QUESTIONS FOR BROWNWOOD CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES
1. What are your reasons for wanting to serve on the city council?
2. How would you plan for the future, addressing specifically the cityís tight budget situation, the vacant city managerís position, infrastructure needs, and police and fire coverage?
3. Should the city continue to rely on water sales and utility fees as major sources of revenue, or are there alternatives to continue to increase these costs to citizens?
4. The city has a large investment in facilities for tourism such as the coliseum and transportation museum, and considerable operating costs must be subsidized. How can the city use such facilities and enhance its return on this investment?
5. How effectively is city government, including the council, communicating with its citizens? Does anything need to be done to improve that process?
1. I have been a local business owner for the past 25 years. I believe that the skills needed to operate a successful business are the same skills needed to contribute good, sound decisions for our city. Our city is big business. It should be run like a business. As a business owner, I know that if you donít have the money to spend, you canít spend it. If you have to increase expenditures in one area, you have to cut it from another.
I believe that some of the actions of our current city council have not been in the best interest for the community. The threat to annex the industrial complex put so many families at risk. If even one of the industries had chosen to leave, it would have had a devastating effect to the area. I believe our city government should be more open. I believe that the city should think about setting term limits. I think that new people generate fresh ideas. I believe that the City Council should work more with the BEDC to recruit industry to the area instead of focusing so much on retail. If we can get more industries to come in, there will be more growth and the retail and restaurants will come on their own. It could save the city millions of dollars in incentives. The problem with giving so much to the big retail chains, is that it is so unfair to the smaller local businesses that have been here. The city does nothing for them. It should be a more fair playing field. I want to stand up for the people, ask lots of questions, and try to see that a lot of research goes into the decisions that are made.
2. The city budget is a tough issue. I feel like we have a lot of money being spent that is not necessary. The bad thing is that some of the big money pits the city has created are there and now we have to deal with them. The transportation museum being one of them. The city has budgeted more than $200,000 in the current year to operate and maintain the museum. They donít know if this will be enough. Here again, if the city had researched this matter further, they would have seen that the city couldnít afford such an undertaking.
I realize that TXDOT funded a big portion of the construction, but it is now on our shoulders to maintain and operate. It seems to me that we are spending money like a big city. The truth of the matter is that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Brown County has only grown by 1,200 since 2000. That is only 1/2 percent growth per year. According to the Texas Workforce Commission the total number of jobs in Brownwood in 2000 was 15,037. In 2006 it was 15,701. That is essentially flat, less than 1 percent growth per year. Brownwood Independent School District enrollment in 2000 was 4017. In 2006 it was 3,547. That is a decrease of 12 percent. The Texas Workforce Commission statistics show no job growth over the last 6 years in manufacturing, construction, retail, education or health care. There are only two categories that do show job growth: tourism (hotels, restaurants, etc.) and public administration. They have both grown nicely. Without the growth to support it, why has our city spending increased almost $4 million in the past four years? So, where do we start on saving money for the city? I think that we should talk to supervisors and go out in the field to talk to the city workers. They are there every day and see how things operate. They should have good ideas to save money. The key to cutting costs is research, prioritizing and deciding what is essential.
As far as the vacant city managerís position, I think the city should be aggressively searching for a replacement. I donít believe it is in the cityís best interest to have our city attorney doing both jobs. At some point, one of the jobs has to suffer. As far as having an outside entity doing the search, it didnít work out before and how much money did the city pay for their services? I think the city should have a hands-on approach in hiring the next city manager. The job should be posted, and once again, investigate and research.
In addressing the issue of the cityís infrastructure needs, our city streets are probably the biggest issue amongst the citizens of Brownwood. Everyone is affected by this. New streets are very costly. The city may not be able to afford new pavement for all the streets at once, but as we begin to address this issue, letís have crews established whose sole responsibility is to patch the existing pot holes until we can get them paved. I know it is only a temporary fix, but until we can prune the budget to find the money, we have to start somewhere. Also, this should be for all the streets not just for the areas that pay the most in property taxes. Everyone is entitled.
Our police and fire departments both need money. Most people donít realize how important they are until we need them. How can anyone expect this city to prosper if the security of our community is at risk? They put their lives on the line for us. If we are unable to pay competitive wages and furnish up-to-date equipment, how can we expect to keep well-trained, dedicated civil servants in Brownwood? In 2003 my son was involved in a deadly motorcycle accident. The police and fire departments were the first on the scene. They kept my son alive until the EMS unit arrived. I have been told that medical people on the scene were unable to insert the breathing device that my son needed to stay alive. One of the medically trained firemen stepped in and performed the task. If he hadnít been there, my boy would have died right then. We have got to take care of the people that we depend on to take care of us. Finding money for these departments is crucial. The city pays approximately $200,000 a year in sales tax rebates to Home Depot. With that money we could add three or four new patrolmen to the streets, and give a pay raise to all the rest. Also, I believe that the citizens should get more involved. We raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations for nonprofit organizations. Letís form a committee to help our civil servants. I know I would surely donate to insure the security of our community.
3. City water and sewer revenue is up 34 percent over the last four years. Yes, I know 2006 was a dry year and the city probably sold more water. But 2005 was a wet year and the water revenue went up anyway. The rates the city charges for water, sewer and sanitation (hauling off your trash) have continually climbed. This has to stop somewhere. The city shouldnít spend funds based on previous yearsí water revenue. Only God knows how much rain we are going to receive. Making assumptions about revenue generated by water sales can only result in budget shortfalls.
4. The city has a large investment in facilities for tourism such as the coliseum and transportation museum, and considerable operating costs must be subsidized. How can the city use such facilities and enhance its return on this investment?
The coliseum has been a part of this community for many years. I can remember back in the 1980s when the coliseum was the host to many concerts. I donít know why this has changed. I would encourage the tourism bureau to promote more of this. Not only would the city benefit from this, but we would also increase revenues for our hotels and restaurants. As far as the transportation museum goes, unfortunately it was designed to house train collections. It doesnít compare to the facilities at the depot. I think it would be difficult in my opinion to rent for weddings or receptions. The only time I can really see us being able to utilize this building is during the Reunion. We need to research the possibilities of how we can get some kind of a return on our investment.
5. I believe that we need to focus on more community involvement. We need to get more input from the people. The citizenís ideas and complaints need to be considered. One way to do this is to set up liaisons to work with the different entities within our city. The volunteers could work between the different groups (citizens, industries and utility companies) and the city council to keep the lines of communications open.
Brownwood City Council ó Ward 3
1. My reasons for wanting to continue to serve on the Brownwood City Council are multiple. I want to help continue to make Brownwood a city that is attractive to live in. Brownwood has a reputation of good schools, a good place for employment and recreation, and it also offers an excellent place for choosing the church of your preference.
Because I traveled the central Texas area for 30 years, from Fort Worth to Ozona and Aspermont to Valley Mills and all towns in between, I was exposed to the many ways communities promote their areas. The Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Foundation and BEDC, along with the City of Brownwood, help promote our city and assist to facilitate its grown.
Brownwood is fortunate to have Lake Brownwood and the water to provide not only for the city but the surrounding area as well.
My desire is to help see Brownwood continue to prosper and grow in all areas. We need to continue to work to build and equip our police and fire departments not only in manpower but in the area of competitive wages that allows Brownwood to both maintain quality personnel and attract new employees who want to move to a progressive community with fine police and fire departments.
2. Plans for future budgeting depend on what citizens want. There are two types of services the city provides. Those that are required and those we offer as an added benefit for the community. We must fund the necessary services from revenues. We must decide, with citizensí input, how we want to fund those additional services. Should they be supported by all taxpayers or paid for by only those who enjoy them?
3. Itís been a practice in the past to rely on water sales for a considerable part of city revenue. Utility fees are also a source of revenue for the city. Itís my opinion we need to find an alternative source of revenue other than the sale of water for a major part of our budget revenue. In rainy years, the sale of water is usually greatly reduced and sewer rates are based on water usage; thus, we have a strain on the city budget. In drought years, the situation is reversed, and we have more water sales.
With the new water treatment plant coming on board, the BCWID will increase the cost of treated water to the city and the city will either have to pass the cost on to the consumer or find a new source of revenue to offset this increased cost. City staff have been working hard seeking additional customers through other water systems and entities in an attempt to relieve the burden on Brownwood residents.
The other major fee is on sanitation and landfill services. While providing these services increases in cost due to salaries of employees, cost of equipment and the ever-increasing cost of fuel, one way to cut back on these fees is to reduce the number of trash pickups per week. Itís now picked up twice a week on residential routes and on somewhat of a custom bases for industry.
Most people donít want us cutting back on trash pickup. One of the big benefits Brownwood enjoys is an expandable landfill that will last for years. We will definitely need citizen input on what services they desire and suggestions other than tax increase to cover these costs.
4. The coliseum has a number of events that it continues to host and the city has just completed an update on the costs involved to keep this facility open and consequently some of the fees will be increased to help cover costs of operating this nice facility. It was not intended of itself to be a revenue source per say, but to help house events that would be beneficial to Brownwood and the business community. We are able to schedule and hold events in this facility that Brownwood would miss. The economic impact from those who attend functions, especially from out of town, is tremendous.
The transportation museum is the result of the donation of almost a million dollars in railroad artifacts to the city from the Lehnis family. It was built through a TxDOT grant with little cost to the city. The city manager and staff are working to determine how best to use the facility. The Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce and museum groups will be helping promote the facility that is expected to bring hundreds of visitors to the city. These visitors spend their money with local merchants thus providing a positive economic impact on the business community.
5. I believe communication between citizens, staff and council can always be improved. Nothing is perfect, including the council. We have already done a number of things. Our city Web site has a number of reports and other information available to anyone who takes the time to look. Additionally, the city manager appears on various radio programs. Some years back there was an attempt by some council members to host town hall meetings. However these were poorly attended because people were too busy to attend. With Harris Broadband getting ready to turn up their system curtain, channels will be available to city government and others. Itís my hope we can use these to our full advantage.
1. It was an honor to be asked by a group of citizens and friends to be a candidate for City Council in Ward 3. Our system of representative government is the greatest in the world and is best practiced at the local level.
Mildred and I have lived here a total of 22 enjoyable years. To be asked to have a part in the governance of the city is a challenge. My experiences as a school superintendent in working with large budgets and staffs, establishing priorities and keeping taxes low should be a benefit to me as a council member.
2. One of the first priorities should be to employ a full-time city manager. That person should have a big part in developing a budget. There are definite needs to be met in the police and fire departments as well as street repairs. A full-time city manager should be involved so that departments can have leadership from the office in making tough budgeting decisions.
3. The city water and utility fees should be set as low as possible because they impact most on those with modest or low fixed incomes. All other sources of revenue should be explored before ever raising these rates.
4. The coliseum is one of the finest facilities for a city of this size to be found anywhere. Nearly every weekend finds an event of some type being held in the coliseum. The transportation museum (or train museum) is a work in progress and doesnít have the same impact as the coliseum and probably never will. We need to be careful that the train museum doesnít become a liability. The staffing and utility costs could far exceed any tourism benefit we might receive from it.
5. The Brownwood Bulletin and local radio stations have done a good job of communicating the activities and information concerning our city government. If you want to be informed, just listen to the radio, read the paper or attend the city council meetings.
Brownwood City Council ó Ward 5
1. I am running for city council because I believe my previous experience in administration and in public service as well as extensive experience as a consultant in the areas of business, community and economic development have prepared me to help our city leadership make better decisions to improve Brownwood. I also believe it is important for voters to have a choice of candidates for this important position.
2. I would challenge the various major divisions of the cityís operations to carefully examine their operations and find ways to economize and if possible actually reduce the amount they are spending by creating more efficient means of meeting their objectives. This may involve combining various functions and eliminating redundancies in the system. It is imperative that the city begin a search for a new city manager as soon as possible. We must find a highly qualified and experienced person who has demonstrated the ability to successfully deal with the kinds of issues facing Brownwood at this time. Our infrastructure needs, including street improvements, are significant and may require a referendum to issue bonds to finance the work that needs to be done. We must first have a full scale needs assessment and determine the costs involved and develop a set of priorities on the order in which projects must be accomplished. We must find the means to more adequately compensate our police and fire personnel. We are investing a lot of money in training and developing these valuable human resources only to have them hired away by communities who can offer them better compensation. Savings in other operations as well as finding means of generating increased city revenues must be achieved in order to accomplish this.
3. The sale of water and utility fees will always be a significant source of revenue for the city. However, there is a limit as to how high these rates can be set if we are to remain attractive to new residents and businesses. Continued development of business and industry as well as increased tourism dollars must become the major sources of increased operating revenues for the city.
4. The city has a huge investment in tourism facilities and is going to face a very large increase in operating costs as we open the new transportation museum. Fortunately we have other groups and organizations including the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce and its tourism director plus such groups as the Brown County Heritage Association who are actively planning and developing various activities to attract visitors to the city. Our community development director is continually seeking to create new attractions and events that will utilize these facilities and draw people to Brownwood and spend their recreational dollars here to offset the costs of operating these facilities.
5. The city council is accessible both individually and collectively to interested and concerned citizens. Perhaps a section of the cityís Web site could be devoted to topics of current interest or concern and request that citizens e-mail their questions and suggestions which could then be shared with all city council members as well as city management. It would be beneficial in certain situations in dealing with certain issues to have an old fashioned ďtown hallĒ meeting or open forum to get public input.
1. I seek re-election for the following reasons:
A. To continue to oversee the progress of the cityís infrastructure improvements, including water, sewer, landfill and streets. Since the year 2000, over $13 million has been allocated for water improvement projects, $10 million spent during the last five years alone. Our city sewer and landfill facilities are the envy of other cities our size, with our regional landfill accounting for 7 percent of total city revenues, or almost $2 million a year. I will propose that a committee of representatives from all five wards be appointed by the mayor to form a citizen street committee to help identify and prioritize street improvement projects.
B. To continue to revitalize the Downtown Brownwood corridor with new plans to implement changes to promote and establish new businesses in this vital part of our community. Becoming a Main Street community may be an option that would supplement the Center Street greenscape and Center Park projects already completed.
C. To continue to work closely with the Brownwood Economic Development Corporation to help existing industry and to promote new industry. Fifteen-year Pilot agreements recently renegotiated with 24 companies show the cityís commitment to her industrial partners.
D. To continue to work with developers in helping to promote and locate to Brownwood new retail businesses, increasing the tax base and expanding Brownwoodís role as a major regional shopping area. New retail, especially the larger chain stores, will help solidify the future of our shopping corridors and the appearance of this community.
E. To work more closely with our police and fire departments to establish better communication and to identify and resolve their issues.
Better salaries and additional personnel must be confronted and discussed with both the fire and police associations. Upgrades to the current facilities now serving the Brownwood Fire Department must be budgeted for, hopefully in the next fiscal year.
F. To continue to support Howard Payne University and its needs in this city.
G. To continue to support and help Keep Brownwood Beautiful in its efforts to keep this city clean, and to implement a landscape ordinance that must be business-friendly, as well as enforce stricter codes to help clean up our cityís eyesores, as well as finding the means to remove abandoned properties at a lower cost to the city budget.
H. To plan and build a state of the art recreational complex for the youth of Brownwood, including new ball fields, swimming pool with a water park and a new senior citizens center, projects long overdue. As chairman of the parks and recreation committee for almost two years, the committee and I finally have completed plans which depict the proposed changes and location of the new recreational area. Funding remains a challenge, but a proposal should be ready within the year.
2. In assessing the cityís budget situation, much has already been accomplished to streamline our operations. As reported during a city council meeting April 10, this council requested the city manager and staff find ways to cut the budget, and they did, with $400,000 expected to be saved in the next fiscal year, and over $300,000 in the current budget year. Streamlining operations of the city, a $27 million business, is tedious and complex, and I applaud the administration and the department heads for their hard work in accomplishing this goal. I will continue to work with the council to review and address current department budgets, and to require the necessary cuts where needed. Yes, government waste, if not properly monitored, can quickly become out of control. The taxpayer should demand accountability in all areas of city expenditures.
In regards to the position of city manager, as you know, Pat Chesser is currently serving as interim manager as well as the city attorney, or dual positions at this time. Pat agreed to serve as interim and should be applauded for taking on this role in addition to his role as city attorney. It is only fair, and this council agreed, with the impending elections not far away, that a job of this importance be dealt with by a new council. If elected, I will support looking at a number of potential candidates for this job. It should be the duty of a new council to make the city manager hire its first priority.
As far as infrastructure needs as well as fire and police coverage, those issues have been addressed in my opining remarks. I will emphasize again that basic city services must be the best we can provide, and are the reasons people want to live and work in Brownwood. Sewer, water and trash collection must be dependable. As I mentioned earlier, street renovations and repairs must be improved and expanded, and I believe a citizens committee will help in this area. Of course, funding is always a major challenge, but priorities must be in line in assessing which streets need help now.
3. During my tenure on council, I have worked hard to support the location of new business and industry to Brownwood, which in turn creates an increasing tax base to help support the cityís budget. Sales tax accounts for 14 percent of our cityís revenues today, and to increase that percentage is a goal of mine. Water sales currently account for 15 percent, and will always remain an important key to city revenues, as well as sewer fees, which account for 10 percent. In order to keep these utility rates at a minimum, we must grow our tax base as well as take advantage of the impact of our regional landfill, which, stated earlier, accounts for 7 percent of current city revenues. Increasing the customer landfill base is essential to more revenues, as well as potentially more water customers outside the city limits, to help offset other utility costs to the people of Brownwood.
4. The City of Brownwood must work more closely with our partners at the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce and its professional staff to find ways to utilize city facilities, such as the coliseum, transportation museum, the Depot, coliseum annex and Adams Street Community Center to accommodate conventions, trade shows, sporting events, banquets, seminars or other functions which will increase the fees collected by the city for use of these facilities. Promoting Brownwood as a convention and tourist region is vital to attracting the events necessary to increase revenues. The recently refurbished Brownwood Coliseum remains a key landmark in attracting visitors to our city. Few cities our size can boast of an arena that can seat almost 5,000 people for a sporting event or other attraction. The transportation museum will be more than just a museum, capable of accommodating other types of events mentioned above. This beautiful building will house a collection with an estimated value of $1 million, and the structure itself has created quite a contrast to the empty facilities, and is for the benefit of the people of Brownwood, and rental fees must be fair and reasonable. Certainly all of these facilities must pay their own way, and we must increased revenues to supplement the budget, but one must not expect them to be major profit centers.
5. Input from the residents of the city is always welcomed and needed, especially when confronted with issues vital to the needs of the citizens. The city used to have quarterly nightly meetings to accommodate those people who could not attend city council meetings during the business day, which of course impacts most working people. These special nightly sessions were canceled due to lack of interest. Maybe different meeting schedules should be considered to accommodate more input from concerned citizens. There remain in place numerous committees appointed by the mayor and council which allow people to serve their community in various ways. Increasing committee appointments might be a way to increase involvement, as well as forming new committees, such as the street committee I mentioned earlier. Big issues always should require a stake holders group, which contributes to the success of any new venture, such as the recent Center Avenue project, as well as the current parks and recreation committee, which I chair. Whenever I receive a call or request from a citizen, I try and respond quickly and efficiently, to resolve the issue. Access to council meetings via the Internet, radio or television might also be a consideration for improvement in communications.