The mayors in Parker County provided updates about growth, economic development, infrastructure needs and how they’re working together to support residents and businesses at a recent forum.
Mayors of Aledo, Hudson Oaks, Weatherford and Willow Park answered pre-determined questions, as well as a few from the audience, at the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon Wednesday.
The first question, answered by Weatherford Mayor Paul Paschall and Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall, was about the roadblocks businesses face when trying to come to cities in the county.
“I think transportation is the first and foremost issue that’s going to provide us some opportunities and some challenges along the way. Specifically in Weatherford, we are about 50 percent developed and so we have some good roads in place and we have some areas where we need to add roads and until those roads are added and those funds are available, that’s going to add some challenges,” Paschall said. “We have about 500 miles of underground water lines and wastewater lines in our community and they’re serviced by nine water towers, soon to be 10, and pump stations and lift stations, but we still have a lot of areas that don’t have that infrastructure. Those can be challenging and those can be roadblocks when we don’t have those services in areas and there’s a balance there for those things to be expanded. We have a thoroughfare plan and general plan that have been citizen-based plans and that’s guiding the way we’re growing and where we’re growing and occasionally people want to build developments and commercial that doesn’t fit in our thoroughfare plan and general plan for one reason or another.”
Marshall said a challenge can be land availability.
“From Aledo’s perspective, one of the things that you really don’t think about is land availability and when I speak about land availability that means some of the businesses that want to come into our communities require a specific size of property and so if you don’t have that, well quite honestly that takes you out of the mix,” Marshall said. “So knowing what your inventory is in terms of land, that certainly is a huge challenge I would say. The other thing that you don’t think about would be the property owners themselves and some property owners — and I’m all about personal property rights — that have open parcels who are interested in building, but not today and not tomorrow, so working with them on their timeline and timeframe and seeing what is their vision is as it relates to the current zoning of that particular area can also lend itself to some roadblocks.”
Hudson Oaks Mayor Marc Povero addressed a question about the Texas Legislation and what bills can help the cities.
“The legislature stopped legislating to small communities and cities in how we need to run our cities. Local control was eroded in the last session. As far as what the legislation can do for communities, let us govern the way our residents want us to govern,” Povero said. “We’re elected officials and all government starts at the local level, so we need to be able to govern our communities the way our citizens want.”
Paschall said there needs to be a change in mindset as far as the legislation goes.
“I think what we hear people in Austin say is, [Washington] D.C. leave us alone, we’ll take care of our own state. I think as mayors that’s what we’re saying, Austin, let us manage our own cities and our own counties because if we don’t, we have this system called democracy and if we’re not doing what we need to be doing for our citizens, they will replace us,” Paschall said. “We’re asking them to honor the system of democracy and allow our citizens to empower us to make our local decisions for our communities.”
One way that local control was taken away was through House Bill 2439, which became law on Sept. 1, 2019, relating to exterior building materials. The law prohibits cities from requiring certain materials be used for structures being built, as long as it’s an approved material through the international building code.
“There are plenty of times where that is not in the best interest of a development that’s already started or future development. We need local control over building materials in our communities,” Paschall said. “The second thing is the cap on ad valorem tax rates. That needs to be something that local cities decide. If you are a community that is maturing and has a flat or declining sales tax, that is very threatening. The costs continue to increase with the cost of living and those are things we need control of locally.”
Marshall provided information and examples about how the mayors are working together to address growth and development in Parker County.
“At no other time in history, that I can recall, have we collectively worked together as closely and as effectively as we are today and that’s huge. It’s huge for our cities because we’re each responsible for our individual cities and yet there are those things that impact us collectively. When we have construction, for instance, going on 1187, a road that impacts another city, then we’re going to reach out to that city and let them know what’s going on. Why? Because it impacts their residents as well, so we want to make sure we’re a good neighbor,” Marshall said. “When we were expanding 1187 from a two-lane road in Aledo to a four-lane road, I had several residents from Annetta North call me and express some concern about an intersection close to the railroad tracks as your southbound. They were concerned about the safety of school buses crossing as well as cars, so I called TxDOT and said, ‘Let’s revisit the design of the intersection because here’s the concern,’ and I was able to share that and you know what they did? They redesigned that.”
Povero addressed some ways residents can get involved in serving their city.
“With cities, there are several boards and commissions you can serve on. There are 12 commissions in Weatherford that you can get on whether its parks or planning and zoning, the animal shelter, kind of whatever your love in life is. With the city of Hudson Oaks we do have a planning and zoning commission and so just pay attention to the city’s Facebook pages or the Weatherford Democrat or The Community News and find out where you want to serve and those opportunities come available pretty regularly,” Povero said. “The process is you would apply for them and then you would interview before the city council or the county commissioners court, and it’s a competitive process, but that’s the first step to really getting involved.”
The mayors then answered a couple of questions from the audience, the first referencing ways to address the aging population in the county and affordable housing.
“I think that’s a challenge we face in Weatherford, in Parker County, the state, America and the world and we have to have diversity in housing for all levels of wage earners, we have to have housing that meets the needs of an aging population and have to have the medical community support them, transportation systems to support them,” Paschall said. “It’s an extremely complex problem and I don’t think any of us would have a solidified answer today other than that we’re going to have to be creative and think outside the box, we’re going to have to know our demographics and stay ahead of that aging population.”
Aledo and Willow Park have recently approved facilities for the aging population in the forms of a memory care and assisted living, and independent senior living complex. Hudson Oaks is currently constructing an apartment complex off Interstate 20.
“We’ve had at least two facilities that have come before our planning and zoning and council that were approved. One was a retirement center and the other was an over 55 community, both of them beautiful facilities, they never got built. We can only do so much and when folks come in and want to build in our cities, we used to have requirements as far as exterior facade but other than that, we really can’t regulate. We had those in the works, I don’t know what happened to them but they just never got built,” Povero said. “We do have a 360-plus unit apartment complex going in Hudson Oaks, it’s our first multi-family and so that’s going to offer some residences to people who may not be able to move to Parker County because of property values. The citizens have to decide how much of that you want and so there’s kind of that growing pain in Hudson Oaks.”
The last question for the mayors was in regards to ensuring public safety keeps up with the growth in the county.
“In Willow Park we’re short three firemen and one policeman and we’re working hard on our sales tax to get that up to where hopefully by the end of this year we can have that resolved,” Willow Park Mayor Doyle Moss said. “It’s a battle we face and I think most small cities face, but we’re working hard to get to that. I’m hopeful by the end of this year our city will be fully staffed to handle that.”
Povero said Hudson Oaks has twice as many officers as required by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to adequately provide service to a municipality.
“The FBI says you need about two and a half to three officers per thousand. We have about 2,500 residents and 12 certified law enforcement officers, so we’ve made a commitment to public safety in Hudson Oaks already,” Povero said. “As far as a fire department goes, we’re in ESD 3 and so the county fire department provides fire services to Hudson Oaks and they’ve done a tremendous job in providing fire service to us along with the city of Weatherford, who provides the firefighters. That’s a unique situation that we have in Hudson Oaks, but as far as the growth goes I would say we’re on top of it. We are forward-thinking.”
The city of Aledo, which utilizes ESD 1 for fire services and the Parker County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, said they are nearing the threshold to being in talks about a police department. As of right now, Aledo has a school district police department.
“For the city of Aledo, which is 2.6 square miles — the school district is much larger — ESD 1 provides fire protection for us. Aledo does not have a police department but we contract with the Parker County Sheriff’s Office and we have two deputies specifically assigned to the city of Aledo to provide law enforcement,” Marshall said. “In order to put in a police department — which as we’re getting closer to that 5,000 population benchmark these are conversations we’re having — I use to say it would cost $500,000 just to start it and that has increased significantly, and who pays for that? Our residents do, so trying to factor in the public safety piece along with how you get the money to pay for a police department, that’s why we’re contracting with the sheriff’s department at this time.”
Paschall said the Weatherford police and fire departments are fully staffed, but they’re still thinking about future growth.
“Our police department responded to 44,000-plus calls for service last year. Our fire department, which is three stations and our contract with an ESD, responded to over 4,200 calls total,” Paschall said. “Our top two capital projects are new public safety facilities, it’s in the design phase and will be under construction within the next 12 to 15 months. While one is under construction we will be starting construction of our next fire station, so we have plans in the process already to be equipped to handle the growth that’s on the way.”
The full video forum can be viewed by visiting the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.