Victoria mayoral candidates debate debt, development
• Victoria City Council District 6
• Tom Halepaska and Russell Pruitt
• 11 a.m. Monday at Victoria Advocate, 311 E. Constitution St.
• Watch it live at VictoriaAdvocate.com.
The five men vying for mayor of Victoria faced off Wednesday in a public debate.
Topics included economic development, zoning and ordinances, streets and debt, which brought a wide range of perspectives, and each candidate had his own view of how the city should be run.
Incumbent Mayor Will Armstrong started the debate with what he saw as the biggest challenge: balancing revenue with needs.
"We've done some major work ... and we're getting ready to have some efforts spent in the neighborhoods," Armstrong, 72, said. "If we can continue our economic development efforts ... we can spend these new monies on our old streets and drainage."
While some of the major work Armstrong cited, such as rebuilding Lone Tree Road, Sam Houston Drive and Laurent Street, incurred debt, another mayoral candidate, Richard Deases, 22, said the expense is "crippling the city."
He questioned the necessity of those projects.
"We're mortgaged to the hilt," Deases, a sales clerk, said. "We need to dive into the budget."
Armstrong defended the city's debt, saying some situations were mandatory to do the repairs and borrow money.
"One of the advantages of borrowing money is that at that instant, you zero in on that project cost," he said.
Armstrong said the city would like to give everybody raises and repair every street, but the money has to come from somewhere.
"We have a large community with diversified interests ..." Armstrong said. "I'm proud of the way we're operating right now, and I don't want to change that."
Omar Rachid, 52, said he wants to see the Victoria Economic Development Corporation focus on diversifying business to quality-of-life issues.
"All I see is light industry," Rachid, a business consultant, said, adding that he wants to see fine dining, entertainment venues and housing become a focus of VEDC.
He acknowledged that the council lowered taxes, "but the reality is taxpayers have not seen a reduction in their tax bill," Rachid said.
"I want to manage it the way I would manage a business," he said. "Be proactive, not reactive."
He said he would also be in support of zoning that would limit sexually-oriented businesses in residential areas.
"Because we are lacking zoning, it is a matter of time before you'll have some neighbors with a sexually-oriented business opening," he said.
However, Paul Polasek, a current councilman, said the city has a balanced approach to needs and debt.
He said he supports VEDC and the focus on light industry that creates spin-off opportunities affecting quality-of-life.
"Caterpillar is a textbook case of primary jobs," Polasek said. "The next thing you see is a Wal-Mart nearby and apartment complexes."
Polasek said the biggest challenge is rebuilding public trust. He said the entire council needs to be accountable for what they say.
"We need to make sure we have good, thorough, factual discussion, not sound bites or bits and pieces to sway public opinion," Polasek said.
Henry Perez, 76, said streets were his main concern but used most of his speaking opportunities to talk about his opposition to the proposed wastewater treatment plant.
He said he wants to raise the pay rates, especially at Caterpillar. However, city councils do not have the authority to increase wages on employees outside the city.
"You have to work at Wal-Mart or H-E-B to make a living in Victoria, and rent is very high," Perez said.
Perez hammered his goal to keep the sewer plant from being built.
"We don't need another sewer plant in the middle of town where there's nine families who are living close," Perez said. "Nobody's going to tell me those sewer plants don't stink because they stink."