Election - District 7 The sump hole

Visting District 7? Bring your galoshes

As one City Council candidate described it, District 7 is shaped like an amoeba separating at Leon Valley into two distinct areas above and below Loop 410. The six candidates the Current interviewed agree that the primary issues in their district are flood drainage, road maintenance, and safety, and, like a great single-cell organism, some of their solutions are beginning to sound alike, including "zero-based budgeting," which requires cities to begin each year with a clean slate - zero.

Reinette Alecozay

Candidates for District 7 City Council include contract negotiator Reinette Alecozay, retired social worker Elena Guajardo, tax attorney Ted Kenyon, USAA mortgage processor Ernie Macdonald, consultant Fred Rangel, attorney Noel Suniga, small business owner Cynthia Test, and Jim Valdez, director of a non-profit organization, who ran against State Senator Leticia Van de Putte last year.

Rangel and Suniga declined to be interviewed.

Current: How would you address flooding?

Elena Guajardo: There are some projects in the mill, but it takes time. One project costs millions of dollars, so we have just been putting a Band-Aid here and a Band-Aid there, and we need to look at a more comprehensive plan - not only in my district, but all over the city.

Ernie Macdonald: We need to look at ways of putting in drainage systems. If Councilman Castro was working on some projects, I would hope the new council person would talk to him; the next person needs to pick it up, instead of saying, No, I have an ego, I have to do it my way.

Cynthia Test: There was a project to repair a stretch of Woodlawn between Hillcrest and Bandera, but they delayed it for so long that they now need an additional $1 million to even begin the project. So, we just need to spend the money or it is going to cost even more to do it later.

Reinette Alecozay: I want to put together a think tank with the citizens to brainstorm new ideas. I know there are creative, faster, and cheaper ways to do this work. I'd like to implement those ideas, and I have some engineers with the city who will work with us.

Jim Valdez: They had a problem that whenever there was flooding, raw sewage would come up, but that is being addressed with a $74 million street repair and drainage project that will be completed in 2007. People have been waiting so long to see something change that they'll give credit to the next City Council person, just because it is happening now.

Ted Kenyon: We need to go back to the first step, which is to plan and coordinate with all the different entities, and make sure that the water has a place to go. These short-term solutions - bar ditches, corrugated pipes - are not enough.

Where will the funding to solve these problems come from?

Elena Guajardo: Right now there's something like a $150 million cap on city bonds, but on school bonds you can go up to $300 million. We have to look at creating a regional flooding infrastructure plan, city and county, so that we can get higher bonding rates than what we have currently.

Ernie Macdonald: We have to look at zero-based budgeting, which is where we deal with the aspects we need the most. We don't have money for everything, but hopefully we can shift the money around.

Cynthia Test

Cynthia Test: We've got to start with a zero-based budget, cut out what we don't need, and start doing some of these projects. The people are hurting and they are very upset. One of those residents has a water pump in his backyard; he has to use it every time it rains to keep the water out of his house.

Ted Kenyon: We need to gold mine that budget: there's a lot of information there, but, if it were formatted properly, we could find the money in that budget.

How would you address street maintenance and potholes?

Elena Guajardo: There's a lady I met block-walking, her street doesn't have a curb or sidewalks, and she said 'I've talked about this since Lila Cockrell.' She's petitioning, but she's still not on the list. We need to look at how we are responding, not only to the need, but to the people. So, it's about looking at where we are, what we've promised, and what we can do.

Ernie Macdonald: I drive Wurzbach every day and I'm swerving to miss the potholes. It's not that the City's neglecting to patch up the potholes, but putting asphalt on top of asphalt without actually getting in there and fixing up the problem is not going to work.

Cynthia Test: There is bad news for everybody. The truth is in when the pie is divided, every district gets an average of $120,000, which first covers police and fire, and then the rest gets divided from libraries to streets. You can't fix even two blocks in your area.

Ted Kenyon: I've been told we are using the same specification for road fill for 20 years. We have the ability to use other materials - ash, rubber. The idea that a pothole needs to be repaired every two months - if we had the right specs for the road bed, that wouldn't be a problem.

How would you address traffic congestion?

Reinette Alecozay: I understand that our city never timed the lights so that traffic would flow freely - timing the lights would alleviate congestion and free up commuters' time.

Jim Valdez: In the Deco District, a lot of people are happy about the revitalization, but look at the traffic: When you come home from work on I-10, you are stuck in traffic and then you hit another traffic jam in your own neighborhood. An engineer would need to do a feasibility study to look at where the street can be widened.

How would you fund that, and how much would it cost?

Elena Guajardo: I just know we don't have it now, or we'd be doing it. If we have a higher bond issue, maybe we can move these projects more. People won't mind paying money, if they see the value.

Ernie Macdonald: One thing that I want to do is have more projects go in-house to the City. We contract that work out to other people, which costs 1 1/2 times as much.

What's the obstacle to bringing the work in-house?

Ernie Macdonald: The amount of money to buy the machinery.

How much would it cost?

Ernie Macdonald: I'd have to sit down with public works to figure that out. I know that to buy new machinery costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it's hard for people to swallow large amounts of tax dollars going to one thing.

Cynthia Test: The money is there, we just have to get in there, start from a zero-base budget, and look at what we really need, and from there, split what's left to the other, lesser priorities.

Reinette Alecozay: Haven't studied that. I know `District 9 candidate` Weston Martinez has.

Ernie MacDonald

Jim Valdez: I would like to look at the way that we budget things, and go towards a zero-based budget, where organizations and departments have to justify their budgets on an annual basis, as opposed to just getting the same amount every year. That identifies waste in the City budget and where money could be diverted to help pay for projects like these.

Ted Kenyon: We've got to goldmine the budget, find the money to bring it up to par, and then make sure it doesn't happen again.

People in your district seem concerned about safety, how would you address that?

Elena Guajardo: I'm the only one that has a plan and it's the crime-control district. In Fort Worth they have a crime-control district. It would be 1/8-cent, which would be voted on. The money goes into a special fund for recruitment, training, equipment, and task force, which we don't have money for right now.

Ernie Macdonald: Crime is on the rise: breaking and entering and vandalism. A lot of people complain about their neighbors, 'They're in my business.' Well, I kind of like those people. We need to get more neighbors involved: Let's be the eyes of our district, we are not going to take this anymore.

Cynthia Test: When the City went crazy annexing, they didn't hire more policemen and firefighters to take care of those areas. There is just one safety officer for this whole huge area. The people are not getting the kind of service they deserve. A lot of people are fearful.

Reinette Alecozay: Increase the number of police by 250. Increase our number of SAFE officers who patrol the neighborhoods, so that we can have a fear-free environment.

Jim Valdez: They talked about creating a crime district with 1.8 percent tax. `The sales tax would be 1/8-cent.` That's a Band-Aid. People turn to crime because they are desperate to provide for themselves or their family. We need to offer alternatives: In exchange for tax abatements, we could ask new businesses to provide a living wage and job training. Putting someone to work is a win-win for everyone; it creates a productive tax payer.

How much would it cost and how would you pay for it?

Elena Guajardo: We would probably start advocating a 1/8-cent, but I'd have to get back to you with that figure.

Cynthia Test: We need to look at abatements, which hurt a city tremendously because you lose out on that taxation for 20-30 years. Yet, our city keeps doing it. Also, the City funds so many programs: Why do we have all these programs if they have nothing to do with basic services?

Could you give me an example?

Cynthia Test: Project Quest: Why are we training these people? Didn't the high schools do their job? Obviously they didn't, so the City has to come behind them and train these people. Yet, the biggest portion of our taxation is education.

Reinette Alecozay: I believe we need to do some zero-based budgeting; there's a lot of fat in the budget, and unnecessary duplication. Crime control districts would hire 50 policemen a year, but I'm not in favor of increasing taxes.

Can you give me an example of fat in the budget?

Reinette Alecozay: It's an 800-page budget, and it's not on the web, so it's not available. There has been upset in the community because the City has spent money on gay parades that don't go along with family values.

`Editor's note: The budget is on the web at sanantonio.gov/budget. According to City Public Works and Roger Flores' office, the City has not spent money on gay parades. `

Jim Valdez: The City and the County have been looking at the consolidation of services. You have the San Antonio police department, the airport police, the park police, and the sheriff's office. Now, here you get in a sticky wicket because of the union, but imagine if you consolidated, not to get rid of people, but maybe just the overhead.

Text and interviews by Susan Pagani

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