On Nov. 3, Village of Salado voters will elect two new aldermen to two-year terms on the Board of Aldermen. Running for the Board of Aldermen are Paul Cox, Jason Howard and Donald Krause. Michael Coggin, current Mayor Pro Tem, will be elected as Mayor as he faces no opposition in his election.
Early voting continues through Oct. 30. There are several early voting locations in Bell County. On election day, Bell County registered voters may vote at any Bell County polling location, not just their home precinct. Precinct 203 voting will be at the Salado Church of Christ Activity Center, 217 Church St. in Salado.
We posed the following questions to the candidates for this issue:
Question 1: One of the first subjects for discussion for the new Board of Aldermen will be the pilot project for placement of five license plate cameras in the Village of Salado. What is your opinion on this proposal? (150 words)
Question 2: The Village of Salado voted to pursue a Texas Parks and Wildlife matching grant for construction of an all abilities playground at Pace Park, taking out the old playground equipment. At this time, about $60,000 in private funds have been raised. If the Village does NOT qualify for the matching grant, will you support the Village funding the remaining portion of the overall $200,000 cost for the proposed playground? Why or why not? (200 words)
Question 3: TXDOT has approached the Village of Salado wanting to turn over ownership of Main Street to the Village. This would include regulations as well as maintenance. Would you support this? Why or why not? (200 words)
Question 4: Would you support a bond issue for major repair and reconstruction of the Village roads? Why or why not? (150 words)
Question 5: If the proposed Emergency Services District election passes, would you support cutting the $50,000 Village contract for services once the district is up and running and has a tax base? Why or why not? If you support cutting that contract, would you support lowering the property tax rate or putting the $50,000 into a different Village department and if so, which department or program? (150 words)
Question 6: If the proposed ESD fails, would you support increasing the contract with the Salado VFD? Why or why not? If so, how much and how would you fund that increase? (150 words)
Question 1: The addition of a license plate camera system will be an important crime fighting tool for our police force. The BoA will discuss this very subject at a workshop in November.
Much of our crime (car theft and burglary) occurs at night. These cameras will be installed at major entrances and exits in our Village. The license plate data can be analyzed to determine which vehicles drive through our streets, especially between 1-5 am. With only one officer on duty, this tool can help identify stolen vehicles or vehicles suspected of involvement in criminal activity. Contrary to popular belief, this system is not designed to enforce traffic laws or spy on our citizens. Larger cities in Texas have used similar cameras for years.
Come participate in the November workshop and learn more!
Question 2: The all abilities playground at Pace Park is a great idea. I would not favor the Village government funding the lion’s share of the cost. The funds needed could be raised through grants, donations from local and regional businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals.
While the playground is important, the other facilities (pavilion, restrooms, parking and park grounds) need to be refurbished as well.
Question 3: I am in favor of Salado’s ownership of Main Street. It does not make sense in a growing community like Salado to not control the destiny of our own major shopping/business/historic roadway. We should not be at the mercy of TXDOT. We can make our own rules for parking, driveways, parades and road closures for special events.
The road and sidewalks are new. The paving is a new type that should be good for 8-10 years (or more). I believe growth will more than pay for any added maintenance costs down the road. Growing pains are a good thing!
Question 4: Our most heavily traveled roads are beyond repair. Rebuilding of these critical traffic arteries are the best, most cost effective solution. The initial cost is considerably higher but the roads will stand up to the increasing traffic demands as growth comes to our Village for many years. The category of critical arteries includes Mill Creek Dr., Salado Plaza Dr. and Royal Street. Less traveled roads will need varying degrees of repair that will ensure long term serviceability. Maintenance of roads should be a project most Villagers should support. Great roads stabilize and help increase property value throughout our Village.
A short term bond might be a good solution for solving our road maintenance problems for many years into the future. New development and higher tax revenue will help pay a substantial portion of the debt.
We currently pay $50,000 per year to the Salado VFD. If the Emergency Services District is approved (and I hope it is), that $50,000 will be available to help pay the bond off even earlier. That extra revenue will also help pay for other needs like tree maintenance, park maintenance, etc.
Question 5: The $50,000 contract with the Salado VFD should be cut. The new taxing ESD authority will be well funded. As I understand it, the initial proposed budget will be around $.05 per $100 valuation. This equates to $150/year for a valuation of $300,000. The maximum rate, set by the State, is capped at $.10 per $100 valuation. This initial budget will increase with population growth but so will tax revenue for the ESD. I expect that the rate actually paid will slowly increase over several years. Remember, the maximum allowed rate can never exceed $.10. The ESD will give us better response time for medical, fire and rescue emergencies. This is a small price to pay for the extended benefits we will receive. The Village tax rate is already the lowest in Bell County. As I said in my answer to Question 4, the $50,000 can be redirected for other Village needs.
Question 6: If the ESD fails, our contract should be good the way it is. The current contract is fairly new. The $50,000/year is an increase from the previous contract amount. Salado VFD will continue to function as it has in the past. The fundraising events will continue. Bell County also helps fund our VFD. I believe our Salado VFD does an excellent job of keeping our community safe.
Question 1: If the public supports the pilot program and after the 30 day trial period for the program has taken place, I would want the following information and questions answered in order to make a decision: 1) A report from the Village Administrator and Police Chief that demonstrates the effectiveness of this system to include all errors. 2) If the system is deployed, will the Village utilize the Flock Safety software option that allows for the creation of the “SafeList” that records the license plates of non-residents only? 3) Who will have “admin rights”? 4) With the system having a limitation of only 75 ft for photos, how will this effect the deployment of the system in the Village? (There was no technical information per the BOA agenda about the equipment. The system information stated above was found on www.flocksafety.com)
Question 2: If the Village does not qualify for the grant, then we should first have a workshop and decide as a community what future steps should be taken. Per the Village Committee application, we have 11 committees. None of those listed include an official Fundraising Committee. Such a committee would be useful in helping to fund not only this project but others down the road as well. As a town, we should think outside of the box for funding and not turn to increased taxation on citizens every time an issue arises.
Question 3: The Village already has infrastructure that is currently in need of reparation. What benefit is it to our residents and the Village to take ownership of Main Street and the additional incurred cost of maintaining it? Before making such a decision, we should consult a TXDOT engineering study, paying particular attention to the projected cost of maintaining Main Street. Additionally, we should obtain an estimate for the Main Street bridge replacement cost that meets State and Federal requirements. I’m confident that cost to benefit ratio is not in our favor.
Question 4: I would support the Village by providing transparent information to the tax payers and letting the voters decide. I touched on this in last week’s questions about the street department and the current condition of our roads. We need to know the scope of work and the cost so that this information can be presented to our voters
Question 5: Anytime the government can give money back to the tax payer, it should. A public workshop to hear the recommendations from the tax payer should be used to decide if the people want to see that funding redirected to a different department or if they would prefer to have their property tax rate reduced.
Question 6: The VFD is an important part of this village and I would support funding a stipend or annual bonuses to the VFD if possible. I would consider this before approving pay increases to Village staff members that support a population of 2,351 (2018) yet make more than $60,000 per year, when the VFD supports that same population plus the ETJ and receives a paycheck of $0 per year.
Question 1: I know little about the rationale behind this project. It would be useful to understand the reasoning and advantages that are expected if cameras are installed. In addition, I would like to see how the cameras have helped other communities deal with crime problems. Further, given the low crime rate in Salado, I would question whether the very short test period, as proposed, would be sufficient to establish the benefit to our Village.
Question 2. Whether the Village should spend $140,000 for playground facilities is clearly a question of priorities since Salado does not, at this time, have sufficient funds available, nor will the Village have this magnitude of surplus any time in the foreseeable future. No one can argue that an all-abilities playground would benefit a certain segment of Salado’s population (along with others in the surrounding areas). Whether serving that segment is a preferable to, say, for instance, repairing roads is a matter of what is more important to the Village’s longer-term financial health and “livability”. Given my stated priorities above, my preference would be to fix the roads.
Question 3: It was my impression that part of the deal for TXDOT to redo our Main Street was our acceptance of future maintenance and regulation of the street. If this impression is not accurate, before taking a position on whether the Village would voluntarily take responsibility for Main Street, I would like to get an estimate of the costs that are projected to be incurred over time. I would also like to find out how well Bell County or TXDOT (whichever entity is responsible) might respond to future needs for maintenance based on how well these entities have responded in the past.
Question 4: The latest estimate I have heard for the cost of a major repair and reconstruction project is about $5,000,000. A bond issue of this magnitude would seriously increase property taxes for Village residents. Obviously, especially at this point in time, increasing property taxes would be unpopular, if not impossible to get approved. It seems to me that the Village must continue the approach of fixing the most egregious road issues out of the annual budget. If revenues can be increased through effective management of the Main Street corridor and other development projects, a bond issue which does not require an increase in property taxes might be considered.
Question 5: I would support providing Salado residents with the most effective fire and EMS available, without wasting funds on unnecessary items. Maintaining a high quality of life in the Village depends upon it. That being said, we need to see exactly what happens with the ESD vote and, at the same time, look closely at proposed budgets for services. As to whether I would support reducing property taxes if we could save $50,000 from the budget, the answer is no; I would repair the roads with that money.
Question 6: As I stated in the last question, I would support providing Salado residents with the most effective fire and EMS available, without wasting funds on unnecessary items. Right now, to my knowledge, there is little or no room in the Village budget for any increase in support for the Salado VFD. The way out of the budget constraints is to raise sales tax revenues by encouraging more people to visit Salado and spend their money. Encouraging people to come to the Village requires planning and execution of ideas that inspire interest in the Village. Effective village leadership would go a long way toward making this happen.