District 6 candidates focus on water, charter

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 6, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated April 6, 2013 at 11:07 p.m.

In one of Victoria's largest City Council districts, the two candidates' main priorities center on water rights and the city charter.

Incumbent Tom Halepaska, 63, and Russell Pruitt, 69, are vying to represent the northern half of Victoria in Super District 6 for a three-year term.

Halepaska, who seeks a fourth term on the council, has maintained for the past two elections that the city needs to firm up its plan for water rights and storage.

"At the time I got on council, no one seemed to understand the water issues," Halepaska said. "We have enough water to last us going on 50 years. ... We're one of the few towns who can say that."

Halepaska said he wants to see more studies that explore underground water storage.

"When the river doesn't flow, you still have to have water," he said. "It's like a farmer having a silo because the grain doesn't grow all the time. Sometimes the river doesn't flow."

Pruitt said his main issue is undoing the changes to the city charter made during the previous election.

"People don't really realize the depth of how it really effects us," he said about the charter election.

Halepaska served on the city charter election committee.

Pruitt specifically mentioned the council giving up authority for hiring the city secretary and municipal court clerk to the city manager.

"All I want is to be one of the voices on the City Council to rescind some of the damaging action the city has taken," Pruitt said.

Both candidates agreed on concerns for residential street maintenance.

"We're behind on residential streets," Halepaska said. "We've caught up on some a little bit with main thoroughfares - Laurent, Ben Jordan, Sam Houston and Lone Tree - we just have a lot left."

Pruitt said although Sam Houston was a job well done, the city needs to focus on basic needs.

"We need to give these people hope and set up their streets in a timely manner," he said. "If you're telling us that we're in dire straits, let's direct that money to the biggest needs."

Halepaska said he wants to explore options to develop Riverside Park and capitalize on historic tourism.

He said the park has great potential, and the State Paddling Trail, restaurant and baseball team have added to those efforts.

Meanwhile, Pruitt said he disagrees with the city's direction, specifically the way it handled the plans for the wastewater treatment plant and hiring an outside attorney.

"We don't have the money to take them (the city) to court because they're spending our tax money," he said. "I haven't got a personal ego in this, it's a collective ego. I'm not going to give up on these issues."

Pruitt said he believes the plant is not needed and wants to look at whether the city can expand the regional wastewater plant.

"It stands to reason. Do we need a new plant, or can we modernize the one we have?" he asked.

Halepaska has supported building a new wastewater treatment plant.

Pruitt said he is setting his ego aside for this election.

"There's some good things the city has accomplished," he said. "Some of it, maybe I didn't think so and fought it to begin with, like when garbage was reduced to once a week."

Pruitt said he is "objective with everything."

"I can be shown where I'm wrong, but some of this stuff I've been through," Pruitt said about the city charter. He also said the council doesn't "realize how in-depth we've been through it."

Halepaska defended the city's expenses, saying the projects and expenses are warranted.

"When I came on the council, the downtown infrastructure was supposed to be done 30 years ago," he said. "They kept passing the buck to future councils."

The council has spent $42 million rebuilding infrastructure downtown.

"People gripe about our indebtedness. ... This is just the start of it," Halepaska said. "Yes, we have debt, but what we achieved in the process were things that needed to be done."

By increasing the city's reserve fund, he said, the city has a better bond rating. At the same time, the city is continuing to run more efficiently.

Halepaska said the reduction in garbage pickup has brought a savings to the city, and the recycling program is proving successful.

Taking time to make decisions and wait for the best contract also has paid off, he said. The original curbside recycling contract wanted $8 per customer monthly.

"We have fewer employees than we had 10 years ago," Halepaska said. "We're always looking for ways to do things more efficiently."



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