In Ward 1, incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Mike Scotten is not seeking re-election.
One of the two candidates, attorney George P. “Trace” Morrill III, is a newcomer to city politics.
His opponent, Randy Forbes, spent 10 years on the council, representing Ward 1 before Scotten was elected to that position.
Each of the four candidates running this year was given a list of five questions drawn up by the editorial staff of the Bee-Picayune. Here are the questions and the answers from the candidates for the Ward 1 council position.
1. What do you believe is the most important issue facing the City Council at present?
Morrill: Obviously, water is the premier issue facing Beeville right now, but because I address that in response to question number 2, I shall address transparency in local government.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently said that “Open, transparent government is fundamental to our democratic system of government.
[The U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in Asgeirsson v. Abbott] ensures that the Texas Open Meetings Act will continue holding elected officials accountable to conduct the taxpayers’ business in the light of day and in a manner that informs the public about government decision-making, especially in times of crisis, such as we face currently with the water situation. Our elected officials owe it to us to act decisively and pro-actively, not reactionary. Our citizens are trusting and supportive of local government, and I believe they stand ready to step up and lend a hand, to be a part of the solution, if only given a chance. Local government should continue to strive to maintain open and frank public discussion prior to voting on all issues and especially on issues of great importance.
Forbes: Developing a truly independent supply of water for the City of Beeville, free from water usage limitations and ever-increasing costs for the water supplied.
2. Are you in favor of the $15.3 million city water bond issue proposal? Why?
Morrill: The practical issue here is not whether I am for or against the bond issue because the die is already cast. If elected, I will face one of two scenarios:
If the bond issue does pass, then the challenge for the City Council is to develop our water resources carefully, to use the competitive bid process to ensure Beeville obtains the best options available, to focus on maximizing the value of every dollar spent and to ensure that any lack of specificity does not result in cost overruns.
On the other hand, if the bond issue fails, the City Council must deal with the water issue. Working pro-actively to continue to improve and maintain the existing water (and wastewater) infrastructure and to efficiently bring supplemental water sources on line as economically as possible is how we will ensure the availability of fresh drinking water in the years and decades to come.
Forbes: I am in favor of developing an independent supply of water for the city using available groundwater from either the Jasper or Evangeline aquifers. I support borrowing the money needed to fund a project that will accomplish water independence. I DO NOT support the use of property tax money to repay the bond. We can produce at least 3 million gallons of water per day from these wells that we would not need to buy from Corpus Christi at 82 cents per 1,000 gallons.
3,000,000 x .82/1,000 = $2,460 per day,
$2,460.00 x 365 days per year = $897,900.00 savings every year.
That would be more than enough to completely fund the bond without any property tax increase, and we could produce more than the 3 million gallons used in this example.
3. Do you think using hotel and motel occupancy tax funds to help the Texas Mile pay for $50 million liability insurance coverage is a wise use of that money? Should the city work more closely with the Chamber of Commerce in using HOT funds to promote upcoming events?
Morrill: I do not believe it is a prudent use of HOT funds to spend a substantial amount ($40,000/per event) of those funds to purchase the Texas Mile’s insurance policy. There is, certainly, some level of support that is acceptable. But without knowing, at a minimum, (1) how much profit is made on the event by the private, for-profit entity that operates the Texas Mile (i.e., what is their need). (2) how many attendees actually spent at least one night in our local hotels and (3) whether owners of the local hotels (from whose businesses HOT funds are derived) support such a substantial expenditure. I am not sure how the city can fairly arrive at an amount.
Forbes: I support the use of HOT funds for the Texas Mile as a wonderful example of an event that qualifies for the city’s tourism money. I do question the need for a $50 million insurance policy.
The city needs to work closely with the Chamber of Commerce and any other organization that can bring a legitimate tourism event to the area.
4. Do you support the use of hotel and motel occupancy tax funds to pay debt service on water projects for the city?
Morrill: As it stands right now, the city is prevented by state law from using HOT funds in this manner, regardless of whether or not it is a good idea.
From the standpoint of long-term planning, we must remain aware that HOT funds are not guaranteed, and in fact, only in recent years have we experienced the dramatic upward trend in HOT funds received. Because this is not a guaranteed revenue stream, nor is it unrestricted in its use, it is, at best a contingency. Debt obligations should not be incurred based on contingencies.
Forbes: The first and most important use of our HOT funds is to help promote events that bring tourism to the area. Any money not used for that purpose should be utilized in areas that can legally be funded using HOT funds. Currently, we cannot use those funds for debt service, plus, as I stated earlier, the water project should save enough money to support repayment of the bond. If it does become legal to use the funds on debt service I would support the use of HOT funds before raising property taxes.
5. What are your strengths and why do you think voters should select you over your opponent in the upcoming election?
Morrill: My wife, Jessica, and I returned to our hometown on May 15, 2010. This is home to those we care about the most (our family). It is also a part of who we are, and we want our two boys to have the same experiences and opportunities that we did as children. I believe in Beeville, and I am committed to doing my part to ensure its continued growth and prosperity.
Over the last three years, I have sought out involvement in several local organizations dedicated to improving some aspect of our community. I view the opportunity to serve as a city councilman as another method by which I can support our town. However, I also recognize that, if elected, I will represent Ward 1, and I am committed to ensuring that the opinions and needs of the citizens of Ward 1, and the entire city, are fairly and effectively represented on the council.
Forbes: The 10 years that I represented Ward 1 as their city councilman. I can work with other entities (the county, the Chamber of Commerce and the BDA) to produce the best future possible.
The 10 years that I served on the City Council were, let’s call them lean years for the city, when we did not have the money that the city is blessed with today. I can bring financial common sense to the City Council. We cannot afford to waste the current financial windfall. I will use my accounting background to make sure that does not happen.