Businessmen prepare for right to represent north Victoria


April 24, 2010 at 9 p.m.
Updated April 23, 2010 at 11:24 p.m.

Tom Halepaska

Tom Halepaska

Whether it's the availability of water or how to deal with the economy, both candidates in the May 8 District 6 city council race said they are concerned about Victoria's future.

Challenger Jeff Williams, 50, said he thinks the economy is the biggest issue facing the city. Incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Tom Halepaska, 60, said having enough water for future growth is his primary concern for Victoria.

Super District 6 covers the north half of Victoria.

Halepaska said he wants to see the city acquire all of the senior water rights available and then find a place to store it for use in times of drought.

"We could lure industry to the area as the only place to locate that can provide adequate water supply if we're good at this," he said. "That will be the future."

He said acquiring the water and storing it is a better answer than having another entity transport it elsewhere to supply industry in another other area.

"It's the future of Victoria," said Halepaska, co-owner Halepaska's Bakery. "It's going to determine our economic viability. Future economic issues will be controlled by larger issues concerning water."

Williams, co-owner of the Bible Book Store, said the city needs to focus on helping the local economy recover and attracting industry that will put people back to work.

"We've got a tremendous group of men and women around here that have manufacturing abilities - welders, pipe fitters," he said. "I think we need to be looking at bringing in industry for people that are already here that have specific skills that go to producing a product."

Williams said that means focusing more on attracting industry rather than retail business. And he said the city can do a better job of doing that than it has.

"I just think with all the actions that have taken place over the last couple of years in trying to attract new business, some of them have lost focus on what we have and have been more focused on what we want to become," he said. "I think you just need to focus on the strengths that already exist and expand on that rather than trying to create something that's not already there."

Halepaska said maintaining and rebuilding Victoria's streets continue to be a priority with him because they were neglected for so long in the past. He said it's only a matter of having enough money.

"Of course, most people are griping about Sam Houston Drive and I agree with them," he said. "But many people don't realize we have been working on Sam Houston for close to two years now."

The city started with the survey and engineering work and is now working on buying property for right of way.

"After the money is in hand, then we can go out for bids," he said. "You can't put the cart before the horse on any of these pieces."

Halepaska said overall, he believes Victoria is making progress in upgrading its streets. But he said the city can't spend money it doesn't have on street repairs.

"If you don't want a massive tax increase, you do the best with what you have." he said. "We have several hundred million dollars worth of needs and we get about $20 million to $30 million a year to do it."

Williams said he's reviewed the annual street survey the city does and which shows Victoria is making progress in repairing streets. But he said he hasn't had a chance to dig into details of the methodology used to come up with the results.

"I think there are definitely some improvements being made," he said. "But again, it's a matter of a long-term approach to priorities and I think the priorities change way too often."

Williams said sometimes there appears to be no common sense used in making decisions on road improvements.

He questioned why the city decided to rebuild a section of Red River Street in concrete west of Main Street going into Riverside Park. Yet plans to rebuild the rest of Red River, which has a heavier traffic volume, include using asphalt.

He also questioned the city's quick decision to spend up to $8 million to extend Airline Road east of Zac Lentz Parkway in hopes the University of Houston-Victoria will build a new campus on property that has been offered to it.

That decision resulted in the city council deciding to put off repairs to Red River between Main and Ben Jordan streets.

Both candidates agreed they would not support an increase in Victoria's property tax.

Halepaska said for the last five years in a row the city has reduced the tax rate, primarily because the appraisals have increased and resulted in an overall increase in tax revenue.

"I think we can stay the course on this and still do things with sales tax money," he said. "I believe the sales tax will start reviving toward the end of the year."

Halepaska described himself as a fiscal conservative and said the city is being efficiently operated, doing what it can as the money become available.

"I don't think we should run for the hills and say the sky is falling," he said. "We do the best we can with what we have."

Williams said Victoria he has seen an exodus of oil field businesses for various reasons, including the high property tax rate.

"Our tax rate is in the top five or six for cities with a population over 50,000," he said. "To me, that's a concern."

For industry looking at making a huge investment in real property or personal property in a city, tax burden is a large part of that decision.

"The only way you can address the tax rate is to first to increase your tax base to where you have more dollars to where each person is paying a smaller amount of their income on taxes." Williams said. "Second to that, you have to make sure the dollars you spend are essential service dollars."



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