I’ve thought about this topic quite a bit over the last few years, especially as social media makes communication on topics of public interest extremely fluid.  Everyone is, of course, entitled to his or her opinion, but I would argue that there are appropriate ways to express those opinions as well as ways that are terribly counterproductive.  Here are a few suggestions based on approaches from both camps.

  1. If you have a legitimate question, please ask.  Elected officials serve at the pleasure of the public, and staff members serve at the pleasure of the elected officials.  It is our duty and responsibility to keep the public informed and create opportunities for engagement.
  2. If you have concerns about a project, give the person or people involved an opportunity to respond.  Don’t assume you know all the answers without reading any source material, asking any questions, or attending any meetings on the subject.
  3. If you just can’t get behind a project, then don’t support it or use it.  Vote for people who support projects that you like.
  4. If you feel left out or like your voice doesn’t matter, get involved.  There’s a good chance that you can contribute something meaningful to the conversation.
  5. If you’ve got a chip on your shoulder, knock it off.  Find something productive to do with your time.
  6. If your objective is to spread false information and get people stirred up, grow up.  Better yet, cancel all of your social media accounts until you reach an appropriate mental age.
  7. If you’ve heeded every one of these suggestions but still feel like you should move, then move.  Life is too short to be so unhappy.

Public officials are accountable to their constituents, so you should learn who represents you and get to know them.  Don’t be overly critical until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Focus your energies on projects in your community so that you can maximize your impact.

As always, I welcome your feedback.  The EDC’s objective is to encourage meaningful, sustainable community development—this requires both outside investment as well as existing stakeholders getting involved and helping shape Marble Falls into the best community it can be.

Last week, I received an email from a friend asking how increases in sales tax are being used and how they can’t be used.  It was a great question that deserved a proper response, and I thought I would include it here for others to see as well.

Regarding the facts and figures I post, what I try to convey is the general health of the community’s economy—which doesn’t necessarily translate into additional funds for the City or EDC.  The gross sales post you mentioned (Q1 18 gross sales info is now available for Marble Falls: overall, we saw an 8.09% increase over Q1 17 sales, with the strongest growth coming from wholesale trade (+36%), manufacturing (+41%), and construction (+111%)–that’s not a typo!) actually has no bearing whatsoever on either our budget or the City’s budget, since our budgets come from sales tax and not gross sales.  In fact, the City has to project about 4.0 – 4.5% annual sales tax growth in order to balance their budget, and they’re about $85,000 short (1.4%) of that mark this year (FY 17-18).  The EDC can be more conservative, so we don’t budget any growth—and we’re about 2.09% ahead of schedule for the year.  This amounts to a little over $44,000 in new sales tax revenue, which just gets absorbed into our fund balance and helps lessen the shortfall we’ll see over the next couple of years.  (By the way, the shortfall is due in large part to the receipt of bond funds in one year and then spending those funds in subsequent years.)  So, long story short, what might look like big gains in sales tax doesn’t really translate that way.  Big gains in property tax, on the other hand, are what enable the City to increase the street maintenance budget, add emergency personnel, buy fire trucks, etc.  Property tax, of course, doesn’t help or hurt the EDC since we derive no funding from it.

I’ll add to my response that the recent gains we’ve seen in property tax have been mitigated to some extent by the City’s conservative approach to setting the tax rate.  If the City Council were to maintain the tax rate or even adopt the rollback rate, there would be at least some additional funds for some of the extras that I hear people asking about: more residential sidewalks, increased park maintenance, etc.  As it stands today, however, Council and staff are trying to balance the needs and wants of the citizens with keeping those citizens’ tax bills as low as possible—and I applaud them for their efforts.

As always, I’m happy to visit about these or other issues of community interest.  Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or observations.

In the last day or so, there has been quite a bit of dialogue about the proposed parking garage on EDC-owned property in Downtown Marble Falls.  While the focus has been squarely on the garage and concerns about losing our small-town feel, there is much more to the overall project than the garage alone.

With the array of amenities that are planned for the Downtown parks, a parking garage will help us consolidate parking rather than paving any more green space than we absolutely must.  The footprint is just over half an acre, versus the multiple acres we would need for surface parking.  Controlled access into and out of a structured garage is much safer than hundreds of parking spaces scattered all over the area.  Lastly, we believe that a strategically-located garage is preferable to asking people to park all over the place and walk several blocks to their destinations in the Texas heat.

 

A schematic model of the hotel and conference center shows the size of the garage in relation to the entire project

Along with the garage, a fairly long list of Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) projects will be the subject of some discussion by the City Council in the coming weeks.  All of these projects were examined during the budget workshops that took place July 12th and 13th, but formal action will be tied to next year’s budget that begins on October 1st.  The CIP project list was broken up into several phases, with Phase 1a being the package proposed for FY 2017-2018.  Included in Phase 1a are:

 

All components of Phase 1 of the Downtown CIP projects are projected to be complete within 5 years

Description Opinion of Cost
Boat Ramp $200,000
Yett Street Parking $235,000
Johnson Park Restroom $225,000
Main Street Restroom $125,000
Lakeside Beach and Restroom $476,100
Lakeside Pavilion Parking $340,000
Lakeside Park Trails $120,000
Wayfinding Signage $200,000
Landscaping, Demo, Utilities, Lighting, Etc. $855,000
Mobilization and Contingency $277,610
Total Phase 1a CIP Projects $3,053,710

This package of projects comes directly from the Parks Master Plan that was adopted earlier this year by the City Council.  The parks plan was based on extensive feedback from the community, and many of the above projects—trails, shade, restrooms, a beach, and improved access to the lake—ranked at the top of multiple survey questions.

Of course, with such an extensive list of projects requiring a substantial sum of money, the question about how all of this gets funded is a natural one.  The answer is that the City will consider issuing bonds to pay for the garage and the Phase 1a projects.  The debt service for the garage would come from a combination of hotel occupancy taxes (HOT) and parking fees, while the CIP debt would be serviced using EDC funds, City general funds, HOT funds, and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) funds.  In all, the annual debt service would be just under $600,000, with the aforementioned revenue streams covering the payments.

This brings me to the next logical question: what about the impact to the tax rate?  The great news is that all of these projects can be funded even with a slightly lower property tax rate next year.  The staff’s recommendation to the City Council at their meeting on August 1st will be to adopt the effective tax rate of $0.6341, which would be a reduction of $0.0142 (2.2%) from the current rate of $0.6483.  The math works because of additions to the tax roll, strong sales tax growth, and the fact that all but one of the revenue streams to be used to cover the debt service are not tied to City property taxes paid by the general public.  HOT funds, TIRZ funds, and EDC funds are all special-use funds that have specific purposes and limitations dictated by state statutes.

In speaking for the board and staff of the EDC and other members of the City’s leadership team, we are excited about what’s happening in Marble Falls, and especially in the Downtown area.  With the charm and character that come from an array of locally-owned shops and cafes, to upcoming developments including residential projects and a boutique hotel and conference center, to enhanced access to beautiful Lake Marble Falls, we know that we are in the midst of something very special.  The first round of Downtown CIP projects is the culmination of many years of community feedback, planning, and vision.  The structured parking facility is needed to support a Downtown that will become more active and vibrant in the years to come.  And being able to do these things with a reduction to the City property tax rate is a bonus.

Captain Obvious: “Wow—the grand opening of the new H-E-B in Marble Falls is a pretty big deal.”

Admittedly, I knew there would be some buzz surrounding the opening of the new H-E-B, but I was not prepared for more than 2,000 reactions, comments, and shares in the first week of our Facebook video post highlighting last week’s festivities.  Everybody knows that H-E-B is a great company with a loyal following, but I thought I would attempt to provide some specific insights on why this is such a big deal.

Before I do, however, I would like to congratulate VALERIE HIBLER for winning the drawing for $100 in H-E-B gift cards, courtesy of the Marble Falls EDC and Squeaky Wheel Marketing.

And, now, my top ten list:

  1. H-E-B is a Texas-based company with Hill Country roots.  When it comes to community development, the more local, the better.  It just happens to be a huge bonus that H-E-B is the largest private employer in Texas.
  2. H-E-B has great people.  From top to bottom, every H-E-B employee I’ve ever dealt with has been a consummate professional.  David Crail, in particular, has been a pillar of the community and a valuable mentor to me.  At last week’s ceremony, he drew the loudest applause of anyone or anything—so I know others feel the same way I do.  When he announced his retirement last year, it marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.  I know Rudy Gill and his team will do a great job in the coming years.
  3. H-E-B supports the community.  As evidenced by the gifts to the Marble Falls Education Foundation, the Helping Center, and others, H-E-B supports the communities that support their stores.  They truly are a great partner.
  4. H-E-B’s investment in Marble Falls is a beacon that signals the strength of our economy.  During almost every conversation I’ve had over the last year with prospective business owners, I’ve had to answer the question about when the new H-E-B was going to open.  Just as Chick-fil-A represents the strength of the food sector, Baylor Scott & White the healthcare sector, and the hotel and conference center the hospitality sector, H-E-B’s expansion illustrates that they believe in the growth of the Highland Lakes area and that they want to be a part of enhancing the quality of life for our residents and visitors.  And the fact that they did this without any monetary incentives from the EDC or City is icing on the cake.
  5. The H-E-B development project is triggering the revitalization of FM 1431 West.  When H-E-B committed to expanding their presence in Marble Falls, they considered a few sites that would have taken them off of 1431.  Losing H-E-B as an anchor in that area would have been problematic if not devastating for the surrounding businesses.  Instead, all the players involved got creative and figured out a way to make the site work.  Once demolition of the old store and the new parking lot are completed, that area will be a shining example of the right kind of redevelopment.
  6. The opening of the new H-E-B store should stop much of our sales leakage to other communities.  Especially lately, as the shelves of the old store got emptier and the parking lot got tighter, Highland Lakes residents started doing their grocery shopping in communities to our east.  Since they made the trip anyway, they probably stopped and ate somewhere and maybe did some other shopping while they were at it.  The new H-E-B—especially when the parking lot is complete—should give people everything they want from a grocery store and more, thereby keeping more dollars circulating through Marble Falls instead of other communities.
  7. H-E-B’s employment spectrum matches that of the community.  Like the school district and the hospital, H-E-B provides jobs at a variety of wage and skill levels.  These are the top three employers in Marble Falls, accounting for more than 1,500 jobs for professionals with advanced degrees and experience to part-time student workers and retirees.
  8. H-E-B innovates.  From the curbside pickup to the lake gear to the kombucha* station, H-E-B leads the way with fresh, new ideas and products that are appropriate to the communities they serve.
  9. The new H-E-B has ignited a spark in the community.  Outside of a few nice days here and there, the weather around here hasn’t been great lately, and it seems to have led to some moodiness and doldrums that we’re not used to seeing.  That is, until the new H-E-B opened.  Suddenly, everyone is positive and upbeat—even the negative nellies and CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) don’t have anything to complain about.
  10. Aisle #1 is beer, and Aisle #2 is wine.  This seems to be the appropriate priority in the correct order, with a very visible Save the World Brewing Company “Go Local” endcap to boot!

* Kombucha (also tea mushroom, Manchurian mushroom, formal name: Medusomyces gisevii[1]) is a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks commonly intended as functional beverages for their supposed health benefits.  (Source: Wikipedia)