Monday, January 01, 2007

Crystal Ball 2007

It is once again crystal ball time, when pundits traditionally test their powers of foresight with New Year's predictions. I dug up my comments from last year here (comment on JWT's Jan 1 offering). Overall, in utter lack of modesty, I did pretty good.

Starting with my true area of expertise, I predicted the Texas/USC match would be “one of the best bowl games in recent memory, nod to Texas.” This year's championship should go to the favorite, but I doubt Ohio St will cover an 8 point spread.

The prediction I am most pleased with is that the faith-based prison would crater, probably over money. When that project began getting notice, one of the Commissioners told me that though he opposed it, “The votes are there, I don't think we can stop it.” Thanks to the untiring efforts of many, many active citizens, this huge potential hole in the county's budget was finally plugged. Sadly, I note the death of one of these activists, Christine Vines. She and her surviving husband Lonnie were central to the opposition. RIP Mrs. Vines, our prayers are with you.

I suggested a quick start on a Charter Review Committee. Better late than never, but we now have one forming, and two items that I think it will address are the elected/appointed police chief and city limits on eminent domain, among others.

A sound local economy, stable oil prices, progress on the new library, negligible impact of the local Klan (anybody even remember that nut's name?), all in the plus column for this amateur Karnak. A brief $3.00 spike notwithstanding, gas is about where it was a year ago, and the all time high in inflation adjusted dollars is still 1980. We didn't do much on traffic lights, but that came in behind obviously critical water system problems as a matter of interest. It was noted in Council and looked at. One can hope for this year.

Water brings up a good point at which to segue into predictions. It will require an election, probably next November, but now is an excellent time to start considering alternatives which would allow us to move some of our half-cent sales tax revenue and free up money for pipes and valves, lots of valves. My favorite at this time is a Street and Bridge quarter cent, which would generate $2-2.5 million for that purpose, freeing that amount of the city budget. Money is fungible, and a few days without a shower seems to have moved tennis courts and corporate bribery onto the back burner in the voters' minds. More details later, but this discussion is going to take place, and I predict voters will approve a logical shift in that spending.

Both locally and nationally, election reform will be a hot issue. San Angelo has been a microcosm of everything questionable about E-voting, especially as relates to recounts. In full disclosure, I have toiled long in the Republican vineyard with our newly appointed elections administrator, Vona McKerly and her husband Dennis. I can certainly understand the concerns of our new Democrat chair, Linda Shoemaker. Unfortunately, one is unlikely to take up the minutiae of election code and election mechanics as a hobby without having a political interest to encourage that mastery. Vona is as well qualified as anyone I am aware of locally, and I know her to be a person who understands an oath. She has a daunting task in restoring the voters' trust in this crucial office. Godspeed on this task, Vona. Faith in the election process is central to faith in government. As problems continue to be documented by hundreds nationally, more and more people will question the decision to rid elections of those pesky, but imminently recountable, bits of paper.

The school board will be asking for a major bond issue. Too little information is available to make a call yet, but if the polling went as I suspect it did, we are likely to see significant revisions before this gets on the ballot. I supported the last one, but it is too early to call this one. I suspect proponents will have to give up the notion that school buildings automatically disintegrate at age 40.

I still hold that our current City Council and management team are the best we have had in a long time. To be sure, they have some critical issues to deal with, but it is quite unfair to lay the blame for decades of neglect on the shoulders of a largely new batch of officeholders. As the billboard points out, San Angelo is already the second highest taxed city in Texas. Making necessary repairs without claiming undisputed number one status will require our best efforts, but things have already been done which will help. The water fund is fiscally healthy, there are funding sources, and we just might be able to have streets, lights and pipes that work without raising rates.

A safe prediction is that more regular people will take a personal interest in local issues. On this I say, come on in, the water's fine. There has never been a better, easier time for voter involvement. Information that once required hours searching the dusty stacks is now available online, in the bathrobe and slippers if one wishes. My only cautionary note; do get the information, take the time to know the facts. Few things in life are more embarrassing than rising to make an impassioned plea before a public body, only to discover the factual basis of one's argument is built of moonbeams and pixie-dust.

All in all, we are poised to make very real and lasting improvements to a city I have come to like very much. Life is never without problems, but problems most often offer opportunities, if we can only find and seize them. I look to a good year in 2007.

1 comment:

  1. Managed to get the old crystal ball up and running for a while this week. This is what I saw through the dust and fog.

    Now that most of the big projects from the 1/2 cent sales tax are underway, we will start seeing friction over what projects to do next and where to put them. If you watch closely, you will see why this type of tax is frequently called a candy store. This divisiveness, coupled with the infrastructure needs, will cause a look at changing the sales tax so it can be used for more basic needs and less for candy.

    The city charter will be reviewed and the suggested changes put before the voters. Expect the changes to be of three types: House cleaning to bring the charter in line with state law, adjustments needed because of inflation, and changes in areas such as eminent domain and appointment procedures. Some unused sections of the charter might also be eliminated.

    The economy will continue to grow slowly in spite of COSADC grants. They will continue to plan and spend money on the largely empty "industrial park". Real growth will continue to happen around the airport, in the customer service, backup operations and technology areas. There will also be surprising growth in some local companies.

    Energy sources will be debated through most of the year, but little actual progress is likely to happen until 2008. We will start looking at better recycling and green technologies.

    The two elections we are likely to have this year will go much smoother than those last year. Expect some surprising results.

    Expect other "deferred maintenance" problems to make the news besides water. Public building maintenance and planning will become a major issue.