Members of a citizens committee hope to prioritize capital projects they would like to see Mineral Wells City Council place on the next bond referendum.
Eighteen appointees to the committee met for about two hours Monday evening at Boyce Ditto Public Library to try and focus in on what improvements they feel are most important – weighing needs, quality of life and a total dollar amount they believe voters will accept.
The group is meeting on the heels of passage of two of three bond propositions in November – a first phase of streets improvements and a water main upgrade through the city's west end. A $5.85 million city hall proposal failed.
"At the end of the day, you have to make some very tough choices," said committee member Raymond Greenwood.
While most in the group agree streets, utilities infrastructure and a new public safety building for police and fire/EMS operations are important needs, some also expressed concerns of not addressing "quality of life" projects such as the senior center, the library, parks and recreational opportunities.
"We don't want to leave that part out," Mayor Mike Allen told the committee. "We have to look at quality of life and the future of the city."
The mayor said, for instance, the streets and utilities projects approved in November will take two or three years to complete, so the committee might want to consider other projects.
Margaret Colton voiced concern of "putting all of our eggs in one basket."
With a new public safety building projected at an estimated $14 million, that would place a lot of eggs in a single basket, with a committee concerned about proposing too much at once and risking voter rejection from a community wary of tax and utility rate impacts.
"If you can't raise the tax rate, you can't move forward," said Joy Eaton. "The money has to come from somewhere."
City Manager Lance Howard told the committee that the city's property tax revenues essentially cover the police, fire and EMS costs while sales taxes – which have dipped to the tune of about $1 million annually over the past decade – cover other city expenses. Growing the economy and increasing sales tax revenues are key to keep property tax rates in check, he said.
Showing pained expressions through much of the evening's discussions, committee member Terri Blevins, who vehemently opposed the November package and led a citizen's bond opposition group, countered comments that capital improvements are needed to spur economic growth. He cited American Medical Response (AMR) opening a new plant in the city.
"Look at AMR," he said. "They saw something in the city."
Bobby Mori said he wanted the city hall project to pass, saying it "would have been the crux of making this city great again." He told Blevins he would have paid his tax hike for a new city hall.
"I am here to talk about how we are going to make the city better," said Mori, a Mineral Wells Junior High School coach and teacher. "You can raise my taxes, and I'm a teacher so no one here makes less than I do."
Chasity Wilcox said there is a risk of holding back and prioritizing projects based on costs, then coming back later and asking citizens for more.
"We have to give people in the community credit for the ability to think," Wilcox said. "That is part of our issue. We don't think far enough ahead. We think small."
Kellci Baker said citizens in favor of bond projects and improvements are key to their passage and support.
"We as citizens have to sell it better," Baker said.
Much of the talk focused on a new public safety building.
"I know better than anybody, besides (Howerton and Allen), they need that building," said Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Office Lt. Scott Simonton.
Howerton said the downtown fire and police station are cramped and badly outdated, no longer able to allow for and house the types of services and equipment used today compared to when they were built some seven decades ago.
For instance, said Howerton, today's fire engines and ambulances are too large for the bays and doors at central station, lacking what he called proper "vertical and horizontal clearance." The downtown station lacks the ability for trucks and vehicles to turn around, having to pull onto U.S. Highway 281 South to back in to the station.
"We have had a few instances where our guys didn't get in like they should," said Howerton.
Another concern is the ability of central station to house not only the emergency services personnel employed today by the city, but in the future as additional police, firemen and paramedics are hired.
"We have a building that is antiquated and too small," said Howerton. "It is functionally obsolete."
He said, for instance, when the central station was built the city did not operate EMS, the funeral homes did.
"That building was built for an entirely different use in an entirely different era," Howerton said.
It is essential for fire rating and protection to keep a station in the central business district. Howerton did note that the second station on the city's east end was built for future growth and additions. The central fire station does not have that ability.
"We need a new public safety building," said Ashley Mast. "That's not a question."
She wondered if a new public safety building could be built in phases, so that a lower bond amount for the project could go before voters.
Howerton said the architects who have designed the plans have taken into consideration the current needs regarding administration, personnel and apparatus, parking and space requirements while including the ability for future expansion.
The committee will meet again Monday at the library at 6 p.m.