By MARTHA McCLAIN
Special to the PRESS
Five candidates are vying to serve as Town of Laguna Vista leaders in Saturday’s municipal election.
Early voting by personal appearance ran from April 27 through May 5. A total of 379 votes and 1 provisional vote were cast in that period, according to early voting clerk and City Secretary Alma Deckard. By comparison, in 2014 there were 429 early votes cast, reflecting a slightly lower early vote turn-out, she added.
Candidates for Place 4 include, Jessica Hedrick, who is challenging incumbent Leti Keplinger for her position on the Council.
Nadine Smith is seeking Place 6, the post currently held by Richard Hinojosa.
In Place 5, Councilman Gary Meschi is unopposed.
Voting on Saturday will be conducted from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at City Hall. Identification cards will be required from all voters. The oath of office for those elected will be held on May 12 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The candidates were invited to respond to several issue-based questions to allow voters insight to their ideas on various subject. The comments of those who responded follow.
Question: The former convenience store located across from Roloff Park has become an eyesore. What can be done about it?
Meschi said: “It’s my understanding that the Convenience store is to be auctioned off in May 2015. I am hopeful that whoever buys it will improve the property curb appeal inside and out. I personally would like to see some form of Retail shop occupy the space.”
Hedrick replied: “At this point, the city has worked hard to track down the owner and is working to get the issue resolved. Their efforts will be continued as, even though there hasn’t been physical progress, they have made great strides in getting in touch with the responsible people despite difficult paperwork. It is my understanding that there are currently offers in for the building, pending some tax issues. Once the new owner takes possession, they will be held liable for the condition of the building.”
Hinojosa said: “What can be done is currently being done. Town Staff has been working with the lenders to try to get the property redeveloped. There have been some challenges because the owners filed for bankruptcy. The property is supposed to be auctioned off this month. In the meantime, the Town continues to maintain this property and to file mowing liens.”
Smith responded: “Fining the owner for not maintaining his property is pertinent. When that is ignored more serious steps should be taken. Rules regarding maintaining property, i.e. regular mowing and general upkeep has to be strongly enforced and the city should seriously consider reevaluating the current rules and regulations and/or enforcing them. This is not the only eyesore in the community and we need to take aggressive steps to ensure this does not keep on happening.”
Question: Do you believe Laguna Vista needs more commercial development? What can be done to increase commercial development in Laguna Vista?
Smith said: “No. But I would be open to discuss responsible, locally owned, small businesses.
Hinojosa said. It definitely does. The Town’s Comprehensive Plan makes reference to commercial development on Highway 100. We need to continue to work closely with the Yturria Family who own this property on Highway 100 and work closely with the Laguna Madre Water District to ensure that this property is annexed into this boundaries once a developer expresses interest in opening a business. Secondly, the Town is working closely with The Retail Coach, a consulting retail recruiter who’s actively recruiting business to this corridor.”
Hedrick replied: “I think we need some commercial development, but we don’t want to be a big city. Most of us live here because we don’t want to live on the island but we love the area. We could use small business that will benefit our citizens. I know that we are working with a developer and expecting a report soon. We should take his information into consideration and, if it is not sufficient, then look towards our community to see what we want to have here.”
Meschi responded: “Yes, I do believe that L.V. needs more commercial development. Several things are being done currently. The Council has already approved an outside firm to do a study of the Retail needs of the area. The Company has submitted a list of potential retail businesses to the City Mgr. for his viewing. The Company will now prioritize what they feel are the most suitable businesses for our community. Laguna Vista is growing each year and that alone will entice more businesses to consider our community to start or expand their businesses.”
Question: Should commercial fishing guides be operating out of the Laguna Vista Marina, making money on property owned by the Town of Laguna Vista?
Meschi said: “I personally do not have an issue with the commercial fishermen working out of L.V. Marina. I do, however, think there is an injustice in the membership fee for the commercial fisherman verses the sports fisherman. I am also in favor of a new lease for the Recreational Association, but it is vital that the new lease is restructured to benefit all property owners and residents of L.V.”
Smith responded: “Yes. The marina is maintained and kept by the LVRA, not the city. The guides pay membership fees like all other members. They take good care of the marina, clean up after themselves, and provide a service to all of our residents and their families and guests.”
Hinojosa said: “Absolutely not. The marina was deeded by Mr. Roloff for local resident use. Commercial fishing guides, in my opinion, should be paying a higher rate since they are making money on a marina owned by the Town.”
Hedrick replied: “If there is a tax paid to the city, this would be a great avenue for city to generate revenue. I don’t think that untaxed money made is a good idea, but this could be a good idea if monitored.”
Question: What is your vision for the future of the Laguna Vista Marina?
Hinojosa said: “My vision that the gates continue to exist on the marina and that it be used by local residents only. If commercial fishing guides are using it, they need to be paying a higher fee or rate. Presently, our citizens – except for a select few – are using the marina. I envision part of the marina being used by the local residents for non-fishing purposes, possibly extending Roloff Park into a portion of the marina and setting up picnic tables, etc all for the benefit of the residents of Laguna Vista.”
Smith said: “To have the LVRA renew their lease, and continue to take care of the marina like they have for the past 44 years. I also intend to work closely with them to continually improve, and beautify the premises.”
Hedrick said: “I love our town the way it is and don’t want to make big changes. We should maintain what we have and keep our small town the quiet hide away that it is. A few small businesses that make life easier for the residents would be wonderful, but we don’t to become a big city.”
Meschi responded: “My vision for the L.V Marina is that it be maintained to a high standard of general maintenance and repair, and that it is a safe environment for all the property owners and residents of L.V.”
Question: Some streets and ditches in Laguna Vista are in poor condition. What is your plan to repair them?
Smith replied: “Make sure that it is a priority in the next fiscal year and then follow through. The city has already started improvements on some streets and I will focus on keeping that momentum going. As I previously stated, it is very important to keep our standards high and continuously focus on upkeep and maintenance. This should not only count for the residents, but for the city as well. As is also stated in our comprehensive plan, I will make new sidewalks on our streets, as well as lighted pedestrian crossings at Roloff park a priority.”
Hinojosa said: “As a Town Council member, I don’t directly work on street repairs. None of the elected officials do. We have a staff that is charged with this responsibility. To directly address this problem, the Town has resurfaced Palm Blvd, Mesquite Lane, and is currently making place to resurface Ebony Lane. The Town Staff recently applied for a grant to resurface Orange Lane.”
Meschi replied: “Yes, there are some streets and ditches in L.V. that are in need of repairs. As we all know, this is truly a never ending problem for any city. The City Mgr. has beenon top of this important issue. There have been extensive street repairs made already and there are more to come. The street maintenance program is one that must be budgeted, as well as addressing the ditch issues. Currently, there are contracts out for additional work and approval on the street problems. It would be great if the budget would allow for all improvements to be continued as one ongoing project. However, this method of improvement is very expensive and demands a large amount of revenue in the coffers. As it is, there are other items that need attention that will require funds as well. The needs of the Town must be prioritized and budgeted if we are to progress in a positive way in managing the budget and the Town business.”
Hedrick said: “The city manager has been very successful in getting grants to repair roads ( Palm and Mesquite) and hopefully he will continue to be as successful. As a librarian, I spend some time writing grants and will lend this skill to the city if requested.”
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