Kyle mayoral candidates Lucy Johnson, left, and Michelle Lopez, right.
By LANCE DUNCAN
Three seats on the Kyle City Council will be on the line in a special election on Feb. 13 after four councilmembers filed to run for higher offices. Two of those councilmembers — Lucy Johnson and Michelle Lopez — are running for mayor in that special election.
The dominoes began to fall when Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez announced in December his run in the Republican Party for Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner against Hays CISD Trustee Mark Jones. Councilmember Ray Bryant then announced his run on the Democratic side for the commissioner post. Johnson and Lopez announced they will run for mayor. Gonzalez, Bryant and Johnson were all compelled to resign by state statute with more than a year remaining on their terms. Kyle spokesman Jerry Hendrix said Lopez also resigned, though her term on council expires in May.
Local banker Russ Huebner and Planning and Zoning Commissioner Rhonda Cox are running for Bryant’s seat in the Feb. 13 election. The election for Johnson’s seat consists of four candidates — John Claeton, Mike Fulton, Jaime Sanchez and John Simmang.
In this first installment of a two-part interview, the San Marcos Local News sat down separately with the two mayoral candidates, Lopez and Johnson, to highlight the differences between them and give them an opportunity to talk about why they are running for office and what they want to accomplish if they win.
Both of the candidates currently serve on the Kyle City Council and are frequently outspoken on important issues. Lopez has been a councilmember since 2007, and Johnson since 2008.
San Marcos Local News: Why are you running for mayor, and what qualifies you for this position?
Michelle Lopez: I’m running for mayor because I want to continue my commitment to the families of Kyle, and continue to ensure that we are planning for Kyle’s future. I believe that I’ve been able to listen to the citizens’ concerns, and effectively take action to address their needs. I also believe that because I share many of those concerns, it helps me to better understand the impact that our decisions on council make on families and homeowners and everyone who lives in the Kyle community.
My experience includes serving on city council since 2007. The last two years I’ve had the opportunity to serve as mayor pro-tem, and assume the mayor’s responsibilities when he is not around. I chair the economic development and tourism committees, I chaired the charter review committee in 2005 for the city, I was a member of the parks board, and served on the building committees for both the library and the recreation center. I’m a member of the Kyle Area Chamber of Commerce, and also am active in both the United Way of Hays County and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. I believe I’ve had many opportunities to understand the needs and concerns of the community in Kyle, and how to address those concerns through effective partnerships.
Lucy Johnson: I was born and raised in Kyle. I went away for college, but I came back here because I love Kyle and I think it’s a great place to live. I want to work hard to make sure that Kyle continues to be the city that I grew up enjoying. I have enjoyed making a difference in my community on city committees and on the council. I seek to continue to lead the city as mayor by better representing its citizens and offering the services that they deserve from the city council. I know that I have the time and the energy and the commitment that it takes to be the mayor of a growing city, and I am more than willing to do the service in order to make Kyle a great place to live and work.
I have served on the city council for a year and a half, I’m chair of the parks and recreation committee, I represent Kyle on the Capital Area Council of Governments, and I have the unique advantage of living in Kyle my whole life and understanding the issues affecting all of its residents.
SMLN: Kyle has three major upcoming projects: the new library, new police station, and the recreation center. What do you feel the priority is among these projects?
Lucy Johnson: The police station and the library are essential projects for the city, and the police have been under-served. We have had a low crime rate for a long time in Kyle. I think some people have taken that for granted, but we have grown so much as a city that I think the police department no longer has the resources to adequately serve our citizens. The police are working out of an old post office building. This is obviously an inadequacy that needs to be addressed, and we need to do that soon. We need to give them a proper building.
We have already started the process of purchasing land and developing the plans for a new library. The library is something that all of our citizens can use. It offers a service that the least fortunate people in Kyle can really rely on. It offers internet access and classes to help people find jobs and help people figure out their taxes. It offers a place for children to go and do something other than watch TV. And their community meeting room is rented out almost constantly.
Currently, the city council still intends to take the rec center bond issue to the voters sometime in the future. If that was approved, that would mean taxpayers would have another 12-14 cents added to their property tax bill. I would love for Kyle to have a rec center one day, but I don’t think we can afford to build one at this time, especially with all the other pressing needs of our city and our current debt load.
Michelle Lopez: I do firmly believe that they are three very important projects for Kyle’s future. We’ve always had an understanding as council that we would bring the rec center to citizens as a vote, and I believe we still need to do that. I also believe that the library and police department are existing services which need to be enhanced to keep up with our city’s demands. So I would want to continue looking at our budget and determine how we can do that in the next few years.
SMLN: What kind of incentives, if any, do you think Kyle should offer to developers?
Michelle Lopez: I believe that it’s going to be based on the kind of projects that we’re dealing with. For example, we’ve used sales tax incentives. But it may be partnerships in developing perhaps raw land, which might be a development of a research or industrial park. I think we need to weigh the return on investment for our community versus the type of incentive that we would consider as a city.
Lucy Johnson: I think keeping property taxes low is one of the best incentives for attracting businesses to Kyle. Large national or state chains are going to come here because Kyle has the population to support them. We should make Kyle as attractive as possible for businesses looking for new locations, but offering millions of dollars in incentives is just another burden to the people who already live here that we don’t need right now. I am confident that we can continue to attract new businesses and grow our current businesses without burdening our taxpayers with millions of dollars in cash and tax breaks to national companies.
SMLN: What do you feel is an appropriate debt level for Kyle to have, and what do you think should be the highest tax rate for the city in the next few years?
Lucy Johnson: I would like to keep our tax rate as low as we responsibly can. I think councilmembers or other individuals who have set goals of a specific number for a tax rate may be shortsighted. If you set a maximum tax rate of say, 52 cents, staff will come back with a budget that has a tax rate of 51.99 cents. We have to look at each budget individually, and try to cut projects and expenditures that are not essential.
Currently, our debt payments take up the majority of our city property taxes each year. This needs to change. The first thing that we can do is to stop creating new debt, and we do that by putting all non-essential capital projects on hold, and also by waiting to see an increase in city revenues and sales taxes before we allow ourselves to increase spending.
Michelle Lopez: I think we need to determine a debt level where we can continue to provide some affordable living opportunities for families who are here or who are moving here. I think the ratio is one that we are reviewing right now through the debt management policy, and I think until we can actually analyze what we currently owe, I’d like for us to determine our current ratio and determine from there where we should stand. While we know that taxes have been as high as 51 cents, I don’t know that we need to get there in the next few years. But I still want to try to weigh what the return on investment is for the projects that need to happen in our community and continue to listen to what citizens feel are also important projects, and still maintain an affordable community for families who are here and who will be moving here.Email | Print