Sunday, April 23, 2006

Questions for Candidates

Perhaps I have been too busy to notice, but the races for City Council do not appear to be taking up distinct issues. This is a bit disappointing in that these races are taking place in a “target rich environment”. We should expect something more substantial than “Growth good, Taxes bad, Lots of water, Yay!” Not to downplay the current Council, but a confluence of events will likely make the next Council a significant turning point. Here are a few of the issues I think will make it so.

A cute “dog in the manger” move by outgoing Councilmen a couple years ago put any changes to City Charter off limits for two years. That will soon expire. We can expect a Charter measure dealing with appointing the police chief in some fashion, for real this time. There are serious rumors out there that we will see a Charter measure either strengthening the Mayor's position on Council with a “limited veto” or reaching all the way for a Strong Mayor form of city government.

As our webmaster and real world expert in such matters has been pointing out recently, we badly need to upgrade public safety communications, possibly even get it right this time. Key phrase here is “interoperability”, in whatever sort of crisis, the police should be able to talk to the firemen, hospitals, public works, let the imagination run free. We may be facing a tornado, a flood or a terrorist attack. Try to imagine who might be involved in responding to each. They need to be able to talk to one another, and forget cell phones, if the towers are up, you guys will wipe that out calling to see if Grandma's OK.

The city has spent over $5 million on long range water studies, and some of our water people helped in the now completed Region F Water Study Group report. To its credit, San Angelo seems to be gearing up to set policy and arrange for adequate supply 50 years or more out. Sure beats waiting for the crisis. Point is, now that all this data is in, which option will we choose? At a very rough guess, options could involve expenditures of anywhere between $50 and $150 million dollars. Once that kind of money has been committed, it will be too late to say “Oops!”.

On water, the recent debate over the prison made clear people still haven't grasped the new water paradigm. They look at lake levels and assume we are in a terrible shortage position. Ivie pipeline changed that. The continuing saga of the water rate debate came about largely because San Angelo did not sell enough water! Do the candidates understand that? Are they willing to look at solutions which do not lose sight of conservation?

Another byproduct of the prison episode was the creation of a Public Facilities Corporation to raise money through bonds while shielding the taxpayers from liability. Actually, had the project involved been anything but a prison, it would have been perfect. Let me set out the difference in concrete terms. If a Public Facilities project such as a sports complex goes bust, the worst we have is an unused bit of real estate. With a prison, someone has to feed the prisoners breakfast and convince their guards the paychecks won't bounce, and in light of that, another provision of Texas Statute trumps the Public Facilities law. In short, Texas law will allow an abandoned tennis court, but not starving prisoners, hardly an irrational distinction. There are desirable, but expensive projects that might be created through one or more Public Facilities Corporations, if the people desiring them want them badly enough to put their names, their honor on the line rather than direct tax money.

The departure of Taylor Publishing brings into question the use of 4B sales tax money. We have a long term pot of money that will be huge, probably in excess of $100 million. In the effort to secure voter approval for a twenty year term, we may have restricted our options moreso than is wise in the long term. State law allows a wide range of use of this tax, IF approved by voters. Any candidates have some ideas here? Buying jobs doesn't seem to be an unqualified success, perhaps we should explore options which will make San Angelo more attractive to business overall. In that I was a long time opponent of the sales tax, let me restate for the record, I for one will not make any attempt to turn a plebiscite on expanded authority into a question of the tax itself. I am satisfied that though they disagreed with my position, the voters made a well informed decision following a thorough public debate.

I think the voters would love to hear from the candidates. To be sure, this Blog would welcome any statement on these or any other issues by any candidate.

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