City Council candidates address Belton issues
Tuesday, 08 May 2012 by Keith Bahlmann
During this year's elections, three spots are up for election on the Belton City Council.
The positions are for mayor and two seats on the council. Mayor Jim Covington is running once again and is unopposed. The other two positions are incumbents Marion Grayson (Mayor Pro-Tem) and John Agan. Also running for one of the two council seats is candidate Michael Ware.
The position of Mayor was first elected in May 2006 in accordance with the new City Charter adopted in May 2005. The City Council consists of seven members, including the mayor. All positions are "at large," and have a two-year term, including the position of mayor.
Recently, the Belton Journal provided each candidate with a questionnaire, which included questions concerning the future of Belton and their past experiences.
Early voting for the 2012 election begins with early voting April 30-May 8. Election day is May 12. For more information about the elections, contact the City Clerk's office at (254) 933-5817.
Grayson has been a member of the Belton community since 1972. Agan has been a member of the community since 1992 and Ware has been a member of the community since 1997.
Below are each candidates answers to the questions posed to them.
What experiences will help you serve as a member of the Belton City Council?
Marion Grayson: As a long-time resident of Belton, and a business person, I understand the importance of community in my life. That's why I've played an active role in the Belton community throughout my adulthood. I've served on the Chamber board, including the Tourism (CVB) Committee, because I know how important tourism dollars are to communities in order to bring "new money" to our city.
I've also been the council representative on the KTMPO committee that ensures that our area gets the state/federal funding necessary for transportation in our area; which is extremely important with Belton being central to IH35 & Hwy 190, and many state roads.
I'm also serving as the Region IX representative on the Texas Municipal League in Austin. The collaboration of city representatives across the state of Texas to benefit cities, and in turn the citizenry, is invaluable. TML has been extrememly instrumental in preventing legislation that can be harmful to cities, and in turn to our tax paying citizens.
John Agan: I have spent the last 30 years in the banking industry after spending two years with a CPA firm upon graduation from Abilene Christian University with a BBA in Accounting. I have been actively involved in the Belton business community since 1990, and have now been on the Belton City Council since 2006. I have held leadership positions with the City of Belton's Planning and Zoning Commission and its Texas Dormitory Finance Authority, Central Texas Housing Consortium, Belton Area Chamber of Commerce, Belton Christian Youth Center, Belton Education Enrichment Foundation, United Way of Central Texas, and Belton Lions Club. These leadership positions have given me an excellent perspective and understanding of what makes organizations successful, and how they must be led by positive individuals who can work with others, internally and externally, to reach established goals. Effective leaders know how to establish mutually beneficial partnerships, and build and maintain an organization's financial strength. After serving on City Council the last six years, I have seen that municipal government needs this same type of leadership to be successful. As for Belton, I believe strong and effective leadership is in place.
Michael Ware: My experiences that will help me serve as a member of the Belton City Council come from my fulltime employment where customer satisfaction, hard work, and quality work are a priority.
Working with Belton parents, families, and youth is where my experience is also helpful. I understand people, their needs and challenges. I am continually seeking solutions, common ground and setting realistic and positive goals to problems. It is my people-skills that I am strongest.
In your opinion, what are the biggest concerns for the City of Belton in the next five years?
MG: In the next five years my biggest concern is the growth. With the positive side of that is the challenges. There is infrastructure (roads, water, sewer) that can cost money on the front side before the growth comes along to help pay for it. But, if you don't do it, then you're playing catch up, and that ends up costing more money in the long run. Our City has been very successful in the past getting federal and state grants to assist in some of those needs, but as that money dries up, it has become more and more difficult to obtain due to the competition for the available dollars.
We're also the smallest of the large cities in our county, and with that comes salary competitions. We have a smaller tax base than Temple or Killeen, but we must compete with those cities for qualified police, fire, and professional staff needed to maintain services in our city.
JA: What I consider to be the biggest concerns for Belton over the next five years are the same as the ones existing when I ran for office six years ago: 1) Managing growth, because the city is going to grow, so we can either manage it well, or manage it poorly, 2) keeping the city safe and family-friendly, which will be a bigger challenge as Belton gets bigger, and 3) maintaining the city's strong, stable and healthy financial condition, without which, little, if anything, positive and good can be done.
MW: To identify the "biggest concerns" for Belton is broad because several issues exist. Keeping taxes low and responsible growth are top priorities.
But, there are also other items that are important to taxpayers.
Citizens of Belton need representation on the city council that will encourage funds be directed toward maintaining infrastructure as a whole. Taxpayer funds should be distributed and used for the benefit of all taxpayers. Growth and expansion of the city should be a priority but not at all costs or the expense of allowing infrastructure to deteriorate and remain unsafe. All taxpayers pay for quality service and improvements in areas that are blighted and not maintained; taxpayers in those areas should see services especially if streets, sidewalks and drainage pose a danger and property damage.
Annexed areas of the city should not be annexed solely for collection of tax.
Belton needs to bring more manufacturing and industry to the business and industrial parks that create great job opportunities that provide health and other benefits to employees. These jobs not only keep taxes low, it prevents locals having to go outside of the city for employment.
Belton needs to work harder to bring more hotels in Belton. We often hear ideas the city is implementing or working on for tourism, but where are the tourists staying? They are staying outside of the city and that's a missed opportunity for dollars that could stay in Belton. With the 4th of July and Expo Center, Belton is missing out on the fruits of providing lodging for tourists.
In your opinion, what is the importance of keeping Belton's historic structures intact?
MG: As someone that is extremely interested in history, I have a soft spot in my heart for historical treasures. Belton is blessed with so much history, and historic architecture and I think it's very important that we protect what gives Belton our unique identity.
With that said, I also think that a structure should have a "story" in order to make it "historic". For instance, does that structure have architectural significance, or did someone or something famous happen there. Is the structure salvageable. Who owns the structure, and are they willing to put in the dollars to save it or donate it? There is a fine line that government should interfere with personal rights, and I think each structure should be evaluated to see importance.
I also realize that the reason you're asking this question is because of the recent news about the UMHB growth and how that growth affects the older frame structures around the college. I, too, had trepidation about the razing of many of those structures, but then I also had to evaluate those structures as I mentioned above. That, and the fact that UMHB is one of the oldest structures in that area, and historic in their own right. Growth is never easy, and this situation highlights that very point.
JA: I really appreciate this question being asked about the importance of keeping the city's historical structures intact, and I am glad for the opportunity to express my thoughts on this issue. No doubt, Belton's historic structures represent an extremely meaningful and desirable component of the overall attractiveness, character and charm of the city. And, as I have stated already, I certainly understand and appreciate the importance of planning and managing a growing incorporated city, but I am also sensitive to cases of "government over-reach" in an effort to do just that. That being said, I will continue to support and vote for reasonable solutions which I believe strike a balance between preservation of truly historical structures and that of honoring property owners' rights. Because of the understandable passion of many of our citizens on both sides of this issue, I believe it is my duty as a city leader to seek and support solutions that, in the end, are best for the City of Belton, overall, not only for today, but for years to come. That is what I have based my votes on regarding this issue thus far, and I commit to continue to do so as long as I remain on the city council.
MW: It is very important to keep historic structures intact. (i.e. The destruction of Tyler Elementary School and homes in the West Belton Residential Historical District),
These are clear examples of how easy a city can completely wipe out its rich history. Neighborhoods should not be transformed into parking lots. All options should be exhausted.
Vacant, unused, and underused real property brought back to life can be brought back as tax-generating assets for a community without losing Belton's history. The encouraged reinvestment in historic areas in and of itself revitalizes and revalues the nearby existing investment of both the public and private sector.
How do you plan to help Belton's growth (commercial and residential)?
MG: Private investment is what makes communities grow, and the role of the city is to insure that we have the environment and infrastructure for that growth. I think we have been blessed by some very forward thinking councils that got us to this point of growth, and it will be necessary for future councils to do the same.
We were recently chosen by CGI to be their newest location for their growing company and to bring 400 high paying jobs to Belton. They were very impressed with the quality of life we have here, and that played a huge part in their decision making. That was made possible by the city, the council, the BEDC, the school district, and the citizens. We are a community that can partner together for the betterment of Belton, and I think that's the most important thing we can do.
JA: I plan to help Belton's growth, both commercial and residential, by continuing to support a pro-business strategy and philosophy. Why? Because I believe the private sector, not the government, drives economic growth with capital from entrepreneurs and investors, and creates the most jobs that actually fuel that growth. I also believe the market best determines where businesses locate and what they produce and provide, not the government, and that our free enterprise and capitalistic system gives individuals the greatest opportunity to better themselves and, in turn, help their neighbors in need. So, I believe it is the city's role to "set the table" in order to attract the private sector's capital and jobs to Belton. To continue to do this, the city needs to have land, buildings, and lease space available, access to water and sewer, adequate street capacity and high quality of life elements in the form of a strong school system, access to college education, an available workforce, parks and recreation, restaurants, shopping and cultural venues. Belton will also need to continue to build strong ties with other governmental entities such as Bell County, TxDOT, and neighboring cities, in addition to strengthening its relationship with state and national elected officials.
MW: I will work with the council to enhance growth and embrace new ideas responsibly. This requires listening to citizens, study and seeking positive solutions. Responsible governing is not only physical growth but also economic growth. I will seek to support economic growth that creates new jobs, more businesses and actions that keep our children's future out of debt. As a city council member, I will focus and dedicate my service on priorities that promote growth responsibly.