|5/12/2014 4:51:00 PM|
Runoff candidates participate in second of three debates
Final event set for Wednesday at Mary R. school in Alice
The second of three scheduled debates for runoff election candidates in two races was held Wednesday evening at the Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco High School in Ben Bolt. The debates, sponsored by Alice24-7.com and KOPY, are broadcast live on KOPY 92.1FM
While all four candidates were invited to the debates, Jim Wells County Judge challenger Pete Trevino Jr. did not participate because of a schedule conflict.
The event began with the Precinct 4 Commissioners race as incumbent Javier Garcia and challenger Emede Garcia answered several questions presented by moderator Nicole D. Perez, owner and editor of Alice24-7.com.
The first question of the debate tied to comments from the previous forum regarding some areas of the county expecting city-type services. Candidates were asked how such services could be balanced versus the budget and how the service areas could best be determined.
Emede Garcia said trash services are provided by contractors by bid. He said what he would do for neglected areas is he would visit with the contractor to pick up trash in a timely manner and keep empty lots clean.
"Based on our budget," he said. "We would have to work with whatever monies we have to be able to do a good job."
Javier Garcia said 23 years ago, the precinct had one contractor, but is now up to six because of population growth.
"And when you're talking about contractors, I'm not talking about a contractor that gets paid $30,000 or $40,000," he said. "I'm talking about someone who gets paid $150 a week for using his truck. It's a part-time job for them."
Regarding concerns about oil field waste facilities moving into the county, Javier Garcia said there was an Eco Mud facility in the Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco area that was causing problems with mud on the roadways.
"It was extremely dangerous for the school buses," he said.
Javier Garcia said he met with the owner and had him create a standard operating procedure for his employees to follow.
"I need to work with them and alongside them because I don't want them to leave," he said.
"They pay a lot of taxes, and also we have five employees from Pct. 4 that work there. We have three from Palito Blanco and two from Ben Bolt that depend on that salary.
"As long as they comply with what I gave them and continue to clean up, we need to work with them for the good of our taxpayers."
Emede Garcia also said the county needs the facilities, but there are ways to keep them in line by making sure they do not destroy the roads.
"We've talked about oil field people destroying all of our 200 miles that we have here, which I don't think they do," he said. "We have specific routes for this oil field equipment to go to their site and back, and I don't think that all of our county roads have been ruined by the oil field."
Emede Garcia said if the county continues to route traffic to the facilities without using more of the county roads, he thinks they will be able to handle it.
The candidates were also asked about the possibility of a bond election to finance road repairs. Emede Garcia said he does not support an increase in taxes, and a bond is not necessary.
"I think if we just use our monies wisely, then we'll be able to repair our roads," he said. "We'll pass it and work with it and bring in grants in other ways rather than to try and put a burden on our taxpayers with extra taxes."
Javier Garcia said the reason he brought up the bond issue was because he met with some ranchers in the Premont area who felt it would be the only way to save the county's roads.
"I'm not against it, and I'm not for it," he said. "It's just a matter of studying and see what the finances would be for the county and for the taxpayers."
The candidates also answered questions regarding the City of Alice's expansion on the city's west side and what the county should do to continue growth south on Highway 281, what the county can do to assist law enforcement with drug trafficking along 281, what can be done to ensure the county's farming and ranching tradition continues as oil and gas exploration grows, and why they should be elected or re-elected to the office.
In closing, Emede Garcia emphasized his commitment to the citizens of Precinct 4.
"If elected, my door will always be open to all of you," he said. "There will be transparency for the first time in many years. You will know how and where your tax dollars are being spent."
Javier Garcia said he believes the things that have been added to the precinct during his tenure are part of a puzzle that is almost complete.
"And if we give up now and put in somebody else who doesn't have the experience, we're taking a step back instead of going forward," he said. "We've already been there and gotten our feet wet, and we have a good staff with us.
"We know what we're doing. Some people don't realize what we're doing because it's very easy to complain, but I'm not a complainer. When I see a problem, I solve the problem. I'm a problem solver, and I've never complained to anybody about anything."
As with the first debate, County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz was the only candidate in the race who attended the forum.
Following his opening remarks, Saenz was asked about the benefits the proposed multimodal facility, to be potentially funded through a $10 million TIGER grant, would bring to Jim Wells County.
Saenz said the facility would be a great addition to the county, and by stationing the center on Alice's west side, it will help in the expansion as well as provide better transportation.
"The quickest thing that you're going to see is that we're going to be able to transport people over to the new natatorium," he said. "We were very concerned, at least the county was, about how kids from the east side of town were going to come over to that natatorium and utilize it."
Saenz said the facility will also attract more businesses to that area.
"I know that the people that developed and subdivided that area have a lot of plans," he said. "They plan to have strip centers, they plan to have different businesses, and probably around 300 to 500 additional homes in that area for the county."
Saenz was also asked about whether Jim Wells County was doing all it could to be transparent with its operations to its residents.
"Of course it is," he said. "Transparency is the new buzz word. Ten years ago, we couldn't even spell the word 'transparency.'"
Saenz said the county recently received a silver transparency award from the Texas Comptroller's office, which he said they were able to achieve by posting on the county's website its agendas, revenues, and expenditures and bills.
"We're very proud of that transparency award, and it came about because of the culmination of all of the commissioners and the county clerk and myself working together to bring that award to Jim Wells County," he said.
Another question focused on a recent housing study released by the Alice-JWC Economic Development Corporation that showed as many as 7,000 jobs coming to the county. Saenz was asked his opinion about providing incentives in the form of tax breaks and infrastructure reimbursements to developers.
"We're going to have to find different financing mechanisms to bring new developers and make sure they invest wisely in our county to make sure they bring in the housing," Saenz said.
Saenz said one of the things the county has done is reduce its tax rate.
"That is a big incentive to begin with," he said.
"By reducing our tax rate and making sure that we still provide all of the services that our county people deserve and want."
Other questions included how, after being county judge for 19 years, he will keep things from becoming status quo at the courthouse, dealing with funding constraints while following state mandates, plans for dealing with deteriorating county roads, working with the City of Alice in solving landfill capacity concerns, and partnering with neighboring counties to secure additional water resources.
In closing, Saenz thanked everyone who attended the forum and said he
thinks they are needed so they know where the people who are running in the election stand.
"I've been told, by some people, not everybody, that I don't have a vision," he said. "If I didn't have a vision, then the county wouldn't be where it is today."
Saenz said through the auditor's office, they initiated the county's first computer system for payroll, and with Sheriff Oscar Lopez they worked to computerize law enforcement records and expand the county jail.
"My vision for Jim Wells County is to thrive economically," he said.
"We want to make sure that we have adequate housing for our populace, we want to make sure that we do have and support our law enforcement and fire department, and, of course, and it's been a hot topic, have adequate infrastructure."
Saenz said to do all of that, the county needs to have a trained workforce.
Without it, companies will not come in and build within the county.
"That's one of our big things," he said. "That we have a workforce and we provide jobs and we provide housing for people to stay here in Jim Wells County."
The third and final debate will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 14, at Mary R. Garcia Elementary School in Alice, and will air live on KOPY 92.1FM.
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