Five candidates are vying for four seats on the Belton City Council. They are Cindy Black, John Holmes, Dan Kirkley, David K. Leigh and Craig Pearson.
Black did not respond to emails from the Herald with the questions.
QUESTION 1: What is the No. 1 thing you would like to accomplish in office and how will you do it?
HOLMES: Continue serving the community of Belton. Fiscal responsibility, good stewardship, and being an advocate for the taxpayer. No axe to grind or special agenda from me.
KIRKLEY: Because I grew up in Belton and watched our community flourish in both its fiscal soundness and community spirit, I believe the best contribution I can make to our community is to help manage its growth while maintaining our small town atmosphere. That is accomplished through constant communication with all our citizens and engaging them in issues they feel most important.
LEIGH: I’ve served multiple terms as a council member and several terms on Planning & Zoning, so I can’t say that there is a ‘single issue’ that needs to be addressed. If I am able to continue serving on the council, I am looking forward to the last few years of the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) that has allowed us to use tax revenue from new development to help fund things like the downtown façade grants, improvements in city parks, and improvements along Nolan Creek.
PEARSON: Belton is truly a special place and I love Belton! We must continue to protect the legacy and character of our great city while improving the quality of life and managing the growth that is upon us. We must accomplish this while keeping the city tax rate low and actively seeking to expand our tax base to reduce the burden on individual tax payers. Working within our planning and budgeting process we must keep our first responders and all our staff well led, trained, equipped, compensated and fully staffed to provide the protection and services our citizens deserve. That can only be accomplished through our strategic planning and budgeting process.
QUESTION 2: How will you communicate about city issues to Belton residents?
HOLMES: Friends, neighbors, taxpayers, and anyone who wants to discuss an issue, I am happy to speak with. For the majority of major issues we have multiple public forms, request public input, and often form an advisor committee.
KIRKLEY: Personal availability is the most significant form of addressing issues of our citizens. That availability occurs for our citizens through public hearings, attending council meetings, making phone calls and requesting personal meetings. Being on the Belton City Council should be an act of selfless service (the salary is $1.00 per year). Open communication and involving our neighbors is the key to our success.
LEIGH: This is kind of a loaded question. I grew up in the country with parents and grandparents who served on the school board or water boards and I was always taught to be involved and be informed. Therefore, I try to stay plugged in to the local community through my personal involvement with the Chamber, the Lion’s Club, through church and through my businesses. I also keep up with social networking tools like Facebook and NextDoor. But ultimately, it is a resident’s responsibility to be informed and no amount of work that I do can overcome that.
PEARSON: I think we are communicating effectively with our residents to the degree that they want to be informed and take the time to do so. The City of Belton website at www.beltontexas.gov is excellent and provides access to current and historic information. The agenda and minutes for every council, board and commission meeting are posted. At every council meeting there is an opportunity for public comment on non-agenda items. Many agenda items provide for a public hearing. One of the beautiful things about city government is that “we are us.” We shop together, attend sporting and social events together, and go to church together. We are available to those who wish to communicate with us.
QUESTION 3: What will you do to ensure the taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly?
HOLMES: I am a tax payer first and elected official second. I am very proud of every fiscal vote I have made, proud that I fought to keep fees low. I truly understand the budget process, composition of the tax rate, and impact of the effective tax rate. I understand we have had tax increases through higher property values and we must prepare for leaner days.
KIRKLEY: Each year, our staff goes through an arduous process preparing budget requests. In conjunction with our City Manager, we begin to look at those needs several months in advance, prioritizing the most critical needs as we progress through those requests. My personal goal, as we go through the process, is always to maintain our current tax structure at its base rate to the greatest degree possible.
LEIGH: I believe responsible spending equals stewardship. The best way to be a good steward of public funds is to be a good steward of my own funds and then treat the public funds as if it were my personal responsibility. The best way to spend responsibly is to have a plan, budget to the plan, and stick to the budget. I look forward to working with the city as we look at creative ways that we may be able to get our general fund to pay for projects as we go and stop relying on public debt for many projects.
PEARSON: The budget process in Belton is comprehensive, rigorous and transparent and the administration of the budget is impeccable. Every department head develops his budget based on his department’s defined goals and objectives derived from the current Strategic Plan. They vet their budgets through the staff and city manager and present them during scheduled council meetings open to the public. The Finance Department that administers the approved budgets has received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for 26 consecutive years, and the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 32 consecutive years, both awarded by the Government Finance Officers Association.
QUESTION 4: What would you envision for the Heritage Park expansion?
HOLMES: If you have attended an event in Heritage Park recently you know capacity is a serious issue. Fields, facilities, and especially parking are challenges for our city. Some opposed the purchase of additional park land, but they do not understand how the purchase was funded and the energy and effort taken to ensure our tax rate was not impacted. The City of Belton may never have another chance to have such a dramatic impact upon our parks system. We purchased 85 acres next to an existing park with river access, a former golf course, or blank slate to develop as our community sees fit.
KIRKLEY: I have great memories of Leon Valley Golf Course (Heritage Park Expansion). I was on the Belton High School golf team in the 1960s and that was our home course. I envision a community wide effort conducted by a volunteer committee to plan the development of the park to meet the desires of the community as a whole.
LEIGH: I see four key aspects for the new expansion: increased access to the Leon River, increased capacity for existing uses like soccer, better connectivity for vehicles and pedestrians, and expanded offerings such as mountain bike trails and disc golf.
PEARSON: It was a legacy opportunity to add the 85 acres to Heritage Park. The possibilities are amazing. With the beautiful green space and water rights from the adjoining Leon River to keep it green I am truly excited about what it will become and how it will be used by our citizens for generations to come. The Parks Board is reaching out to our citizens for their input and ideas. They already hosted a highly successful professional Frisbee golf tournament and I suspect Frisbee golf is here is stay. Water sports are important to our citizens so they will be included. Whatever is decided in the parks master plan I will insist that we include sufficient parking.
QUESTION 5: How would you balance rapid growth with keeping the city’s small-town feel?
HOLMES: Planning. We have a tremendous planning department and the previous work and focus on our downtown and community has paid dividends. We additional access to ease the burden on main street, Loop 121, Beal, 13th Ave, but with proper planning I am confident we will retain our small-town feel.
KIRKLEY: Small-town feel is not a product of mechanical or financial development. It is a product of relationship. Rapid growth is occurring in Belton, in part, as a result of the reputation of our school system and our “community spirit.” Maintaining those relationships requires, among other things, selfless, open and transparent governance. I will, always, strive diligently to preserve our home-town community spirit through that openness and a sensitivity to the voice of every citizen.
LEIGH: The City of Gruene has a great slogan ... Gently Resisting Change since 1872. I think this says it all. We will change, but if the city works with the citizens to have strict zoning and development standards ... and if we use public funds like the TIRZ to improve infrastructure in our downtown, we can harness the growth to help fund historic revitalization and other ‘small town’ type amenities.
PEARSON: This can only be accomplished through comprehensive planning, and we have a good process and plan. The council resolution states, “The City of Belton 2030 Comprehensive Plan is Belton’s long-range policy document adopted and amended by the City Council. The plan establishes a vision for Belton, provides policy guidance for growth and development, containing both action items and BIG ideas to help implement the vision.” It includes the Future Land Use Plan, Thoroughfare Plan, Design Standards, Historic Preservation Plan and much more. Applied by staff, commissions, boards and ultimately by the City Council, it is working and constantly being updated with stack-holder involvement.