Granite Shoals candidate voices heard

Glynis Crawford Smith/The Highlander

Voters are welcomed to the Granite Shoals City Council Candidate Forum hosted at the fire hall Saturday, April 21, by The Highlander. At the front of the room are, from left, Place 2 candidates incumbent Shirley King and challenger Bruce Jones; Frank Shubert, publisher of The Highlander, and Place 4 candidates Ryan Wolters and Terry Scott.






By Glynis Crawford Smith

The Highlander

About 40 citizens made a misty morning foray to the Granite Shoals fire hall Saturday, April 21, for the city council candidate forum sponsored by The Highlander.

Bruce Jones and incumbent Shirley King are seeking Place 2 on the council. Terry Scott and Ryan Wolters are candidates for Place 4. Will Skinner is uncontested for Place 6 and could not attend the event Saturday.

Publisher of The Highlander, Frank Shubert was the moderator for introductions and a series of questions for each candidate.

Historically, elections in Granite Shoals have centered on a primary citizen concern—a couple of times proposals for a sewer system, then city clean up, followed by the need for road improvement. This year the consensus on the next big issue is the water system. Although specific solutions were in short supply, each candidate returned to the water system, again and again, as the concern they are hearing from voters.

That is an issue the council has wrestled with for decades, despite a new plant in 2006 that has demanded many adaptations and repairs and more than a million dollars in federal grant money projects for which the city qualified. Aging, disintegrating pipe lines that pre-date incorporation and that often were laid haphazardly to avoid the city's granite outcroppings create a project estimated to exceed the $3 million voters have dedicated in bonds to repair of their three main roadways.

Jones was adamant improvements should not be paid for by citizens.

“We need to find a way to raise (the money),” he said, recommending more businesses for a broader tax base.

King outlined some of the city's investment in the system over her years on the council and plans in the next budget cycle to set aside more for water system work.

“We need to hire an engineer,” she said. “(And) a committee needs to be created to research best practices.”

Scott noted that, when his home was built, water line maps were insufficient and that the recent fire on Shorewood Drive highlighted water hydrant issues. “Do we have enough? Are they in the right places?”

“While our roads are rough, they are drivable,” said Wolters. “When it comes to water, we have color, taste and odor issues...We need clean, drinkable water.”

One way to address the problem of water system repair or replacement might be to eat in to the city's general fund reserve, but the candidates generally agreed that was impractical.

“We have $800,000 now, a good 90-day reserve and an A-stable S&P bond rating,” said King. “It took years for the current and former council to do this.”

“Like in your own households...we do have to have emergency funds,” said Scott, an opinion echoed by Wolters.

“But we don't need to tax the people for that,” said Jones.

Although taxpayers do have to support repayment of bond issues, bonds would be another way to pay for a massive overhaul of the water system. As things stand, the council could issue bonds without going to the ballot.

The city has for some years been compiling amendments to its Home Rule Charter that need to go before the voters but none of the candidates that would be new to the council were much familiar with them. King, however, pointed to the one most prominent in her mind.

“As the charter is written now, it doesn't say the council has to have the vote of the people to sell bonds,” she said. “We took the road bonds to the people, but we didn't have to. That needs to be changed. Citizens need a vote.”

On that subject, however, Wolters said the council organization might be addressed.

“I've not seen another city council where the mayor voted,” he said. “I'd rather see the mayor permitted to vote only as a tie breaker (as in General Law Charter cities).”

Wolters, and Jones were enthusiastic for finding some kind of incentive to bring in more businesses to raise sales tax money for the city's needs. In fact, when Shubert asked, just for fun a “dream addition” to Granite Shoals, theirs were business related.

Jones' dream was to clean up Ranch to Market Road 1431 to “fix the face of the city.”

Wolters dreamed wide scale: “We have many lots that have been abandoned with trees and shrubs growing up haphazardly.”

Scott's dream improvement was to take advantage of Lake LBJ as the city's biggest asset with a big marina with a place to buy gas and a restaurant.

On that count, King returned to an old dream: “A sewer system to bring in a large store. We can bring some smaller businesses to Granite Shoals, but a sewer system would be like firing a gun (for commercial development to start).

Shubert asked the candidates about service on city boards and commissions, as well as the most important skill they had to offer.

“I have served two and a half years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, where we have been cleaning up Chapter 40, the Zoning Ordinance,” said Scott, a former Air Force pilot who now nears retirement from his second career as a flight captain for a large commercial airline.

“Every trip I fly is with a different group of people,” he said. “I am good at taking team of experts and making them an expert team.”

King said she brings the full history of Granite Shoals to her service—not only serving 16 years on the council, but seven years on the Street and Water Advisory Group seven years, 17 years on the Parks Committee and knowledge of what has been learned from mistakes.

Although Jones and Wolters would be completely new to city government, each has had other volunteer experience and each said his experience as a real estate professional would put him in good stead as city councilmen.

“Realtors are experts in understanding what people want,” said Jones. “I work with people (buying and selling property) every day and get a lot of feedback.”

“My background is in management, leading a team and finding answers,” said Wolters.

Another issue candidates said they heard from voters were ordinances and their enforcement and most of them had found the city council debate over the Fence Ordinance the most interesting they had observed. Perhaps because of his experience on the P&Z those ordinance questions stood out to Scott.

“Issues I've heard about (in addition to) water, roads and taxes are codes,” he said. “Some people say we have too many. Some say they are enforced too much, some say, not enough. But in the latest city survey, in 2012, the number one one problem cited was lack of code enforcement.”

One question from the audience brought the discussion back to an old debate—short-term rental. The audience member said her family had to range all the way to unincorporated Kingsland (which has no city government or ordinances of any kind) to find housing for guests for a period less than 30 days.

In the summer of 2010, the Granite Shoals City Council voted to allow short-term rentals in single-family residential zones to the applause of about 40 waterfront property owners. The hue and cry that erupted from residents and the revelation that hotel tax funds could only be channeled back into “heads-in-beds” expenditures resulted in a committee that tried to work out some compromise. Ultimately the new short-term rental approval was revoked.

“It divided the community like nothing I have ever seen,” said King. “It was terrible. We lost some of our best volunteers over it. Residents said it was like living next to a hotel.”

“I live next door to one,” said Scott. “Until you have done that, you don't know the problems. It sounds great until you are the guy next door.”

“The people I have talked to are totally for it,” said Wolter. “You should be able to use your property at your own discretion.”

“I am for it, but it's not my decision,” said Jones. “It needs to be the citizens that make the call.”

In closing statements, each candidate pledge service to the city and hopes for its future, but King also addressed a social media campaign that charged the city had committed fraud in its original annexation of Beaver Island and Web Ile. The disannexation that resulted had to be hammered out in district court and involved repayment of $275,000 to residents of the subdivisions on the western waterfront.

Just as in her public statement in March 2011, when the deal was struck, King said she signed it only because Judge Gil Jones had made it clear he saw no intent at fraud on the part of the council.

“I would never have voted for that compromise if I'd had to say I committed fraud,” she said.

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