Four candidates are seeking election to three seats (two year terms) on the Village of Salado Board of Aldermen: Rodney W. Bell, John Cole, Dr. Amber Preston-Dankert and Linda Reynolds.
Salado Village Voice posed the following questions to them and their answers follow. Introduction of the candidates and answers to previous questions can be found in the April 11 and April 18 editions and at saladovillagevoice.com.
Question 1: Are there areas of the budget you would work to see cut? How and why would you cut these areas? (200 words)
Question 2: Are there areas of the budget you would work to increase? How and why would you increase these areas? (200 words)
Question 3: What will you suggest/support to reduce the financial burden of the rollout of the sewer system for the properties that are being forced to tie in and decommission existing systems and pay impact fees? What about the financial burden on property owners who are not included in the rollout of the original sewer system? (200 words)
Question 4: What will be the top priority in your mind as an alderman, if you are elected? What will you support/suggest in this area? (200 words)
Rodney W. Bell
Question 1: At this time, I do not see any Maintenance and Operation expenses that would be cut. However, that is an area that is reviewed during the budget process each year. I will be evaluating the budget and will question nonessential expenses. As debt is restructured, there will be changes to the Interest and Sinking budget. Details on this are outlined further in question 3 below.
Question 2: Street maintenance is an area that requires attention. The plan needs to be a rolling 5 year plan and follow through on the recent street study that was just completed. Streets are vital to the economic and overall reputation of our village. Other areas that always require attention will be health and safety. Ensuring our first responders have the tools needed for their work should be funded appropriately.
Question 3: My primary focus will be on restructuring the debt of the village and work to reduce or eliminate the tax rates implemented to build the wastewater treatment system. As I proposed at the Chamber Candidate Forum, the majority of the Interest & Sinking tax rate is allocated to the wastewater project. This debt needs to be moved to a revenue bond and eliminate the general obligation bond. This will eliminate a significant tax burden off of those not using the system. In addition, it will eliminate businesses from the “double taxation” created by this structure. Businesses can now use this expense to pay for the usage fees of the system. This restructure of debt will be done by working with the village financial advisor, the village manager, and fellow alderman to develop a revenue bond to achieve this objective.
Question 4: As stated in question 3, my primary focus will be on restructuring the debt of the village and work to reduce or eliminate the tax rates implemented to build the wastewater treatment system.
Second priority is reviewing and updating the 5 year vision of our village with an emphasis on streets and public safety. Any plan in this vision process should be a “rolling” plan to ensure continued success or make appropriate changes.
Third priority is the support we provide to tourism and attracting visitors to our community. Our best support of existing businesses is to provide an environment that allows them to be successful. Success of existing businesses is only achieved if we eliminate unnecessary taxation, maintain infrastructure, and attract visitors.
Question 1 & 2: Regarding questions 1 and 2, my answers are synonymous. The remainder of the FY 2019 budgeted expenditures and the possibly the FY 2020 budgeted expenditures may go through periods of realization and fluctuation due to several variables in play; the new waste water system forecasted revenues and operating costs may vary over the next several months as the system comes on-line during the customer connection period and while fees are being finalized, we have new development along Royal Street/Smith Buff Road and Williams Road that will generate new revenues over a period of time, the FY 2019 budget has a projected tax revenue increase of 19.8%, the village soon will or has given up the cost burden of the maintaining Stage Coach septic system, we have the upcoming TEXDOT main street improvement project with UNKNOWN REVENUE IMPACT. With all these changes and uncertainties, it may be in error to determine increases or decreases to any budget. At times extra caution needs to be observed, these decisions may be better addressed during the FY 2020 budget development process when we know more.
Question 3: Properties that are mandated to connect to the new waste water system; IF FINANCIALLY FEASIBLE I would support a “payment in full over time plan” regarding the connection and impact fees, but all designated properties must connect as scheduled and begin usage to provide some revenue that will better support the payment plan. Regarding existing septic system decommissioning; I would support a plan that mandates all existing septic systems to be sealed off pumped dry and inspected. After which the property owner can work the village to come to an agreement that satisfies all parties involved and meets any and all environmental requirements as far as any follow in actions.
Assuming part 2 of this question refers to property owners that are not obligated to connect but have experienced a tax increase related to the new waste water system. The village voted for the system and we must respect that decision. I would support a plan that offers some type of calculated rebate only after the new waste water system begins to show a solid profit.
Question 4: My number one priority will be; apply due diligence to any and all actions, measures, resolution, or proposed change that comes before the BOA. To support this priority, build the platform that ensures a solid and sensible decision will be ascertained. During the BOA publics meetings discuss in-detail the following:
• What is the rational that drives this action?
• What are the projected costs?
• What are the projected returns on investment?
• Have all financial studies been validated?
• What are the short and long-term effects?
• Does it support the Comprehensive Plan?
• What are the impacts to citizens and our local businesses?
• Is it in the best interest of the community?
• If a tax increase is inevitable, what are the alternatives and have they been fully explored?
Dr. Amber Preston-Dankert
Question 1: The first area to be criticized most often by Saladoans is employee salaries. Like everyone, I am concerned that some salaries may be skewed from other villages our size. That said, this is not something that is ethically, and most likely legally, negotiable at this time. Should an employee leave, that is the time where we can re-analyze salary. Other than a few areas where small adjustments should be made (phones, technology, etc.), there is not a lot of “fat” in the budget. Most of the cost is in the payoff of the sewer system, and once that debt is retired, our taxes should be much lower. I am interested in understanding some of the areas of the budget that are called “other” expenses. I am not sure that those numbers are high, but they should be better defined to make the budget more transparent.
Question 2: In a perfect world, street improvements would be made, the gateway signs would be completed, park maintenance and improvements would be more prevalent, and beautification projects would be added, just to name a few. However, those improvements come with a price tag, and I have a very hard time believing that increasing taxes is in the best interest of the Village right now. To me, the best plan should include leaving the current tax rate and budget alone (except for some minor tweaks), and focus on applying for grants that would supplement the budget without breaking the bank. These opportunities are out there, we just have to look!
Question 3: The elephant in the room is: the sewer was voted on, and passed, to benefit Main Street businesses, and increase business on the west side of I-35. Everyone has known, and should have been preparing, for this day to happen. That said, no one ever expected that the costs would be as high as they are. That is a problem. The costs were unknown, and were speculated to be lower, not based on fact, but on the opinion of the administration at that time. Now, we all are feeling the burden, but those who will connect have an even larger burden to bear. I would not have been in favor of deferring connections for systems under a specific age, and would have preferred negotiating the connection, impact, and decommissioning costs. Hopefully, pay-out plans and researching more affordable decommissioning options will benefit property owners now. That said, most properties who will connect will, over time, recuperate these costs – especially businesses and new-built homes. Those who are paying for the sewer and not receiving services cannot be expected to also help pay for the other costs associated with connecting to the sewer.
Question 4: As an elected official, we should never come into office with an agenda. My agenda is a direct result of the opinions and suggestions of the Village residents. As aldermen, we must listen to every person without having a pre-determined agenda. We cannot act on every issue, but we must be willing to bring the issues to the forefront for thoughtful discussion and consideration. We are voted in to office to represent, and stand up for, the Village residents. Our voters trust that we will support them and let their voices be heard. I have heard complaints regarding streets (particularly Salado Plaza Drive), the gateway signs, safety, sewer costs, and many other issues. We must trust that the Village residents will bring forth great ideas, and then we budget for those accordingly the following year. Bottom line: we are here to honor the wishes and desires of those who call Salado home.
1. There are no specific areas I would cut, and I would NOT cut any of the Volunteer Fire Department’s $40,000.
Last year, Don Ferguson presented a budget to the Mayor and the Mayor presented it to the aldermen. I do not recall many meetings or discussions.
The budget was increased just UNDER the roll back allowance which has happened for at least five years.
Don’s salary was increased on May 10th, 2018 by 10% (approximately $10,000) on a motion from Andy Jackson retroactive to May 1, 2018.
I believe just last week the BOA increased Don’s salary again by 5.75% on a motion from Frank Coachman.
Don Ferguson is a highly paid village manager with two highly paid staff members for 2,300 residents in a two mile long village.
I feel certain he is capable of following the directions of the board of aldermen, if that body agrees to require a 10% across the board roll back.
The BOA needs to stop wasting money on development schemes that only serve people who do not live in the village. The BOA must serve the financial concerns of Village residents and taxpayers.
2. The BOA needs to work with Commissioner Whitson to assist us with street work and animal control. On our tax bills, we pay for county services and a separate bill for roads. We have highly traveled roads by county residents, so we must expect help.
Some problems can be easily and inexpensively fixed to improve the quality of life in the village.
For instance, several people have asked me why the corner at Baines and 2268 is so dark. There must be some inexpensive road reflectors the village could set in the road.
Life in this Village is pretty idyllic. I am interested in focusing on SAFETY and quality of life.
Are we prepared for natural disasters? Much of the preparation for Floods, Fires or Violent Storms can come from Federal and State tax dollars.
We are a rural community and our village manager, Don Ferguson, our county commissioner, Bobby Whitson, and CTCOG leader, Jim REED need to step up with support. Our tax dollars are sent to these gentlemen. I feel certain the village can count on their cooperation and guidance to maintain the safety and quality of life Salado has always enjoyed.
3. Mayor pro-tem Fred Brown attempted to provide some relief for those who might find the finances an enormous burden, but the other Aldermen said, NO!
Tim Fleischer argued that impact fees should be for NEW Development, not all the businesses that have supported this village with sales taxes for many years. The aldermen ignored the logic of his argument.
Then Alderman Coachman slipped in a last minute deal for some wealthy businesses along the mandatory lines, and 8 year old systems get relief for a bit, even if they may be polluting the creek.
Can a new BOA change anything the previous BOA took five years creating? Of course, ordinances can always be rewritten. Some of the threats about noncompliance seem overkill.
Let’s allow our Village manager some space to negotiate.
Let’s face the facts that without Sanctuary Buildout, and not including Brookshires, all of Salado Plaza drive, Ace Hardware mall, the Library, the two already in existence hotels, Cowboys, Country Store, Sonic, Village Liquors or Salado ISD …..running a local WWTP was always financially questionable.
Ordinances can be changed, but signed contracts are another matter.
4. My Top Priority will be to communicate with every resident and find out what they want for their neighborhood and what they want to see developed in any empty land near their neighborhood.
I’m resentful of non-residents and outside developers trying to control the Village.
My focus for the entire village is SAFETY and QUALITY OF LIFE. Most residents want to live in an attractive and secure community with great schools.
We want to live where neighbor’s wave, take care of their pets, stay aware of their children’s behavior, and try to avoid infringing on the peace and quiet of nearby neighbor’s.