arena fighting for a finite resource. I am not suggesting that we as a city build anything tomorrow, rather making the argument we start planning for it. I would continue the effort to build support for creation of a long range water plan.

3. What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the city today? Do you have ideas for overcoming the challenge?

The biggest challenge facing Stephenville today is developing a funding strategy to continue the effort of addressing infrastructure deficiencies. Several projects completed or at least started over the past two years have been funded in part with outside money. Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) administers a community development block grant program (CDBG) used by Stephenville to fund water line replacement. A partnership was created between the city and TSU for street reconstruction near campus. The city paid half the cost of the street project while TSU paid the other half and replaced all piping systems under the street surface. Any attempt to obtain alternative funding helps provide a pathway for future infrastructure rehabilitation at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer.

The recent trip to Austin by a delegation from Stephenville offered the opportunity to discover a myriad of programs that exist to help smaller communities deal with infrastructure replacement. TDA for example offers a host of programs beyond the CDBG each targeted at specific areas. Other agencies gave presentations outlining specific grant and loan programs they administer which could prove valuable to Stephenville for future projects.

I believe in and have pushed for an accelerated attempt to pursue these alternative sources to help fund needed repairs within the city. One way to accomplish this might be to incorporate grant application into the department performance review document. Last fall Jeremy Allen brought forward the idea of creating a performance review plan that would establish specific measurable goals for each department and develop a system of accountability to meet the objectives. I have spoken at length on the issue with both Wayne McKethan, who began the process, and with administrator Alan Barnes who is attempting to complete the document. My assertion continues to be that grant application should be an integral component of each department’s goals and objectives. While certainly not the final answer to the question of infrastructure funding, pursuit of outside money is an arrow in the strategic quiver.

4. Are there certain infrastructure related issue(s) you feel should be addressed immediately? If so, name the need(s), possible solution(s) and possible funding mechanism(s).

The most important infrastructure issue facing the city of Stephenville today is the East Side Sewer Interceptor project. This project corrects deficiencies that exist in our current waste water collection system. The expressed purpose is to reduce the probability of sanitary sewer overflow and protect the Bosque River, a nationally recognized impaired waterway from contamination. Current deficiencies corrected by this project include:

  • Elimination of a bottleneck created by (2) 15” pipes entering a common manhole and (1) 21” pipe carrying waste water away.
  • Relieves the overburden issue at a load relief transfer point located near the Bosque River
  • Rehabilitates a long section of 21” clay pipe considered one of the “weakest links” in the collection system.
  • Relocates approximately 30% of entire waste water flow stream to new pipe.
  • Reduces the flow volume in the clay pipes in the downtown area buying time to create a rational repair plan.
  • Reworks and updates the headworks (entry point) to the wastewater treatment plant.
  • Creates the backbone from which future development can occur if and when funds are allocated for additional phases.

The city is currently pursuing an application for a loan program administered by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The program offers an interest rate lower than current bond rates. It also offers up to 30% loan forgiveness funding. It is precisely because of the loan forgiveness portion of the program that I support application for all three phases under consideration. There are no guarantees for any project of this nature and scope. Acceptance to the loan program may or may not occur. Participation in the loan forgiveness program is not a certainty and even if accepted to participate, funding may not be available. Construction bid returns may be higher than anticipated. Future consideration of these or other variables may require modification of the existing plans.

The council has been diligent to position the city favorably to participate in this program.  Shovel ready projects are more likely to be accepted for full participation in the TWDB program. The project is divided into construction phases to allow modification as necessary. The end result would be elimination of existing deficiencies and creating the backbone for future development at the lowest cost possible to Stephenville residents. Full information about this project can be found at stephenvilletx.gov under the public works department tab.

5. As a taxpayer, do you look at tax increases as a necessary tool for maintaining and increasing services?

The council’s responsibility is to balance the needs and service expectations of Stephenville residents with the cost of satisfying those needs. Taxes are a necessary evil. I want mine to be as low as possible. Taxes are a piece of the puzzle to reconcile needs with costs but there are other pieces as well.

Scrutinize the budget

Council spends considerable time each summer working through the proposed budget chapter by chapter trying to separate the needs from the wants. Each department’s expenditures are scrutinized and prioritized to protect the citizens needs and expected service levels. Cuts are made where possible and additions are made as well. Matching needs and costs is a balancing act. During the budgeting process estimations of future revenues (sales tax receipts, fee for service etc.) can be tightened to provide additional dollars for services.

Promote revenue increases

Council can work alone and with other groups to aggressively promote economic growth and development within the city. These efforts lead to increased tax base and additional sales tax dollars. The city can participate in activities such as sport tournaments, festivals and special events in an effort to increase sales tax revenue. The council approved an application process to designate the downtown area as an historic district. If awarded that designation will, according to the expert Mary Salterelli, enhance tourism, increase sales tax revenues and add value to all buildings in the district both contributing structures and noncontributing.

The citizens of Stephenville set the needs of the community and the levels of service deemed acceptable. The council’s responsibility is to understand those needs and then find ways to fund those services. Budget constraint, tax base expansion, enhanced sales tax collection and tax rate assessment all play important roles balancing citizen’s needs and service costs.

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Nick Robinson
  • Nick Robinson, challenger – Place 1

If challenger, current related involvement (boards, commissions, civic organizations): 

I currently serve on the city’s Planning and Zoning commission.  I am active with Meals on Wheels as a member of their board.  I am also heavily involved with Timber Ridge Church, performing the duties as a host.

1.   What should be the top priorities of city government? Is the council effectively working to address them? Provide an example as to why or how the council is/is not.

The top priorities of city government should be providing our city with the best possible police and fire protection, water, sewer and streets.  I do feel that the city is currently on the right path of working to address them but may have gotten sidetracked by a few unnecessary projects.  The three-phase East Side Sewer Project is one such example.  I only support the phase that addresses the current sewer system deficiencies.  Too much of the project focuses on opening up large amounts of land for future development without taking care of our current deteriorating clay pipes.  Our roads are in need of significant repair, and the current council has worked toward getting this corrected.  However, the mayor recently instructed the interim city manager to form a “core group” to explore a multi-purpose center without a council vote.  This, to me, is not working to address the top priorities of streets, sewer, water, police and fire protection.

2.   If you could gain the support of council members in implementing a new program/policy/service to benefit citizens and improve the quality of life in Stephenville, what would it be?

I am not opposed to new programs or services as long as the core priorities are first met.  Finding creative ways to finance programs would be a benefit and alleviate the full burden on the taxpayers.  Providing clean water, adequate sewer, maintained streets, police and fire protection will attract new business as long as we have an “open for business” sign accompanied by a simplified process in the city’s Planning & Development Department.  We currently have an outdated Senior Center and Rec Hall.  If we were to bring a new service to benefit the citizens and improve the quality of life, I would support improving what we currently have in the way of Senior Center, Rec Hall, streets and sewer. 

3.  What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the city today? Do you have ideas for overcoming the challenge?

The biggest challenge is finding ways to fund the greatest needs of our city without incurring burdensome, long-term debt.  Prioritizing the immediate needs while at the same time planning for the long-term is one of the keys to success. Providing rehabilitation to our deteriorating sewer lines must be addressed while continuing to stay focused on improving our streets.  We must strike a balance between manageable growth through economic development and the continual needs of our infrastructure.  With the potential for higher wage-earning jobs, our citizens prosper and our city thrives. 

4.  Are there certain infrastructure related issue(s) you feel should be addressed immediately? If so, name the need(s), possible solution(s) and possible funding mechanism(s).

I feel that our biggest infrastructure related issue ties back to our aging sewer system.  Currently, we have applied for state grants to hopefully get 30% loan forgiveness to update our sewer system.  I feel we should use these funds to fix what we currently have before we expand into new areas.  We do not need current residents having issues with their sewer while money is  spent on lines to vacant land.

5.  As a taxpayer, do you look at tax increases as a necessary tool for maintaining and increasing services? If not, explain how you feel a city can maintain without increasing the tax rate?

Tax increases are not the only way to increase revenues.  In recent years the taxable base in our town has increased through new construction and appraisal values. The city has also been experiencing a trend of increased sales tax revenue along with the property tax revenue, which has allowed city services to continue uninterrupted. Presenting a streamlined budget, combined with increased government efficiency, should allow services to continue without any reduction.  Electing conservative council members will help guard your tax dollars without resorting to automatic property tax increases.   

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