San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

May 7th, 2008
Three vie for new Buda council seat

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

BUDA – Under a new charter, the Buda City Council will add one to its number with Saturday’s election, bringing its membership up to seven. Three candidates have put themselves in the running.

Billy Gray is the former mayor of Buda, serving in that capacity for two years before he withdrew from a brief re-election bid in 2002 to concentrate on business and family concerns. Before serving as mayor, Gray spent three years on the city council. Gray is a Buda businessman who moved to town in 1995.

Todd Ruge is a newcomer to city affairs after moving to Buda two years ago. Ruge gives his occupation as operator/trainer at Freescale. Ruge also is a senior majoring in finance at St. Edwards University.

Scott Dodd moved to Buda 15 months ago. He is a construction project manager for an Austin company.

Following is a transcript from a candidate forum held on May 3 at the Buda Public Library before residents of old town Buda. Each candidate faced the audience alone and answered the same five questions (We’ve very slightly edited some answers for grammar, and to cut down on rambling).

You’re about to undertake about 3,000 more words of reading, and if you’re voting in the Buda election, you won’t regret it. With each answer, the candidates differentiate themselves more and more.

We begin at the beginning, with the first question posed to each candidate.
 
1. Downtown has been negatively impacted or plagued by increased truck traffic, vacant storefronts and absentee landowners. A: How would you encourage the revitalization of downtown Buda? And, B: Would you support the results of the downtown charette regarding keeping Main Street and Railroad Street as the only two streets for commercial development?

Gray: As far as how would I encourage the revitalization of downtown Buda, you have two ladies that own the biggest majority of the buildings directly to the right of us here (Jeanette Chelf and Mary Ogden, who own much of Main Street). The City of Buda, in my opinion, has talked about this issue for a long time and has not done anything about it. I think it’s time to go ahead and quit talking and start doing. I think there is legally some action that the city can do to mandate that those storeowners that are not open Monday through Friday – generally speaking, they’re only open Saturday and Sunday – I think there is an ordinance or even possibly some action that the city should look at possibly doing to mandate that those people be part of the cause. The city is not receiving those potential tax dollars because they are not open and there’s no activity going on.

The city is looking at some possibilities of doing some revitalization as far as some funding downtown. I think that’s positive. I have put my money where my mouth is. I have some property downtown and I think that’s something we have to look at. In my opinion, you have to take your personal comments or suggestions out of it and listen to what everybody says. The downtown charette has mandated some action and I think, as elected officials, we need to follow the direction of what the people say.

Ruge: Let me start with “B,” first. I believe that Main Street and Railroad Street should be the only ones that have commercial at this point. The sad fact right now is that there are so may vacant buildings on Main Street that we should fill those first before we even have the discussion to move forward into the neighborhoods and on both sides. As far as the revitalization, the beautification has been a great step forward for us. It’s a very crucial point for downtown. We need to build on that, maybe with some incentives, maybe some ordinance changes that a lot of the downtown business owners want. By fostering that, listening to their point of view, they can listen to our point of view, and we can move forward.

To encourage it, I would ask people in the neighborhoods in Buda to support our local businesses. They struggle. My wife and I were at Main Street Cafe the other night and we were the only two in there. It’s kind of sad. Now, I know there’s only a few restaurants down there and there’s not a lot of things going on, but if we want downtown to thrive and survive, we need to back up our talk. We need to follow through on that. I would love to have something like a destination, but I don’t want something like Gruene. I don’t think anybody wants that. But a happy medium would really be beneficial.

Dodd: Many citizens are very concerned about the vacancies downtown and would like to see more businesses come downtown, so that’s an issue that the city council needs to address over coming years. I think what I would like to see is better incentives for businesses coming in wanting to occupy the buildings to help them basically remodel these buildings. From my experience, a lot of these buildings are way behind code requirement, safety, just for being occupied in weather conditions. Hopefully, as a city, we can look at helping them financially to remodel some of these buildings. I feel that this is a great opportunity for small businesses. I think it’s a great place for business and I think it’s probably a wise thing to not go any further into old town residential. 

2. We’ve asked this question for seven long years. A: What priority and how much money are you willing to earmark for finishing the city’s drainage plans for south Goforth and north Lifeschutz? And, B: What would be your timeline for completion?

Gray: The drainage issue started when I was previously with the city as the mayor and councilmember, and the city staff has done a tremendous job of taking care of the drainage issue in central downtown. It ended up right in front of my house just on the corner of my property. When I was mayor previously, I suggested the question, “OK, we’re addressing the issues of downtown. Now, what do we need to do with the south side of Goforth Road?” At that point in time, it was an issue. I don’t know how much money is needed. I honestly just don’t know what the number is. As far as production versus having a general contractor come in, the City of Buda is fortunate because it has a staff that does a lot of the in-house work and has saved the city a lot of money. As far as a timeline for completion, I don’t know that answer. I think the timeline should be adequate for the dollars that the city can allocate. I would be reluctant to, right now, say a timeline.

Ruge: I’ve talked to a few citizens about this issue in great detail. It seems to me there were four drainage projects for the last seven years and we’re just about done with the second one. I looked at the budget and they’re actually above what they like to keep (as a fund balance). There’s money available to do it, but we have to have plans that work. The one over by Goforth, it’s been started, stopped and there’s still problems with it. As far as earmarking a specific amount, I say we get it done. It’s an issue of either pay me now or pay me later. If we just keep waiting and waiting, the price is going to go up. We have money in the budget to get it done. We just need to get it done. As far as the timeline, as soon as possible. I live downtown and it’s a huge concern for us. It’s something that needs to get done, it’s been promised and they haven’t followed through on it.

Dodd: I’m not real certain that I know all the details about these plans. I do know that drainage is a problem on the (east) side of the railroad tracks. Certainly, this is a priority. A lot of it is surface drainage and to control it better we need to look at underground drainage to alleviate some of the surface drainage. I know that every few years we get a lot of rain in this area, and I would hope that in the next three years I can put in some direct plans. And if it could happen in the next three years, I would like to see it happen.

3. Through various means, Buda has obtained a significant amount of parkland. In May of 2007, citizens of Hays County passed a $30 million bond for parks. A: Do you support Buda’s participation in match funding to secure county bond funding for additional parks? And, B: What would you do to insure that Buda receives its fair share of that funding?

Gray: As far as Buda’s matched, fair share of the funding, I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that the stagecoach property, the property that (the late former Buda councilmember, mayor and city manager) Grey White got me involved with, originally I didn’t think it was a great idea, but Grey was so adamant that the almost 50 acres over there was a tremendous asset to the city. I was negative at it at first, then, over a period of time, I saw the light, if you will. So, I think it’s a tremendous asset that the city will have, is fixing to have real soon. As far as Buda’s fair share, Buda needs to get all that it legally and financially can. I don’t know what that fair share is.

Ruge: I think I would support that. I think partnering with Hays County would be a great opportunity with the matching funds. Any time anyone is willing to give you free money, I say we jump on it. To me, that’s a no-brainer. We do have a lot of parkland and a lot of it isn’t done, yet. Again, we do have a surplus of money. We can get those parks done. We can get them maintained. A problem I hear is that a lot of these neighborhoods are donating the parkland and we’ve got parks all over and the city has to maintain them. I would like to see more homeowners association parks where they maintain them. As far as getting our fair share of funding, I think we need someone who is smart and clever and works best for Buda without thinking of special interests. This is really a tough question. On the one hand, we like to get the funding, but Buda is independent. But I think the offer of matching funds, even if they would be meddling in our affairs, I think that could be very beneficial for Buda.

Dodd: Definitely, I think the land designation for city parks has been a surprise to me, the amount of land. I know that as we want to preserve the nature of this community and the beauty of the community, we need to set aside land that’s not developed. I think taking that land and saying it’s not going to be developed except as parkland is a strain on the city’s budget. As far as the upkeep for those properties to make them useable, I think that right now we’ve over-extended the capacity of our current budget.

I was unaware that Hays County was offering to match money to support the parks, but I would be supportive of trying to work with the county if they’re interested in helping us to develop the parks. What I understood looking at the developments for the parks, a lot of the improvements were basically funded through developers and I felt that was quite a strain on the development as far as them being funding agents for the parks. 

4. There have been plans for over five years to enlarge or relocate the public library. A: Do you support the expansion or relocation? And, B): How do you propose to accomplish the plan you support?

Gray: Do I support the expansion or relocation? That’s a very political hot potato. Yes, I do support it. Generally speaking, unless I can be shown otherwise, I think the relocation would be the best solution. And, possibly in with that, someone with the city, be it a councilmember or myself, someone could negotiate to where the City of Buda could have a parcel of property that is advantageous as far as location, location, location. Would I do that? Yes, I would.

If the library and city was able to have a parcel of property that was able to be located in a geographical area, where is that area? Is it west? Is it east? I don’t know the answer to that. That would need to be concluded by the citizens. If you went ahead and added to the existing structure, then you’re taking away from the greenbelt. Is that a good thing? Some people say it is and some people say it’s not. I don’t know the answer. I would be more in line with relocating, unless it can be shown to me that the best solution is to leave it right here and add to the structure here. I would say the answer is to be relocated with the caveat of not paying for the property, but having the property donated.

I think it’s unfair that the citizens of Buda have to pay for everything and about 70 of 100 people who come to this property come from outside the city limits and don’t have to pay for anything. I think that’s wrong.

Ruge: My wife and I come from families of educators and librarians, we’re very active in the Friends of the Library and we’re just library people. To answer the question, yes, we do need a new library. I would support it. I would like to see a bigger, state of the art library, but I would like to see it downtown. Downtown Buda, that’s the heart of the city. That’s what gives us our small-town charm. The problem with that is that there’s not a lot of land available. There are a few pieces of land, but the city would have to negotiate it. I would like to see us be able to do a beautiful state of the library all in one shot and the city could use this building for something else. But if there wasn’t enough land available, I’d like to see this become a branch or that become a branch, have one serve as a technological center and one serve as the major circulation center. Now, I know that would include more employees and more burdens on the city, but if you look at the budgets over the last few years, the spending for the library has gone up about five percent per year, while the spending for wastewater and parks, for instance, has gone up about 600 percent. There’s plenty of money available for the library. The problem is that there’s no room in this building and they can’t justify spending the money and having it sit. In the meantime, I would love to see a building fund set aside and put it in an interest bearing account so we can build on that.

Dodd: I believe that the library is a vital resource to our community and I know it’s being used widely, not only by Buda citizens, but through the county as well. So, I think that I would be supportive of this library either growing or having another branch locally. To accomplish that, I know that it was discussed to make a library district which would, hopefully, provide more funding regionally and not just by Buda citizens. I don’t think Buda needs to bear the whole cost of this expansion, especially since a lot of the users aren’t Buda citizens. If there’s an opportunity to get more state support or county support, that would be a great place to start.

5 The city manager position is currently vacant. A: What qualifications or strengths would you like to see in our next city manager? And, B: How would you ensure public input into that selection process for city manager?

Gray: I think that the city manager that we had (Robert Camareno) being gone is a very good thing. I have heard a lot of horror stories of people dealing with the city. I think the selection of a city manager is a very, very important thing. The city manager has to be able to negotiate and have the authority and expertise of dealing with a lot of people.

What has happened in the past, the city comes up with the three finalists with the headhunters doing that and then the council goes through and interviews the three people and then there is a forum where the citizens have an opportunity to talk to the three candidates, and I think it’s important. As an elected official, it’s not your opinion, but its the peoples’ opinion. You have to listen to everybody’s opinion, then you have to make a decision based on all the information you’ve been given.

Ruge: I would like to see a city manager much like Robert was, with a financial background. Someone that can real quickly look at the budget, and see if there are things that can be changed. As far as the public getting involved, you read the newspaper and there are always calls for public meetings and people don’t show up. People should get involved. They just don’t.

As far as ensuring that, I don’t know how that can be done because the city does a good job about advertising things that are going on. It’s up to, maybe, us that are here and are involved to go out and tell ten of your friends that this is a big deal. We are at a crossroads right now and we’re getting a new city manager and we need to make the right decision. We need to have someone that wants to stay here, someone that isn’t using this as a stepping stone, someone who may want to retire here. I think it’s up to us, as a whole, to tell people.

Dodd: The city manager needs to understand finances, they need to have people skills to be able to work with the people underneath them. They need to have good communications skills. They need to be able to report back. I know there’s a pretty large demand for them to provide reports back to the council. They need to be good time managers. I know that they have a lot of responsibilities, a lot of departments that they’re overseeing. For them to be effective, they need to get a lot of work in each day. From what I understand, the city council will interview candidates and I would like to have an open hearing and make sure that everybody is comfortable with that selection.

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