EDITOR’S NOTE: The San Marcos Mercury asked city council candidates to answer a few questions about their positions on issues. Today, Place 5 council member Ryan Thomason and his write-in challenger, Melissa Derrick, take our questions. Election Day is Nov. 6.
Occupation/employer: Administrative Assistant III at Texas State University; self-employed as a certified Life Coach
How long have you lived in San Marcos?
The better part of the last 26 years
Where in San Marcos do you live?
San Marcos Mercury: The city’s Capital Improvements Program has identified tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments that city officials say need to be made in coming years. Many of these projects are underway but every year many more are deferred for lack of money. Do you have anything concrete to offer in terms of special skills or ideas that will help the city identify more funding so streets and public works projects can be completed sooner?
Melissa Derrick: I have 17 years experience in monitoring large state and federal budgets, while following strict guidelines such as the city must follow. One of my primary responsibilities is to keep these budgets balanced and report to my Director the amount of funds we have to spend in each account vs. the amount we would like to spend. I have expertise in encumbering funds which are known costs that must be spent and analyzing what is left over for special projects that need to be pursued in order of urgency.
In addition I have experience in finding a grant that fits a need, filing grant proposals and monitoring them for compliance. I feel our city would qualify for existing “calls for proposals” from state or federal funding agencies that should be explored.
Mercury: You are sharing the ballot with a nonbinding referendum on whether the city should step in to buy property along the San Marcos River known locally as Cape’s Camp. At the same time, a developer is proposing an apartment complex that would include giving 20 acres of riverfront property to the city for a park. Do you think the city should buy Cape’s Camp and adjoining property upfront or take the developer’s donation offer?
Derrick: The best and highest use for this land is to preserve it in its entirety as the last pristine piece of river front property in San Marcos. In July of 2011 New Braunfels reported a population of 59,590 citizens and posses 196 acres of river park land for a total of 304 citizens per acre of river park land. San Marcos just recalculated its population at 66,000 and has 70 acres of river park area, leaving us with a total of 942 citizens per acre of river park land.
Park crowding has been a huge topic, and the only way to alleviate that crowding and prepare for the growth that is surely coming our way, is to increase parkland. Building dwellings in a flood plain is also short sighted. Adding a 1,000 bedroom apartment complex that will increase the adjacent neighborhood’s chance for flooding is putting too many citizens at risk.
Mercury: This year, the San Marcos City Council voted to outlaw the display or consumption of alcohol in any city-owned park, including those along the San Marcos River. The alcohol ban goes into effect Jan. 1. New park rules approved by the city council also increase littering fines and ban tobacco, Styrofoam and spear fishing. Did the council get the new rules package right? Please explain your answer.
Derrick: I fully support all the new rules in the package, with the exception of the “beer ban”. I agree with some of the council members who expressed distaste for that portion of the package. Many people celebrate holidays, birthdays, graduations and just a beautiful day at our river parks. For most, these celebrations include BBQ, a couple of cold beers, and swimming in the river. A San Marcos tradition was killed with this package, and I’m a firm believer in individual rights.
I believe there should be a place on the river for everyone. A place for families with no drinking and no smoking, and place for those who would like to have those personal freedoms while enjoying our beautiful river. Many are disappointed that Rio Vista is over-run with a large group of citizens who drink to the point of being dangerous or just obnoxious. With all the money spent on Rio Vista, I can certainly understand this, yet still there has to be a way for the parks to cater to everyone in the city and those that come to visit.
Mercury Will you vote to further restrict smoking in public places or put the measure on the ballot for a citywide vote?
Derrick: My answer would depend upon the restrictions. The smoking ban in children’s parks and athletic fields was an example of a good restriction. Telling a business owner what they can and can’t do in their own place of business is not something I could get behind. If a bar or restaurant owner wishes to allow their paying patrons to smoke inside, I believe that is entirely their decision to make and not the city’s. If enough patrons complain and ask for non-smoking, a business owner would need to provide that to keep their clientele and to stay in business.
Mercury: Under current law, the city can issue only about a dozen conditional use permits to operate a bar in the Central Business District. All the allotted permits were claimed years ago. The current system does allow entrepreneurs to serve alcohol at restaurants but the legal definition of “restaurant” has been in a constant state of flux under city law for the last decade. Do you support changes to the city’s CUP system for bars? If so, what changes do you suggest? If not, please explain why you think the current ordinance is good policy?
Derrick: I have no issue with the current CUP system for bars, but should it be challenged by small business owners who wish to open a bar, I’d be willing to entertain the idea. The fact is there are too many empty buildings downtown and small clothing and specialty stores are constantly going out of business. We don’t currently have the funding to increase our police and fire fighters proportionally with the growth of our population. If we are unable to reap the sales tax for our city’s budget that we so desperately need, then desperate times will call for desperate measures. Money will need to be made somewhere other than rezoning for apartment complexes.
Mercury: Do you support forgiving property tax over a set period as a way to encourage companies to relocate or expand in San Marcos? If so, what kind of companies do you support giving economic development incentives to?
Derrick: That would depend upon the circumstances. For instance, if Advance Micro Devices wanted to expand in San Marcos, I feel they have more than enough money to make this decision without economic incentive. However, if that is the only way we could get them here, then that’s what the city should do as it would mean jobs and business related taxes.
I am fully in favor of offering incentives to smaller companies that would really need the incentives to expand or move to San Marcos. I would be most interested in offering incentives to the start-up technology companies that will be recruited by the STAR Park. Since we are so close to the technology hub that is Austin, it would be to our advantage to help these businesses thrive as an incentive for other technology related industry to come to San Marcos.