Area mayors discuss growth, transportation at conference

by | Jul 1, 2015 | Latest

By Joe Reavis

Staff Writer

[email protected]

In a panel discussion among area mayors hosted Friday, June 26 by Collin County Business Alliance, Wylie Mayor Eric Hogue departed from the script of his counterparts to inject his ebullience and humor into the discussion while making his points.

“You need Wylie, Texas,” Hogue declared, explaining that much of what citizens of other communities buy in stores was shipped through Wylie.

Then he added the zinger, declaring: “When you flush that toilet, think of Wylie, Texas.”

The mayor quickly pointed out that Wylie is the home of North Texas Municipal Water District that has provided water and wastewater services to most of the area since the 1950s.

Joining Hogue in the panel discussion were the mayors of Plano, McKinney, Celina, Richardson and Frisco, all of whom spent their allotted time citing the economic achievements and growth of their respective cities.

“We are truly the economic center of Collin County and we continue to concentrate on economic development,” Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said.

“Economic development is the number one priority for us, but you have to have quality of life,” McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller said.

Hogue pointed out that Wylie has grown 250 percent in population since 2000 and pointed out that businesses attracted to the community report sales markedly in excess of their projections.

Panel moderator Paul O’Donnell, editor-in-chief of Dallas Business Journal, said in introducing Hogue, “Wylie, might be the untold story here.”

The mayor quipped, “It’s a little bit of heaven on earth.”

The mayors noted that the area can be a more powerful economic engine if the cities work together, pointing out that a future location for a business is more attractive if it is touted of an area of 1.5 million people instead of the population of a single municipality.

Also agreed was the belief that what benefits one of the six cities also benefits the other cities through jobs and an increased tax base.

“What we do as a mayor and city council is we get out of the way. Our EDC (Economic Development Corporation) does the business recruiting job,” Hogue said, and pointed out that city staff works with zoning on items such as zoning and impact fees.

“We have a great partnership between our city, EDC and businesses,” the Wylie mayor noted. “That’s what makes it successful.”

The conference was held at Capital One Conference Center in Plano and started with a pair of round table discussions on providing transportation and water infrastructure to meet future needs and on preparing the business and community leaders for tomorrow through education.

Transportation session moderator Brandon Formby of the Dallas Morning News pointed out in opening remarks that Collin County is expected to grow to 1.3 million people in the next 20 years and that transportation is, and will continue to be, a major issue, as well as the ability to provide water to the growing population.

Taking the lead in the transportation segment was State Rep. Joe C. Pickett of El Paso, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

He began by touting Proposition 4 that will be on November election ballots, a measure that will add $3 billion annually by 2020 to the Texas Department of Transportation budget, an amount that could increase to $5 billion with continued population and business growth in the state. The proposition gets its funds from a $2.5 billion transfer from sales tax proceeds and revenue from sales taxes collected on vehicle sales.

Money is to be used to build new roads and maintain existing roads, and cannot be used to fund construction of new toll roads.

“It is going to be huge, but it still won’t fix everything,” Pickett said.

He pointed out that the proposition has built-in safeguards that will reduce TxDOT funding in the event of an economic decline in the state.

Discussion went to mass transit for Collin County, in response to an audience question, as a key piece of economic development. Mass transit could provide relief on area roads and if expanded statewide would connect major metropolitan areas.

“This was a friendly session to high speed rail,” Pickett said, but noted that no action was taken this year.

The representative said that future transportation planning should combine highway and rail projects, but that does not always happen.

NTMWD Executive Director Tom Kula spoke on how the district plans to meet future water needs of the area, touching on a number of projects already underway.

“There is no way to meet the water needs of our area without good conservation efforts,” Kula said.

The district is dredging channels near water inlets at Lavon and Chapman lakes to better draw water during low level times and actively utilizes direct reuse to make the best use of resources. Direct reuse includes treating wastewater and pumping it back into Lavon and making use of wetlands to clean river water that is then pumped into reservoirs.

NTMWD also is in the permitting stage to build the Lower Bois de Arc reservoir that will add to water supply. It is the first reservoir to be permitted for construction in about 30 years and is expected to be completed and full in 2020.

Keynote speaker at the conference luncheon was author Bill Eggers, an authority on government reform and how governments, businesses and society can work together to solve problems.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about solving societal problems,” he declared.

Eggers outlined several international projects, such as working to eradicate malaria, in which governments, businesses, individuals and organizations have coordinated their efforts, noting that deaths from malaria have dropped by 50 percent over the past few years.

CCBA Chairman Sanjiv Yajnik closed the conference by thanking participants for taking part in the discussion on challenges and opportunities presented by growth in Collin County and announced an initiative with University of Texas-Dallas to develop a vision for the county over the next 50 years.

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