Photo Shawn Arrajj
Growth was the theme of the April 12 “Meet the candidates” forum for this year's Tomball City Council races. All four candidates running for the two positions on the May 12 ballot were in attendance and fielded 26 questions from residents who came out to Lone Star College–Tomball for the event.
The candidates running for Position 2 are incumbent Mark Stoll and challenger Barbara Tague. For Position 4, Jeffie Cappadonna is running against incumbent Derek Townsend Sr.
Questions covered a variety of topics such as candidate experience and qualifications, immigration and whether Tomball would benefit from being one of the stops on a proposed commuter rail line.
Growth, spending and taxes were the most common subjects for questions and the 9-cent property tax increase that passed in October 2011 proved to still be a hot topic.
Both Stoll and Townsend voted against the increase—which raised the tax by 36 percent—stating that the public should be allowed to vote on something that significant. Both candidates clarified at the forum that they supported the projects the money went to—the extension of Medical Complex Drive and the M121 West Drainage Channel—but maintained that raising the taxes that much without consulting voters was irresponsible.
“If we have projects that need to be done and we can't afford to do them, we need to go educate the public and ask them if they think the projects are worth having their taxes raised,” Townsend said. “Part of the problem with our federal government is they can raise our taxes and we don't have any say.”
When asked what is the lowest tax rate increase the Council should be able to approve without going to a public vote, Stoll and Tague both said around 4–5 percent, while Townsend set the bar the lowest at 3 percent.
Cappadonna acknowledged that, while unpopular, tax increases should not be avoided.
“No one likes a tax increase, but we've had so many decreases in the past that we were falling behind,” she said. “We don't want to be the town at the center of the donut while everyone else grows around us.”
Before October, Tomball's property tax had not been raised since 1992. It was raised from $0.25 to $0.34 per $100 valuation and remains one of the lowest among nearby cities.
Candidates were also asked about what they think the city should do with the revenue collected from sales taxes, which is up significantly from last year.
While Townsend suggested the money be used to pay down some of the city's debt, Stoll said he would like to put the money aside in something similar to a savings account.
“We have some large expenditures coming up with road projects like Medical Complex Drive, which will cost more than $50 million to fully complete,” Stoll said. “I think we need to start saving for those projects today and start putting those funds aside when we have them.”
Tague said the money could be put into a “capital improvement project fund,” which would be used to on infrastructure projects the city has fallen behind on.
“If we improve our infrastructure that will encourage businesses and industry to come to Tomball,” she said. “That increases our tax base and will bring huge income into our city, which allows us to avoid future tax increases.”
There were some areas where all four candidates seemed to agree. They all said they believe the city charter and various building codes need to be reviewed and updated. They also agreed money should not be spent on project studies unless funds have already been set aside to complete the actual project.
The forum was hosted by the Tomball Chamber of Commerce. Roughly 75 people attended.
Chamber president Bruce Hillegeist said he thought the questions covered a wide range of issues, but he would like to see more residents attend.
“We've got about 12,000 people in our city who can vote, so we wish more people would come out to learn about the process and the candidates,” he said.
Election day is May 12 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting is from April 30–May 8.