Candidates make final pitch at Lakeway City Council forum

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Lakeway City Council candidates–incumbent Bridge Bertram, challenger Tiffany McMillan and incumbent Ron Massa–took the stage April 13 at the Lakeway Activity Center, 105 Cross Creek, Lakeway, to answer questions submitted by residents and convince potential voters why they should occupy one of the two open spots on the council.

Moderated by the Lakeway Civic Corporation, questions at the event addressed the upcoming $23 million bond election for a new police facility; managing the city’s growth; traffic and the city’s relationship with Texas Department of Transportation; taxes; and Lakeway’s culture.

Opening Statements

  • Bertram: “As a current council member I’m mindful of Lakeway’s history, yet hopeful of what it can become as we continue proactive, long-term planning that will better manage the growth that affects our schools, traffic, water and safety. I’m running for city council re-election because Lakeway needs continued representation from a business perspective.”
  • McMillan: “I stepped up to run because I’ve been bothered about things I’ve seen and heard coming out of City Hall. From council members who vote exactly the same way on practically every issue, to a former mayor and current council member being named as defendants in a federal lawsuit—things like this are wrong and it bothers me. Lakeway deserves better.”
  • Massa: “I’m running for re-election to assure that we effectively manage our growth and resources to reflect our values; maintain our conservative city finances; and promote business growth to help find a city financial solution that serves our needs and fits our values. It’s been a pleasure to serve and I will continue to press forward to make Lakeway a better city today and tomorrow.”

How do you feel about the bond referendum to build a new police facility?

  • Bertram said a tour of the current facility would show the lack of resources available to the city’s police force.
    “When [police]don’t have the resources they need, they can’t do their job well and that affects our safety,” she said. “Think ahead 20 years from now and [what would happen]if we have enough room to last us.”
  • McMillan said she feels the city needs a modernized police station but did not agree that the current proposition is the best answer for the city.
    “The size and scope is too large and the price is an unreasonable amount of debt to burden our community with,” she said. “It simply isn’t fiscally responsible and will hurt our young families, our working families and our retired communities that may be on a fixed income.”
  • Massa said the dollar amount made him hesitant about the proposal but feels it’s the right thing to do considering what the police department needs.
    “What we have today is inadequate for today and certainly inadequate for tomorrow,” he said. “From a financial standpoint this is the best time to do it. Bond interest rates are the lowest they’ve been and probably the lowest they are going to be.”

What do you consider the most important issue the city is currently facing?

  • McMillan: “Growth. Over development is our number one issue.”
  • Massa: “I think that growth is the number one issue. The question is how we best manage that growth to ensure that we keep that hometown atmosphere—the values and the culture of Lakeway—while at the same time allowing people to exercise their property rights.”
  • Bertram: “I think we can manage the growth through ordinances and control, and I think it behooves us to take a look at that, not just in the next years, but from now until we are built out. I think it is manageable and doable.”

What would you do to help the city’s traffic situation?

  • Massa said a short-term solution would be taking away the “suicide lane” in the center of RR 620, and to only allow turns in official turn lanes. The city also has to continue working on interconnectivity within the city, and TxDOT is conducting a study to add more lanes to RR 620, he said.
    “When we talk traffic, we really talk about [RR] 620 and there no doubt that it’s horrendous at this point in time,” he said. “It’s not going to get any better.”
  • Bertram said there is a short-term plan in place for TxDOT to widen RR 620, but there are no long-term plans to address future growth and traffic demands in western Travis County.
    “Whatever improvements we make to [RR] 620 are eventually going to be outgrown,” she said.  “We can only continue to work with TxDOT and [Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization], whose job is to develop plans and identify funding sources. Only when we have a midterm and long-term plan can we truly address traffic.”
  • McMillan said the city should explore ride-sharing options, carpooling, public transportation, hike and bike trails and connecting parking lots to minimize the impact of traffic.
    “There’s not one solution,” she said. “It will take approaches from many angles to solve our traffic. We need to collaborate with TXDOT and other experts like urban planners. This should be the number one priority of the city.”

What special aspects of Lakeway do you want to preserve and what would you like to change?

  • Bertram said, with local amenities such as golf courses and the World of Tennis, there are not too many things to dislike about the city.
    “What I would like to see change is the infrastructure,” she said. “We don’t yet have the support from small business, so we need to start to take a look at public transportation, rideshare and small business co-ops.”
  • McMillan said she would like to preserve and conserve the city’s natural spaces, such as lakes, parks and wildlife.
    “What I would like to change is how we grow and develop, and I think our development should be driven by the community,” she said.
  • Massa said he finds the culture of the people in Lakeway to be special and includes a community of warm, welcoming people.
    “What we need to change is we need to manage our growth,” he said. “We need to find ways of ensuring that culture stays while we grow.”

Would you support a tax exemption increase for the over-65 population?

  • McMillan: “I think it’s important for us to serve our community and we have one of the largest populations of over-65 in the Austin area. Yet we have the lowest tax exemption for these people, and I think that we should raise that and be in line with what’s going on in our neighboring communities.”
  • Massa: “[The tax impact with and without exemptions] is a very minimal amount [for individuals]and it has a very minimal impact [on the over-65 population]. But that cost doesn’t go away. It has to be passed on to others, and I just don’t think that’s fair. My emphasis is trying to make sure the city runs as efficiently and low cost as possible.”
  • Bertram: “Those of us, no matter how old we are, choose to live here. We choose to take advantage of everything that’s here, and we should understand that, no mater what age you are, it’s going to cost something. If we make that choice [to increase the tax exemption], we need to think about if it would be okay to pass the tax on to other people.”

Do you support the one-quarter sales tax renewal referendum for road maintenance?

  • Massa: “I absolutely support the one-quarter sales tax. It roughly brings into the city about $500,000 a year. That $500,000 would have to be made up by other means, potentially property tax, in order for us to maintain our roads.”
  • Bertram: “[The tax] is important for the safety and beauty of our community, and is used to repair the worst roads first. This sales tax can eliminate the need for property tax revenue to maintain our streets. The other benefit is that people outside of Lakeway help to pay for our road maintenance by eating, shopping and doing business here. That takes some of the load off our taxpayers.”
  • McMillan: “I think it’s important to maintain and improve our roads but I’m also cautious about raising any tax, especially when it makes Lakeway’s [tax]the highest in the area.”

Closing Statements

  • Bertram: “If you elect me, I understand that we still have work to do. One of the things I want to make sure to promise is that I will listen to you as I always have, and work with all Lakeway residents. I’ll be inclusive and become fully informed before making all decisions.”
  • McMillan: “The ‘groupthink’ we see from our current city council is bad for our community. We have two city leaders who are defendants in a pending federal lawsuit with allegations related directly to their roles in city leadership. That is troubling to me. I think it’s time that Lakeway had a fresh perspective and a new voice, and I believe I’m the candidate we need.”
  • Massa: “Lakeway has been a city of integrity, and a federal lawsuit [involving a city council member]has been brought up twice tonight. It’s called the Cherry Knoll Lawsuit and that was a result of property bought by the city to extend Flint Rock Road. I’m the City Council Member [involved], and that suit was recently recommended to be dismissed by a magistrate judge as being frivolous.”

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