By CHRISTIN COYNE
WILLOW PARK – The East Parker County Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night hosted a forum for candidates running for office in East Parker County, asking several questions of each candidate, including county judge candidates Mark Riley and Cary McKay, facing off in Tuesday’s local Republican primary.
McKay called for lowering taxes and better communication with Parker County cities, while Riley talked about the successful transportation projects he has led during his time in office and record of working with local cities so that it became a statewide model for TxDOT.
Some of questions asked of candidates and their responses are included:
Why are you running for office?
Riley: “I’m proud of my 23 years of service to this county - eight years as commissioner of precinct 4 and 15 years as county judge. During those 23 years, we’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve saved taxpayers money but we’ve provided services to the community.
“I think when you enter public office you are either looking for a job or you have a servant’s heart. And I’ve had a servant’s heart. And it’s not about the money. It’s not about the prestige or whatever. It’s about what can you accomplish each day for the citizens you work for. I’m proud of those accomplishments and I’ll continue to do that if re-elected.”
McKay: “Probably more than anything to get the taxes more in line with where we’re at right now. I want to stand up for the taxpayer. I think we’re paying too much in property taxes as we speak.
“And the other is to stand up for the property owner. I believe we’ve lost a lot of property rights over course of the last several years and I see that as something that we cannot do and that I would not do. I would always stand up for the property owner.
“But also, I would like to see us bring the cities of this county together. I think we need to have the judge be a leader who’s going to unite the cities in planning and going toward a way of allowing everyone to have a voice in this county.”
If elected, what will you do first?
Riley: “Well, I don’t have to figure out what we will do first. I will continue to do what we’ve been doing right. Hit the ground running. Continue with the implementation of the transportation bond. We’re on time, under budget and the Eastern Loop phase, we’ll be holding another public meeting this summer. The county has money set aside for our fair share.
“We’ve been working for an extensive amount of time with the City of Hudson Oaks and Weatherford on their partnership involved in the interchange for the East Loop. We are all ready to go. We’ve brought TxDOT to the table and it’s just a matter of proceeding with the implementation of the alignment of the Eastern Loop.
“Additionally, continue to work on the budget process. I personally start in early January and review the first quarter and move forward. We have good elected officials and they don’t come to the table willy-nilly. They come only with what they expect. So my experience keeps it from lasting four to five months.”
McKay: “Lower taxes, first and foremost. To present a budget that will lower taxes. Currently, most people don’t realize that seven out of the last 10 years our general budget taxes have been raised. There is no getting around those numbers. It has grown 110 percent over the last 10 years. I know that we can do better. That’s from $19 million to $41 million.
“We have to budget better. We have to get together and come together as your budgets count. And I will work with these elected officials in their offices, literally in their offices, understanding exactly what they do so when they bring their budgets in they actually do matter.
“But I also want to see, like I’ve said before, to unite the cities. Let’s make sure we bring people together. I want to plan for transportation and let’s get on the East Loop and get on it as quickly as possible. But also, plan for water. We must plan for water and that means as the judge to have a platform to bring the councils together and work with them and use that to our benefit for our future.”
Do you see any other options for a water supply that should be investigated for East Parker County cities? How would you be an advocate for water solutions for East Parker County?
Riley: “I’ve attended water meetings in the region and conferences... The county can’t dictate to any city about anything. I don’t care what it is. We can’t dictate. We can be partners but our statutory authority is limited.
“I think what a lot of people, especially new people, don’t understand about county government is it’s not like city government in any form or fashion. And the power we have only comes from what the Legislature gives us and the constitution. It’s either statute or specified in the constitution. We can’t just go out and do something because we think it would be a good idea.
“Now, that doesn’t keep us from partnering and supporting and, as I said, like independent water supply companies, if Walnut Creek Water Supply, for example, in the north part of the county. If they want to apply for a state grant to improve their system, the county has to be the pass-through for those funds. That’s the way that process was set up. So we support those grant applications.
“Our auditor, our purchasing department. We all function as part of that, to pass through that money. But they oversee the project. So that’s what the law allows us to do. And I think that if there are improvements, the cities can come up with some ideas and perhaps the Legislature can open that process up but when we talk about taxes in the same breath, the county doesn’t have the money to dig a lake, build a lake. That’s a 30-year process and billions of dollars and a permit of itself for 15, 20 years.
“Water is important to all of us but, again, as an elected official, we have to realize what our authority is and not exceed that.”
McKay: “Well, I would just say this. Four years ago when I ran, I was the only candidate in the state of Texas – based on a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article, which surprises me by the way – who brought up water as a platform issue.
“Look, what I have seen take place with the personal property rights and the water issue is a problem to me. The Upper Trinity Water Conservation District has killed us in my opinion. It has hurt us as landowners. It has hurt developers. I have seen issues with that. I’ve seen issues with cities. I talked today with people from Willow Park. It is an entity that has now come in and taken over our water rights. It dictates to us on our own land, when and where and how much we can drill.
“Now folks, they also charge you a nice little, big, permit fee for that, that we used to never have. I’m for water planning but I don’t want to dig a hole in the county’s money but I’m for uniting the cities with each other to plan. We have to do something. We just passed a proposition in October from the state that allows us some funding for regional water. Well, you can’t live without water, folks. You have to have it. We have to be planning for it. So that’s been one of my big sticklers from the beginning.
“If you go back in the history of the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and go back to their meetings, I have stood up to them countless times. Attorney’s fees of $972,000 against this county and against other counties for the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District to be put into place. Folks, those are our tax dollars but we must wake up and stand up. This is what’s going on in your county and we can plan for water.”