As the campaign for the Stephenville City Council enters its final full month, the Executive Committee of the Erath County Republican Party is providing interested citizens with an excellent opportunity to learn more about the background, record, and plans of each city council candidate. Erath County Republicans are meeting at the Agave on April 10, beginning at 6:00 p.m. After a “meet and greet” session they’ll hold a candidates forum in which each city council candidate will be able to make a 10 minute statement explaining why he or she should be elected or re-elected to the council, and members of the audience will then have the opportunity to directly question the candidates. So what should the candidates be asked?
A former Mayor of Stephenville once said that everyone running for city council should at least be able to show a solid knowledge and understanding of the city budget. Each candidate should know how much city revenue comes from the sales tax, the property tax, various users’ fees, etc. The candidates should also know how much is spent on the major functions of the city government—police, fire, public works, parks and recreation, etc.
I personally think it’s useful to ask candidates what they consider to be the city’s most important functions, as well as to say what they believe to be the most important issues confronting the city and how they want to address them. But in last week’s column I outlined what one could reasonably expect of a conservative city council. Whether one is conservative or progressive, other questions one might want to raise may include:
- Questions on taxes: The current property tax rate is 49 cents per $100.00 assessed valuation. Is this too high, not high enough, or just right? If you want higher taxes, on what do you want to spend the additional money? If you want to cut taxes, what spending cuts, if necessary, will you support to still balance the budget? What other strategies and tactics might you use if you want to avoid spending cuts? Since 2014, a majority of city council members have been on record as saying the council should not have raised the property tax rate above 48.5 cents, which is what the tax rate was before the last tax hike in 2013, so why hasn’t the council restored the 48.5 cent rate?
- On the proposed events center: Do you want to build a new one? How much do you think it will cost? How will you pay for it—with private funds? With more borrowing and a possible tax increase to raise money to repay the debt? Do you support letting the citizens vote on whether to allow the government to finance an event center with a bond sale? If the voters reject the proposal, what will you do then? Will you postpone financing and building an events center until the voters decide they want one? Will you go ahead with the project with private funds? Or will you still borrow money to build one, as the city council did to construct the Proctor Pipeline in 2004 after the voters rejected a proposal to do so in 2000?
- On Stephenville’s economic development program: Do you support the current policy of the City Council of appointing to the Stephenville Economic Development Authority members who don’t live within the city? Do you support the policy of letting the SEDA make direct expenditures rather than just advise the City Council on what projects the Council should spend money on? Do you think it proper for the city to give financial assistance in the form of tax breaks or monetary grants to some businesses and not to others? Will you support proposals to return sole authority for the expenditure of city funds to elected city council members, and to limit expenditures to infrastructure projects that will benefit everyone, rather than play favorites with selected businesses?
The issues raised by these questions are by no means the only issues with which the city council must deal. But these are the issues which have attracted the most attention from the voters in the recent past. Indeed, election outcomes have hinged on what council candidates have thought about tax rates, financing big-ticket capital projects, and economic development strategies.
Of course, whoever attends the candidate forum will have both the opportunity and the right to question any candidate on any issue before the city. It’s in the best interests of the City of Stephenville, of its citizens, and of democracy in general that everyone come, and question every candidate on whatever issues the public wants addressed.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.