Upcoming May 4 City Council general election questionnaire

by / 0 Comments / 257 View / March 15, 2019

By Kierra Pixler, Managing Editor

 

 

With the May 4 general election coming up, we asked the City Council candidates to respond to a series of questions that pertain to relevant topics in Belton. Their answers are in their own words.

 

 

Dan Kirkley

Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

D.K- For a number of years, the council and city staff have been working together to enhance the corridors into downtown and to enrich the experience of both business owners and their patrons. Façade grants given to property owners have allowed merchants to improve the exterior of their businesses, creating an inviting atmosphere for both local and out-of-town shoppers. Merchants associations have, also, augmented the welcoming spirit for shoppers. Continuing to provide façade grants and creating traffic flow and parking improvements will increase the success we have been experiencing.

What are your thoughts on the Lake to Lake road project?

D.K.- I believe very strongly that vibrant, growing communities must plan well for 20 to 50 years in the future. When I was a child in the 1950s, our community leaders missed an opportunity to improve traffic flow downtown and North and South on Main Street. A wise, but limited, solution was created with Loop 121 and Martin Luther King, both of which took numbers of years of planning and construction.

The Lake to Lake Road has, also,  been in the planning for more than twenty years. Foresight by previous city councils has led to the critical early dedication of significant portions of right of way for the project. Many of us in Belton have been affected by the personal inconveniences that occur as we grow. But, it is most important to continue to seek the safest transportation routes possible for our citizens.

Do you feel that we have adequate fire and police protection?

D.K.- It is of critical importance for us as a community to have the best trained and most competent and professional fire and police personnel. Of incredible benefit to our community is the fact that our Police Chief, Gene Ellis, is also our Assistant City Manager. We strive diligently to ensure that we recruit and retain the most professional staff possible in every city department while jealously guarding our neighbors’ tax base. The pressures created by the competition between employee salaries (and benefits) and taxes is a continuing challenge for staff and city council. Our responsibility is to give our absolute best effort in assuring that we compensate all our employees fairly while we maintain the safety and health of our neighbors. This year we have made some changes which we believe will improve our employees financial position.

The size of our community and tax base dictates to a significant degree, our ability to compete with other area communities in recruiting and retaining our employees.

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?

D.K.- As a growing, vibrant community, the choice between building new homes and commercial space versus repairing and restoring existing structures is not an “either / or” decision. Decisions must be made on a case by case basis depending on what is best for the individual property owner and the community at large. Belton has many marvelous, historic structures which are both structurally serviceable and historically significant. To “bulldoze” them in the name of progress would neither enhance the historic nature of our community nor be efficient from a financial perspective.

Likewise, avoiding the recruiting and providing of space for new employers and homes for their employees would create a self-destructive cycle for our community’s existence.

What are your thoughts on our current/future parks as more people move to Belton?

D.K.- Belton City Council and city staff have worked diligently to ensure that park space has been made available to as many of our neighbors as possible. An ordinance exists which creates park space or a financial contribution for park space with each new residential subdivision. Matthew Bates, Parks and Recreation Director, has also prioritized upgrading existing parks as financially feasible. The addition of 85 acres to Heritage Park for future use has also been a huge blessing for parks expansion for our community. Belton City Council will remain sensitive to parks needs as the city grows.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?

D.K.- Because the city council is a “volunteer” elected body (the salary of a city council member is $1.00) our motivation to be members of the council is to be servants of the community. We are, therefore, always wanting to hear our neighbors ideas and concerns. Additionally, we are required, by law, to meet regularly and openly to conduct the city’s business. Attendance at council meetings, planning and zoning meetings and workshops is encouraged. Agenda Items are, also, announced in advance of the meetings to give citizens the opportunity to participate. By law, we cannot act on any item of business for Belton which has not been previously placed on the official agenda. We, also are available by phone, text and email to receive concerns from our neighbors.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

D.K.- Our staff grant writer, Bob Till, is a very active, professional grant writer who has been successful in his efforts to gain well more that $1 million in grants in the past few years. Over the past few years, our staff has successfully applied for grants for new and expanded parks, hike and bike trails, utilities expansion, and others. I believe that one marvelous use of a $1 million grant would be to construct an affordable housing complex for our neighbors who are retired and those who work in our retail and service businesses. Additionally I believe it will become increasingly important to ensure that our community has an adequate water supply for years to come.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Belton?

D.K.- My favorite places are not as much geographical as they are relational. Any place with family and friends is my favorite place. Family picnics, fishing with my friends, community gatherings, Bible studies and working with my brothers and sisters in Christ at Hope for the Hungry are all at the top of my list. I enjoy and am committed to serving on the Belton City Council, in part, because I have grown up in Belton and have many personal heroes who have served before me. And, I believe strongly in what Jesus said in Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much is required.” It is not always easy but it is always a privilege to serve my Belton family!

 

David K. Leigh

Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

D.L.- If we compare our downtown to shat it was 20-30 years ago, it is vibrant and thriving.  We had friends visiting from Goodfellow Air Force Base last year when we had an event downtown.  There were at least 3 bands playing and we were able to stroll around and see all of the renovated buildings and enjoy the evening with our friends and our neighborhood.  I wouldn’t suggest changing anything, but I would suggest that we continue the public/private partnership that Belton has been working on in several areas:  continued use of the façade grants to help businesses improve the downtown curb appeal, appropriate zoning to allow for the best use of a limited resource in downtown, remaining pedestrian friendly in key gathering areas, and continued infrastructure improvements to beautify our gateways.

What are your thoughts on the Lake to Lake road project?

D.L.- The city has maintained a long-range thoroughfare plan probably since before I was born.  It is sometimes hard to understand, but communities were here before we were and will be here after we are gone.  Regarding the addition of key thoroughfares, I have friends that were impacted by the addition of Loop 121 when the community added this second north-south route to parallel Main Street.  I was also on council when we worked to extend Sparta Rd. to Main Street.  It’s hard to imagine the city without these, but it does raise the issue of the tension in regards to growth.  The creation of these thoroughfares have contributed to the addition of the HEB Plus and Super Walmart along with other retail development and have positively impacted our tax base and improved our quality of life.  At the same time, this expansion has contributed to the growth of neighborhoods like Smith-Dawson Ranch, Regatta Oaks, and several others.  It is the responsibility of our city to work with developers to create a planned community.  These partnerships have resulted in the extension of water and sewer to these areas as well as securing right-of-way for collector streets.  I personally feel that the city should continue to secure right-of-way for future roads so that we can insure we can minimize the use of imminent domain due to a lack of planning.

Do you feel that we have adequate fire and police protection?

D.L.- The council works with staff to evaluate staffing levels for all departments, including both fire and police.  I feel that our departments are currently right-sized and we will continue to allow the Chiefs of Fire and Police advise us on operational needs and use outside consultants when necessary.  The city used to provide ambulance service for Bell County for residents that resided outside the City of Belton and in return received several hundred thousand dollars per year to provide that service.  With the county moving to outsource that service to private firms, we’ve maintained the same workforce but have seen a decreased demand.  So in my mind, we are probably better staffed in fire than we have been in a few years.

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?

D.L.- This is not an either-or.  Just like in our personal lives, we have to maintain a rhythm between our work lives and our personal lives.  At times, work has to take a back seat to family. . . at others, we may have to put in a few long hours and the family life suffers.  I think we have to be focused as a community in maintaining our unique culture by fostering redevelopment and protecting historic structures AND working with developers to make sure that residential and commercial development is consistent with our community.  My wife and I worked to restore a Victorian home on Penelope and we own one of the old buildings in downtown, so we have a heart for ‘old’ Belton.  At the same time, we’ve worked to build new structures like Grand Avenue Theater which very much looks and feels like our town.

What are your thoughts on our current/future parks as more people move to Belton?

D.L.- We made a big step this last year in securing a portion of the old Leon Valley Golf Course.  I think that addition along with continued hike-and-bike trail expansion that will connect all of our major parks will continue to maintain a strong quality of place for our citizens.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?

D.L.- The greatest area of personal influence is through relationships.  I try very hard to be active in the community and get to know as many people as possible on a personal level so that we can share openly as colleagues and friends.  Beyond that, I would encourage everyone to get involved in some way and give back to our city.  Our form of government is predicated on the town-hall model. . . that we as citizens see each other in the grocery store, at church, at school, and at work.  When you are connected to people in more than one aspect of your life, you have a sense of community.  There is no way that city government can replace personal connections, so I would never advocate that we “involve” our citizens, but that we are always engaged with our community.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

D.L.- I fear that $1 million doesn’t go as far as it used to, but I believe that a windfall like that should go to a tangible project and not just to offset operational costs.  The two best uses of that at this time would be to help beautify 6th Ave or to help in the expansion of Heritage Park.  In order to free up more resources like this, I think the city has some pretty creative ideas on ways to reduce our reliance on debt and expand a pay-as-you-go concept for capital projects.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Belton?

D.L.- Home, downtown, on a hike-and-bike trail, and catching a movie at Grand Avenue Theater.

 

 

Cynthia Black

Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

C.B.- Downtown has a great feel and the growth potential is here. Specialty shops / business that attract families are key to keep that feel.

What are your thoughts on the Lake to Lake road project?

C.B.- In its present state I oppose it. 4 lanes 40mph+ with an almost 3 story overpass at Sparta and mystic mountain is not positive for any family neighborhood.

Do you feel that we have adequate fire and police protection?

C.B.- Based on 2018 news articles, no. Competitive pay and retention matter to both departments. Keeping adequate skilled first responder talent matters to the whole city.

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?

C.B.-  There is a natural balance between keeping restored former buildings functional and blending new growth to any community. Pushing out the old for the new is self-defeating.

What are your thoughts on our current/future parks as more people move to Belton?

C.B.- Safe Walking/bike paths are popular around campuses and inner cities. The city council connecting paths are good for the city. Future parks can be achieved after basic services are funded.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?

C.B.- Interactive Town halls with City Council including Planning & Development department.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

C.B.- Ensure Police Fire and EMS Depts. have efficient current tools / equipment and facilities. Basic service are necessary to meet safety and citizen’s needs.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Belton?

C.B.- I like the Belton Feed store. They have local knowledge and a lot of items for farm and ranch. I liked taking my grandson to see the new baby chicks. I like Ace Hardware great inventory and knowledgeable folks.

 

 

John Holmes

Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

J.H.- I love our downtown, transformation, and vitality.  New shops, restaurants, foot traffic, and buzz is so exciting see.  Belton’s façade grant program has been a wonderful incentive to attract business, retail, and restoring our historic downtown.

What are your thoughts on the Lake to Lake road project?

J.H.- I support the Lake to Lake Road, a needed artery for traffic flow.  Main street, Loop 121, Sparta Road, Beal Street, all have seen tremendous increases in traffic flow and we need additional east/west access.  The lake to lake road is not a “highway”, but proposed as 4 lane, median, with paths, similar to Canyon Creek Drive or 5th Street in Temple.  We would not construct an unsightly, unsafe, thoroughfare fair and that has never been the plan.  The lake to lake road is also a community safety issue.  Due to increased traffic major traffic arteries has become less safe.

Do you feel that we have adequate fire and police protection?

J.H.- Currently, due to turnover we are understaffed in our fire department, not inadequate, but definitely understaffed.  Outsourcing our ambulance service, as many other communities have done, could be a solution.  We are a small city of 21,000 competing for Firemen/women with rapidly expanding Georgetown and surrounding areas.  There is a shortage of available emergence response personnel within our state and nationally.  Our city is committed to protecting and serving and no tax payer should ever have to worry about fire or police protection.

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?

J.H.- What’s more important… balancing the new while not forgetting our past and neighbors!  Belton is limited in the amount of green space within our city limits, sensible development in conjunction with collaborative redevelopment would be a good mix.

What are your thoughts on our current/future parks as more people move to Belton?

J.H.- Parks are an integral part of a true community and I am so proud of the city’s recent purchase and expansion of Heritage Park.  Parks, hike and bike trails, splash pads, all promote a stronger community.  We have utilized various grants through multiple agencies to leverage city dollars to expand our high and bike trails, what a value to our taxpayers.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in our town?

J.H.- Volunteer, boards, and communication.  No decisions are made without multiple steps and opportunities to voice thoughts and opinions.  I solicit input and always encourage citizens to call or email me and I will respond.  I am running for City Council to serve my neighbors and all citizens of Belton.  Please contact me I want to hear you input.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

J.H.- I would try and develop/fund some type of endowment that could improve our community in perpetuity.  Community parks, low income program, downtown grants, housing rehabilitation, a program that would receive and annual influx of funds and never end.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Belton?

J.H.- Our front yard on 14th Ave is not bad!  We are able to hear the cheers from Heritage Park, Thursday night outdoor concerts from Schoepf’s, the crowd from UMHB games, summer nights at Summer Fun, and even the Harley’s from I35 as the roll to a rally, and our friends honking and waiving from Beal Street.

But our favorite is riding our tandem bike downtown, checking the Gin and creek, then hitting the hike and bike trail, Mount Zion Church, the bridge, UMHB, old Belton, and back home to sweet 14th Ave. God Bless Belton, TX.

 

 

Craig Pearson

Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?

C.P.- Our downtown has improved dramatically in recent years and is headed in the right direction. The renovation of East Central and the provision of façade 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 Merchants Association 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?

C.P.- 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?

C.P.- 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 publically thank those firemen and EMT’s 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.

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?

C.P.- 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?

C.P.- 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?

C.P- 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 potential voters of our city. In the 2017 City Council Election only 571 cast votes. In 2015 it was only 325. Our current population is approximately 22,000.

If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?

C.P- 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 $1 million.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Belton?

In church worshipping 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.