Water, more jobs, a friendlier attitude toward business and protecting Sheppard Air Force Base were the overriding themes at a forum for Wichita Falls City Council candidates Thursday.
Candidates for mayor and council districts three, four and five were largely in agreement on challenges facing the city. Specific ideas for addressing those challenges were scarce, due partly to the format set by the League of Women Voters that allowed candidates just one minute to respond to questions from moderators.
Four running for Wichita Falls mayor
Running for the top elected job in the city are service sector worker Beverly Taylor Ellis, business owner Carol Murray, businessman Scott Poenitzsch and insurance agent Tim Short.
Beverly Ellis: Bring communities together
Ellis described Wichita Falls as a ”community of communities” and said those communities must share equally in “infrastructure, the highways the bridges.” She said Sheppard AFB once had more missions than now.
“Now it just has one,” she said.
She said city government must work to bring the community together.
“It’s so far apart now,” she said.
Carol Murray: Do better for small businesses
Murray said she “was not recruited by the establishment.”
She said the city must become more of a business-friendly community.
“We are unkind to small businesses. We need a better plan to attract and retain small businesses,” she said.
Murray said before the city can experience economic growth, it must address “re-branding or re-imagining.”
She said when she asked people to described the image of Wichita Falls she got mainly “blank stares.”
Scott Poenitzsch: Focus on jobs and infrastructure
Poenitzsch said Wichita Falls can do a much better job of welcoming new businesses in order to improve a population that has been stagnant for 63 years.
“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.
He said the city should work to retain graduates of Midwestern State University.
“MSU students spend four years here, why not make them lifetime citizens?” he said.
Poenitzsch said the city should direct more funding to the street level to improve streets and make downtown a place where people want to go.
Tim Short: Water is key to city’s future
Short said water is the key to Wichita Falls’ future. He also said the city must change the way it reacts with businesses. He said Wichita Falls should work to bring more missions to Sheppard AFB and to “bring a couple of thousand more students to Midwestern State University.”
He suggested moving City Council meetings to evenings so working people could attend and pointed out he was the only mayoral candidates endorsed by the police and fire associations and the Wichita Falls Association of Realtors.
Two running for District 3 spot
District 3 consists of a part of central Wichita Falls and a long swath in the southern part of the city. Jeff Browning, an electrical contractor and the incumbent, is being challenged by retiree Cathy Dotson.
Cathy Dodson: Control taxes to increase affordability
Dotson said the city needs to keep taxes down so people “can afford to live where they want to live. Home ownership should be for everybody,” she said.
She also said Wichita Falls needs more things for young people to do and jobs for them after their educations.
She said she would like to see more people become involved in local politics to understand the workings of the city.
Jeff Browning: Bring in new industry
Browning said Wichita Falls must bring in new industry to have more jobs.
He also said the city must get some of its neighborhoods back up to par.
“My first home was in Faith Village. You go over there now it’s just declining so badly. We’ve got to keep these neighborhoods up. If we don’t, they’re going to just keep declining,” Browning said.
Jackson, Taylor vie for District 5
Incumbent Steve Jackson and Tom Taylor, both SAFB civilian retirees, are facing off for the second time for the District 5 seat, which includes a large part of northern Wichita Falls.
Steve Jackson: Government should reduce debt
Jackson said Wichita Falls must work to bring more small businesses to the city.
“There are a lot of small businesses that need the community’s help,” Jackson said.
He also said the government should work toward keeping the city affordable through debt reduction. He emphasized the need for reliable water resources and stressed the importance of keeping the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program (ENJJPT) at Sheppard AFB strong. He said the number of nations in the international program has decreased over the years.
Tom Taylor: City should provide skills training
Taylor said Wichita Falls must improve its workforce and quality of life. He encouraged the city’s staff to treat residents starting small businesses as customers.
He said he would work toward the well-being of Sheppard AFB, calling it a “diamond.”
Taylor said Wichita Falls needs to provide skilled trade training for residents and said it was important to ensure a 50-year water supply. He called for more development of parks, downtown, and swimming pools.
Three aim for District 4
The three candidates running for District 4 are Sheppard AFB instructor Mike Battaglino, oilman Kevin Hunter and financial advisor Samuel Pak. The district comprises the southernmost neighborhoods in Wichita Falls.
Mike Battaglino: Work together to help economy
Battaglino stressed the need for economic development, saying the community is not working together.
“We’re working in silos. We’re not going to grow if we continue to work in silos. We’re not serving our entire community, folks,” he said. “We are not providing a positive image on what the future of Wichita Falls holds.”
He said Wichita Falls has not attracted a defense contractor to its business park while other cities have.
Battaglino also remarked on what he sees as the uneven quality of the city’s parks.
“Have you looked at our parks? Some of them are wonderful. Have you gone to Loch Lomond? Would you want to go to Loch Lomond?” he said.
Kevin Hunter: Let private enterprise take care of issues
Hunter said he has never seen such division in the city. He said it is necessary to build Lake Ringgold as a new water supply, which he claimed could have been built twice over since the city bought some of the land for it in 1986.
“Darron Leiker (city manager) said the City Council didn’t want to address it,” he said. “Water is more valuable than gold right now.
Hunter said it’s important to attract new industry.
“That’s what we’ve got to do so you can bring it back and have disposable income. It seems like everything now is tax related. Let private enterprise take care of this,” he said.
Samuel Pak: ‘Whoever has water will have jobs’
Pak agreed that water is “liquid gold.”
He said he sees manufacturing returning to the U.S., “and when it does it will come back to Texas because of taxes rates.
“Whoever has water will have jobs,” he said.
Pak said keeping young, educated people from MSU in town is his second priority.
“We need better paying jobs. Need to keep MSU grads in town for the workforce,” Pak said. “We need outdoor activities, a better downtown and better quality of life to make them want to stay.”
Early voting begins Oct. 23, election day Nov. 7
Election Day for city posts will be Nov. 7. Early voting will begin Oct. 23. All qualified Wichita Falls voters may vote in the mayor’s race while only residents living in a district may vote for the City Council race in that district.