Growth main topic at Marble Falls candidates forum
Marble Falls City Council and mayoral candidates listed water, wastewater, traffic, and retaining the city’s small-town identity as top priorities during a candidates forum hosted by DailyTrib.com and KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune on Thursday, March 23.
The forum, which featured five of the six candidates for three contested positions on the May 6 ballot, took place in the Marble Falls Independent School District’s community room. DailyTrib.com staff writer Nathan Bush moderated. The event was broadcast live on KBEY radio.
Four positions are up for election in Marble Falls: mayor and Places 2, 4, and 6. Former Councilor Craig Magerkurth is running for Place 6 unopposed so was not part of the forum.
Place 2 candidate Karlee Cauble was unable to attend. Her opponent for the open seat, John Davis, spoke last, giving his introduction and answering the five questions posed to all candidates. Questions were chosen from those submitted by DailyTrib.com readers and KBEY listeners.
Mayor Richard Westerman and Mayor Pro-tem Dave Rhodes were first at the microphones. Westerman is seeking re-election, while Rhodes hopes to move from the position of council member to mayor.
All questions led to one issue: exploding growth in the Highland Lakes.
“Part of controlling growth is controlling future land use around us,” Westerman said. “I am an absolute property rights guy. In most conversations, I’m opposed to annexation, but we need to be in control of our own destiny.”
Rhodes had a different take on the issue.
“If we are not careful, we will end up with a north Marble Falls and a south Marble Falls,” he said. “We need to reach out to meet these (new people moving in) and introduce them to who we are and why we are. Of all the things we talk about — streets, sewer systems — this is the most critical.”
Growth was also a main concern for incumbent Bryan Walker and former Councilor Renee Rosales, who are running for the Place 4 seat.
“People know growth is coming, and we do need multifamily housing,” Walker said. “People who work here should be able to afford to live here, too.”
For Rosales, too much growth threatens what he calls the “magic of Marble Falls.”
“This is a beautiful town, not a city,” he said. “Austin used to be a beautiful town. Now, it is a city. We don’t want that here.”
Davis, the Place 2 hopeful, said he believes Marble Falls has already lost that small-town feel.
“Growth is killing this town,” he said. “A north and south Marble Falls could happen.”
All agreed that the Marble Falls city budget runs on sales tax collections and that commercial development is an important part of retaining that income flow.
When asked about the cost of building a new City Hall versus putting in a new wastewater plant that has doubled in estimated costs from $40 million to $80 million, candidates gave mixed reviews.
“I am for the wastewater plant,” Davis said. “That needs to happen. I like toilets that flush.”
A new City Hall is another story.
“A new City Hall is needed,” Westerman said. “We have employees in about five different places (around the city). But we can’t just go build a new City Hall. We have to have the tax base in place so we don’t have to raise taxes for it.”
Rhodes pointed out that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has decreed that the city of Marble Falls must replace its wastewater plant, so the choice has already been made. As for City Hall, well, don’t call it that, he said. It’s more than that. It’s where the city’s work is done.
“We need space for our city workers,” he said. “It’s hard when folks are working across town from each other.”
Rhodes also suggested the city seek a public/private partnership similar to the one Bee Cave has with the Hill Country Galleria mall on Texas 71 just west of Austin.
Davis looked around the school board meeting room and asked why not have city meetings there.
“This is a great place to meet,” he said. “I’ve been going to the last few City Council meetings, and it was stifling. The AC was not working right. I don’t see spending an insane amount of money though.”
Walker agreed with following the Bee Cave model.
“A public/private partnership is a great way to go,” he said. “Our city staff is exceptional, and they deserve a great place to work. They deserve more than a converted bank building from a long time ago.”
He pointed out that multiple grants are available for wastewater treatment.
Rosales gave water and wastewater priority over City Hall but added that a new city building should be memorable.
“People from all over the world come to visit us,” he said. “They see the Blue Bonnet (Cafe) and remember that. City Hall should be an icon that represents this town.”
He also pointed out that in 20-30 years, the water and wastewater plants will need replacing again, while City Hall will be around forever.
Water, wastewater, and growth all go hand in hand, both Westerman and Rhodes said. Just two days before the forum, the council voted to hold a contract for $7 million for a groundwater plant already built south of the U.S. 281 bridge, which would diversify the city’s water sources. Currently, the city only uses lake water.
Rhodes mentioned a third source: treated water from the new wastewater plant, known in the industry as DPR — direct potable reuse.
“We can put 700,000 gallons back into the system with DPR,” he said. “And it will be cleaner than the water coming out of the lake. If you’ve been on a cruise or in another country, then you know DPR.”
Westerman agreed that DPR was cleaner than lake water.
“Lake water is extremely dirty and expensive to treat,” he said.
A recording of the entire forum can be found on KBEYFM.com.
Election Day is Saturday, May 6. Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at Texas Texas University at Highland Lakes, 806 Steve Hawkins Parkway in Marble Falls. Early voting is April 24-May 5, also at the TTU campus.
1 thought on “Growth main topic at Marble Falls candidates forum”
Anti-growth mindsets are how you end up with a town surrounded by entirely unregulated growth in all directions, especially one so close to Austin and relatively close to San Antonio – two fast-growing regions. It’s coming. This is a chance to guide it, not hide from it. The reason traffic in Marble Falls is terrible, among other things, is because leaders are always playing catch-up to growth rather than wisely planning. Don’t continue to be foolish.
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