October 23, 2017

Stephenville Council, Place 5

Rhett Harrison
  • Rhett Harrison, incumbent – Place 5

If incumbent, time on council: I am finishing my first term

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

Top priorities should always be basic services; police, fire, EMS, streets, sewer and sanitation. Though considerable work will continue on streets, we as a council have increased our spending in this area to about $2,000,000 over the last two years.  Police and fire have been continually updated on equipment to better serve the community.  The appropriation of funds for a Police K9 Unit is one example.  New policies have been adopted at the landfill for more user-friendly results.  I believe the council has made considerable efforts pertaining to basic needs.  However, the city should do more regarding fundamental aspects of government and less on non-priority issues.

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?

The city owns 536 acres east of town.  This property was purchased a few years ago, because of its potential for water development.  We are under-utilizing the surface area of said property.  Being an avid outdoorsman, I see unique potential in this land and would like to designate it as a primitive recreation area.  This type of park would provide ample space for equestrian trails, hiking, fishing, biking, and camping, while making available opportunities for groups such as scouts and church youth.  Many of our citizens have limited or no access to these types of recreational properties.  I find this to be an opportunity fitting of our culture, local interest and love for the outdoors.  This project could be accomplished in an extremely cost effective manner, because the primitive environment requires very little development.

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

I could start with the challenges of monetary concerns with aging infrastructure; how our city has struggled regarding streets, deteriorating water, and sewer lines.  I could discuss long-term budgeting and imperative financial projects. I could address inflationary factors creeping into almost every facet of our expenditures or challenges in keeping our municipal services high.  Let’s not forget the importance of economic growth.  The challenges are many.  However, none compare with the fundamental challenge that reverts back to the voter.  I hope we all recognize the gravity of what is before us; that, we, as a community are educated on the issues and committed to the tasks at hand.  For it is up to the voters, with the foremost challenge of electing officials best suited for this journey.   Our future depends on it.

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 believe the city has some priority infrastructure needs warranting attention.  However, immediately  implies that we are reaching emergency conditions.  This is not the case. The city is limping along regarding some issues that warrant addressing sooner rather than later.  I am of the opinion Phase I of the Eastside Sewer is an optimal place for our focus.  Phase I incorporates corrective elements relieving capacity issues. Though construction is centered near the downtown area, it incorporates various segments about town that tie into the sewer treatment facility. Funding is currently being sought through a financial aid process. 

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

I DO NOT see tax increases as a necessary tool related to services for the near future.  Taxpayers are burdened enough and the city receives consistent revenue increases due to escalating

values from the appraisal district .  A problem with government is that budgetary dollars are considered a resource in itself.  However, government rarely acknowledges the productiveness of those dollars being spent.  Far too long government entities have focused on revenues, while placing less emphasis on expenditures.  This is best illustrated when local government was recently asked, “Did you bid this project out?”, and the answer was, “No, we are not REQUIRED “.  This mindset is problematic, unrealistic and costly.   

On the contrary, I feel the local taxpayer has been over taxed for years.  This is substantiated by the millions of dollars, above required emergency reserves, accumulated by our city.  Government should never “park” money beyond its requirements.  Tax dollars should be spent in the form of essential services or simply be returned to the people who earned it.

I feel we need to prioritize the tax rate and be disciplined in incrementally lowering property taxes.  Small budget reductions are more palatable when working with city budgets, while the cumulative impact over time becomes more significant to the taxpayer.  The result benefits both residential property owners and businesses.  This is achieved through efficiency.  You know, how we do things in the real world. The elimination of wasteful practices will increase productivity, create savings, and compound our financial resources. 

Lastly, businesses consider lower taxes beneficial.  The community has spoken, loudly, about the need for more economic opportunity. Not long ago, Stephenville was considered “closed” to new business.  This reputation is changing.  What competitive edge would Stephenville have if we were both “open for business” and “tax friendly”? 

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Walter Wood
  • Walter Wood, challenger – Place 5

Challenger:   No current involvement on boards or commissions, but did volunteer for Meals-on Wheels for ten years. I am a recent Retiree (January 2017), from the City of Stephenville, as Finance Director for the past nine in half years.

1. Top priorities of city government in order of importance that are essential to the quality of life to the citizens should be:

  • Public Safety – Police, Fire and Ambulance
  • Water quality & Sewer
  • Well maintained streets
  • Quality of life additions:  Parks/Recreation, Library, Senior Citizen Center

Is the council effectively working to address them? 

  • The council is doing the best job they can with limited resources.  Rising operating expenditures and aging infrastructure are issues that all cities are facing.  This makes council’s job a difficult task. 

Provide an example as to why or how the council is/is not.

  • Since 2012 there has been an atmosphere of mistrust from the council with city staff resulting in long term, upper management leaving city employment  (Examples:  Two City Managers, three Community Development/Building Services Director and one Parks Director). 
  • Council members are elected to their positions for a short time.  They come and they go. Whereas, the staff are professionals who are trained and have chosen government as their career path.  Council needs to have trust that staff will do their jobs, always keeping the best interest of Stephenville forefront in their duties. 

 

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?

This decision would require voter approval:

Reduce 4B Economic Development Initiative from 1/8th of one cent, to 1/16th of one cent; or, in current dollars: $470,000 collected, split to half of that amount ($235,000) be redirected, and dedicated to street maintenance.

Because Tarleton is a state agency, it does not pay property taxes. Each piece of property that Tarleton acquires is property that is no longer on the property tax rolls. The city struggles with maintaining infrastructure, while Tarleton continues to grow.  It would be interesting to look into other cities that accommodate a college campus, to see if their city ordinance allows money to be assessed and collected from student fees to help fund city infrastructure repairs. If not, this may be a new ordinance that could be investigated.

Even though the budget could not support this idea currently, I am a dog lover and would love to see a dog park added to a list of ideas for future projects.

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

Aging infrastructure such as streets, water and sewer lines.  Studies have been completed and council knows what needs to be done.

  

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

East Side sewer project, which Sherry Zachary explained eloquently and in great detail in her answers to council questions to the Empire Tribune earlier this week.  As the former Finance Director, I would like to add that the city has the debt capacity to finance at least phase one of this project without raising user fee rates.

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

As a citizen and tax payer myself, I am not in favor of unnecessary tax increases on property and business owners. 

If not, explain how you feel a city can maintain without increasing the tax rate.

The only tool that local government can use that has immediate effect (within one year), on the revenue is tax collected. 

The majority of revenue (80%), collected by the city, is either sales or property taxes: 

Sales Tax (40%) – Rate is statutorily capped at 1.5%.   For every $100 sold, the sales tax collected by Stephenville is $1.50.  If the economy is spending strong the more is collected.  We all know the drill.

Property Tax (40%) Rate is affected by three things:

First – New Residential/Commercial/Industrial property coming on to the Tax Roll and being taxed for the first time;

Second – Existing Residential/Commercial/Industrial property being “Revalued” at a higher amount, therefore, being taxed higher; and

Third – the City can “Raise” the tax rate.

Bottom line, you get what you pay for, nothing is free and money doesn’t grow on trees.

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