By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
BUDA – With Place 1 Councilmember Bobby Lane running for mayor in today’s election against Place 2 Councilmember Hutch White, those two spots are up for grabs.
Well, Place 1 is up for grabs. Place 2 is decided, with Jardine’s Chief Financial Officer Kelly Allen running unopposed.
Place 1 is a contest between two Buda citizens with experience on the city’s planning and zoning commission. Gerry O’Brien is on the commission at this moment, while Ron Fletcher formerly served as the commission chair. Fletcher teaches government at Austin Community College, while O’Brien is a retired pharmacist.
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).
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?
Fletcher: Old town Buda is kind of the crown jewel that has made this the community that so many of us want to live in and the downtown charette, I thought, was an important start for looking at the inter-related issues to include the vacant storefronts and the absentee landlords and the traffic and the future expansion of the commercial corridor. I think the first thing we need to do is get the staff to get the charette off the back burner and take some action on it. All we’ve seen so far are bits of pieces that have surfaced as amendments to the UDC, like the re-zoning of the residential areas of old town Buda from high density residential to medium density residential.
As far as commercial development, I think the city needs to engage the absentee landlords who have let their properties run down and, if necessary, we should bring the full power of the city to fix up their properties. Perhaps, we should consider either grants or low-interest loans to people who can’t afford to do the things that are required for their properties. But for those who just absolutely refuse to do anything, I think the city should use all the city’s powers to compel them to bring their properties back into line.
O’Brien: The downtown has been impacted quite a bit and I think what they need is probably a task force to review the zoning ordinances with the city overlay districts along with the UDC and promote the economic development along I-35 and major arterials, but to keep the old town Buda in its historical form. The task force would work with different representatives from planning and zoning and EDC and historical and economic developments boards and plan for the parks and businesses and keep the old town vital. There’s also something called a COG (Council of Governments), which is a group that will help leverage state and local funds to match federal and private funds to help develop the downtown area. We need to encourage the businesses to have more regular hours and reduce the truck traffic through downtown Buda.
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 Lifeschultz? And, B: What would be your timeline for completion?
Fletcher: It looks to me like the city has made a lot of progress on the drainage plans for that part of the city. I know one of the big hold-ups was the industrial property on the north side of Goforth and the long, drug-out battle that we had with that property owner about what’s going to happen with his property. I think the city council could have worked to get that done in a more timely way. It’s definitely time to finish up that project. There’s other places in Buda that need to have drainage work done and we need to move on and get them on the list of priorities.
O’Brien: From what I can see, there seems to be work going on with Goforth and Lifeschultz drainage. Now, how much money’s involved, I don’t know, and how long that will take. So, I really don’t know about the final plans are on that and what the timeline for completion might be. But, certainly, the city council should encourage moving that up.
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?
Fletcher: Back in 2001, when we first began to work on the comprehensive plan, the problem Buda had was that we just didn’t have very much parkland. Since then, the problem has become one of having more parkland than we can develop or maintain. Anything we can do to participate with the county in improving the parks that we already have or any that would be coming to the city in the near future would be beneficial for the citizens. As far what our fair share should be, hopefully we got some money from the developers for our share of the developing of the parkland, but if not, I think we should take our fair share.
O’Brien: Buda does have a very nice amount of parkland, especially the old city parks and Stagecoach Park and we have that new sportsplex not at FM 967 and FM 1626, too. I would try and get as much of the $30 million bond for parks as we can do from the county and I don’t know about the match funding, if that’s part of the criteria. To insure the fair share of the funding, we do have the lower tax rate on the homes, so there is room there to raise taxes very slightly, if necessary, though I know most people do not want their taxes raised.
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?
Fletcher: I was one of the folks who thought that this library was way too big for little, bitty Buda when it was initially built, and if it hadn’t been built primarily with private funds, I probably would have been at the council complaining about using my taxpayer dollars to build that big, old library. But it’s obviously too small for Buda today. A good part of the problem is that the people who use this library don’t live in Buda and they don’t pay any taxes towards supporting the library. We definitely need to expand or, probably, relocate the library. I don’t know what the best answer would be to the relocation, but I think, to support the revitalization of old town Buda, it definitely needs to be in old town Buda.
As to how do we pay for it, I think we need to look into the state law to see if we can’t charge these non-resident users a users’ fee and, if we can’t do that, perhaps we can expand our city limit signs so they can start paying city taxes for the library as well as the other city services. The problem is only going to get a lot worse before it begins to get better because as the Sunfield MUDs are developed, we’re going to have literally tens of thousands of people with a Buda addresses that won’t be paying any Buda taxes for many years, because the city can’t afford to annex the MUDs before they pay off their bonds.
O’Brien: I’m not sure how long the plans have been, but I know we’ve been here and the public library is one of the most important civic structures downtown and I realize it does need relocating. If it’s not possible to actually do it in the city, then somewhere nearby in the area. This building could be used to enlarge the city hall or the police department, so there should be some money coming from this building initially. And there is more tax funding from the county, I believe, to support the library.
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?
Fletcher: This is probably going to be the most important decision that the new city council is going to make. Being involved in the writing of the home charter, we created a very strong and independent city manager position. We need to find an individual who is up to filling big shoes. In particular, this person needs to be not just a good manager, but a good leader who can lead by example. As far as public input, I’m not satisfied to date with the amount of input the public has had into the process. They’ve already got the job description and pamphlet, the headhunter is going out and beating the bushes trying to find people that are interested in filling the job and, even as a candidate for city council, I don’t have any idea what that pamphlet says. I think we definitely need to expand the public input into the selection process.
O’Brien: We need a city manager who plans to stay here a while and become involved in our community. In other words, having a real commitment to it. As far as the public input to the selection, I believe they had the public input before, but we really need to advertise to get a city manager and also get the public more involved in the selection process, get them more opportunities for meetings with candidates. Then again, it’s sometimes hard to pull the citizens out to get involved when they don’t want to. Having the task force get together and work towards these goals, I think, would be a good way to solve some of these problems.Email | Print