By Terra Rivers, Managing Editor
On Wednesday, the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce and the Four Rivers Association of Realtors partnered to host a candidate forum for City Council Places 1 and 2.
The event was held at the San Marcos Rec Hall at 5:30 PM. All candidates for both places were present to answer seven questions posed by mediator Keely Sonlitner.
Candidates for place 1 are Mark Gleason and Maxfield Baker, and running for place 2 is Devin Barrett, Incumbent Saul Gonzales and Lisa Marie Coppoletta.
Candidates were asked a total of seven questions; among the topics discussed were Affordable Housing, property rights and the new demolition review process, growth, workforce and talent retention, beautification and the relationship between the city’s permanent residents and the university’s students.
Sonlitner asked Place 2 candidates where they felt the balance was between historic preservation and property rights.
All three candidates agreed that protecting the homeowner’s property rights was important, but that the city’s history should be preserved.
Gonzales said he believed in property rights, but he also felt there were some sites in San Marcos that needed to be looked at for their historical significance and impact on the city’s culture.
Barrett said, “San Marcos is historic; we are one of the longest inhabited places in the Americas, and to have that is crucial, and we should do everything we can to protect that. And while property rights are extremely important, I would never infringe on property rights; we do have to take into consideration what the city’s history is and what kind of culture we want to show to the rest of the world…We have to protect both property rights and historical sites.”
San Marcos remains one of the fastest-growing communities in the US. But Sonlitner noted that San Marcos’ neighbors to the north had taken on an attitude to resist growth that hadn’t worked leading to the Austin traffic commuters faced every day.
City Council candidates were asked how they would learn from Austin’s mistakes and address growth.
Coppoletta, City Council Place 2 Candidate, said she agreed with other candidates that a primary focus in dealing with growth is bringing jobs to the area and creating the infrastructure to accommodate that growth.
“I commute, and they call it slaughter for a reason because you get stuck in traffic for 30 minutes trying to get to your location,” Coppoletta said. “So that means we need to make sure that these streets we can get through. We start a project; we finish it in a timely manner.”
Coppoletta also said she believes the city should offer incentives for builders who have green building products.
“We have to be realistic with ourselves; growth is coming, and it’s coming really fast,” Gonzales said. “The university is growing left and right. Our housing market is also growing left and right. And those are big concerns. I think one of the most important things we should have is the infrastructure before we start rezoning. I think that’s crucial to have that in place to manage the traffic from point A to point B.”
Baker said during his time in human resources for what was formerly Customer Research International, it became clear to him what the city was lacking in necessary skills such as typing and being able to read a script aloud, skills which start at the high school levels.
When it comes to workforce and talent retention, Baker said, “I think we need to work much closer with our work development resources, our Texas workforce solutions, get them involved to help make sure we have the proper training in place as well as Gary Job Corps, but the reality is that these jobs that even the university is offering don’t pay a whole lot. So, they’re not the cash call that we need; they’re not the type of business that is going to open up and unlock this opportunity for people.”
Baker continued to say he felt the city council should be focusing on the smaller, local businesses instead of handing out tax abatements to large corporations.
“I think we need to start empowering a lot of our smaller and local businesses and legacy business that have been here and have shown to bare dedicated to stay in San Marcos,” Baker.
Gleason said he approved of the 380-agreement process used by the city and the partnership with the Greater San Marcos Partnership as well as the incentives city council had put in place previously such as the $15 minimum wage for tax abatements.
“I think those are incentives we can give to corporations to bring jobs in here as opportunities,” he continued. “And I don’t think that is too low a wage for a starting opportunity for people that may be working retail in my type industry…I think we can partner with the university, and put those kids to work for the corporation that we can…try to bring here.”
Every year, the city council devises five strategic initiatives they will strive to focus on in the upcoming Fiscal Year as part of the budget process.
Gleason said his first priority would be jobs in San Marcos and how it would impact not only the economy but the city’s tax base as well.
He said without jobs, without the expansion of the economy and the tax base to the city, “We cannot alleviate the property tax burden that we have in town and make homes affordable enough if they don’t have the jobs to pay for them. Once we expand the economy and we ride the way that we will hopefully continue to ride for the next few years in Central Texas…we can take that money and alleviate some of that burden on the lower-income, moderate-income homeowners.”