Killeen Daily Herald 4/9/19
Q&Our downtown has improved dramatically in recent years and is headed in the right direction. The renovation of East Central and the provision of facade grants have encouraged private investment, restoration of historic structures and new businesses to move into the downtown. New and expanding businesses coupled with the Downtown Belton Business Alliance Market Days on the third Saturday and the Farmer’s Markets have brought people downtown, and they are staying. That increased foot traffic is drawing more businesses to downtown and the surrounding areas. That’s healthy! The public / private partnership and investments are paying off.
1 - What is the No. 1 thing you would like to accomplish in office and how will you do it?
Belton is truly a special place and I love Belton! We must continue to protect the legacy and character of our great city while improving the quality of life and managing the growth that is upon us. We must accomplish this while keeping the city tax rate low and actively seeking to expand our tax base to reduce the burden on individual tax payers. Working within our planning and budgeting process we must keep our first responders and all our staff well led, trained, equipped, compensated and fully staffed to provide the protection and services our citizens deserve. That can only be accomplished through our strategic planning and budgeting process.
2 - How will you communicate about city issues to Belton residents?
I think we are communicating effectively with our residents to the degree that they want to be informed and take the time to do so. The City of Belton website at www.beltontexas.gov is excellent and provides access to current and historic information. The agenda and minutes for every council, board and commission meeting are posted. At every council meeting there is an opportunity for public comment on non-agenda items. Many agenda items provide for a public hearing. One of the beautiful things about city government is that “we are us.” We shop together, attend sporting and social events together, and go to church together. We are available to those who wish to communicate with us.
3 - What will you do to ensure the taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly?
The budget process in Belton is comprehensive, rigorous and transparent and the administration of the budget is impeccable. Every department head develops his budget based on his department’s defined goals and objectives derived from the current Strategic Plan. They vet their budgets through the staff and city manager and present them during scheduled council meetings open to the public. The Finance Department that administers the approved budgets has received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for 26 consecutive years, and the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 32 consecutive years, both awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association.
4 - What would you envision for the Heritage Park expansion?
It was a legacy opportunity to add the 85 acres to Heritage Park. The possibilities are amazing. With the beautiful green space and water rights from the adjoining Leon River to keep it green I am truly excited about what it will become and how it will be used by our citizens for generations to come. The Parks Board is reaching out to our citizens for their input and ideas. They already hosted a highly successful professional Frisbee golf tournament and I suspect Frisbee golf is here is stay. Water sports are important to our citizens so they will be included. Whatever is decided in the parks master plan I will insist that we include sufficient parking.
5 - How would you balance rapid growth with keeping the city’s small-town feel?
This can only be accomplished through comprehensive planning, and we have a good process and plan. The council resolution states, “The City of Belton 2030 Comprehensive Plan is Belton’s long-range policy document adopted and amended by the City Council. The plan establishes a vision for Belton, provides policy guidance for growth and development, containing both action items and BIG ideas to help implement the vision.” It includes the Future Land Use Plan, Thoroughfare Plan, Design Standards, Historic Preservation Plan and much more. Applied by staff, commissions, boards and ultimately by the City Council, it is working and constantly being updated with stack-holder involvement.
Q&A - Belton Journal 3/8/19
Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?
Our downtown has improved dramatically in recent years and is headed in the right direction. The renovation of East Central and the provision of facade grants have encouraged private investment, restoration of historic structures and new businesses to move into the downtown. New and expanding businesses coupled with the Downtown Belton Business Alliance Market Days on the third Saturday and the Farmer’s Markets have brought people downtown, and they are staying. That increased foot traffic is drawing more businesses to downtown and the surrounding areas. That’s healthy! The public / private partnership and investments are paying off.
What are your thoughts on the Lake to Lake road project?
The mission statement in our strategic plan states that we are to “Enhance Belton’s quality of life through visionary leadership that preserves its character while planning for its future.” A key aspect is planning for increased traffic that will come with growth. Periodic connections with major arteries like IH-14, SH-93 and SH-439 are essential. Many years ago, before there was single house in Red Rock and Smith Dawson Ranches, appropriate state and local agencies and government bodies working together determined that there would one day be a need for a connection generally between Stillhouse Hollow and Belton Lakes. Routes were studied and, once decided upon, land was purchased and rights of way provided by developers for the purpose of a road. $1.7m has already been spent on acquisition and preparation. In my view, for the good of the whole community, a connection is needed in that area. I cannot find a better route and I cannot in good conscience say a road is not needed. If there a better route, let’s work together to find it.
Do you feel that we have adequate fire and police protection?
We are extremely fortunate to be one of only a handful of cities across our great state to have both our police and fire departments recognized by their respective accrediting agencies. It is no small task and speaks volumes for the leadership, professionalism and dedication of our first responders and supporting teams in both departments. I believe we are more than adequately protected and statistics bear that out; however, we must be ever vigilant to keep both departments fully staffed, well trained and equipped, and appropriately compensated. As a smaller city we are challenged to meet the compensation offered by larger and more affluent cities without large increases in our tax rates. It is a difficult balance. We have experienced some turnover in our fire department, but we are successfully recruiting and training to fill those gaps. I want to publicly thank those fireman, EMTs and Paramedics who have stepped up to work overtime during this process. I am also thankful that we were able to increase the amount the city pays into the Texas Municipal Retirement System. We made up about half the ground we would like to and are committed to annually, during the budget process, seeking to do still more. For the city’s perspective on the issues please go to www.beltontexas.gov/fdfacts
What’s more important for our city right now: building new homes and commercial space or rehabbing/expanding/better utilizing our existing homes and storefronts?
We should ask the “free market” that question and I think it is telling us “All of the above.” There is need for all of those categories in different areas of our city. In some areas the neighborhood is revitalizing and it is economically feasible to rehab homes. Many businesses in the downtown and on the main corridors are successfully restoring, renovating and expanding. Current data indicates there is still pent up demand for new homes and apartments. As the South Belton sewer and water lines are completed in 2019 I believe we will see significant growth in both business and residential structures. In 2018 we issued a record 312 single family permits including 24 duplex units and 141 single family units in three Creeks. Growth is here and we must continue to manage it well while preserving Belton’s character and planning for the future.
What are your thoughts on our current/future parks as more people move to Belton?
Parks and recreation facilities including our trail network are essential for quality of life and one of the strong draws for our community. The opportunity to more than double the size of Heritage Park and create a northern entrance is a once in a lifetime event. Our Parks and Recreation Department does an amazing job of managing and caring for our parks. Our development guidelines require developers to contribute park land or contribute financially to future park development. I believe our parks and recreation system including our trail network will continue to grow and expand because our citizens think they are important and use them heavily.
How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?
In our form of government, and specifically in our city, our citizens have the opportunity to be involved in the decision making process but all too often choose not to. We have at least fifteen City of Belton Boards and Commissions but few fill out the volunteer forms to be considered for service. In every city council meeting there is a time at the very beginning for public comment on non-agenda items. Many items on the agenda include an opportunity for a public hearing but seldom does anyone take advantage of it. The agendas for all our meetings are posted publicly in advance both on line and on the city hall steps. Complete packets just like the council members receive are readily available to the public. The information and the opportunity to express one’s opinion is available. I sincerely hope more citizens will make the time to educate themselves and get involved on more than just one hot-button issue.
The ultimate involvement in the decision-making process is at the ballet box. If history holds true, this election will be decided by less than 5% of the registered voters in our city. In the 2017 City Council Election only 571 cast votes. In 2015 it was only 325. That’s pathetic! Our current population is approximately 22,000 with 9,000 registered voters. Everywhere I go I encourage people to do their homework and VOTE!
If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
I would trust the processes of the city to spend it where it is needed most and would do the most good. During thirteen years on council I have observed that the processes are guided by the strategic plan and are rigorous, fair, thorough and consistent. All portions of the city are carefully considered. The strategic planning and budgeting process is the best I have ever seen, hands down. Our city manager and staff are consummate professionals who work within the system to get the greatest value from every dollar. With their help, working within the processes in place, we will spend it far more wisely than if I pick a pet project. I do think that part of the $1million would go to complete the funding for the fifth section of the Hike and Bike Trail connecting north and south Belton. Some would probably go to help replace owner-occupied homes like the 36 that have been done through grants since 2001. Perhaps some would merit going to the expansion of Heritage Park or to help fund more of our annual street maintenance program. The system works. It would find the highest and best use for an additional $1million.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in Belton?
In church worshiping the God who blessed us to live and serve in this great city, walking on our wonderful trails, watching kids and families play in the creek, attending Big Red and Crusader sporting and fine arts events, dining in one of our many eating establishments while meeting new folks and talking with friends. I love Belton! There is no place I would rather live and serve.