With less than a month before Election Day, candidates vying for county judge sparred with each other one last time Oct. 10 as they aim to secure voters before they hit the polls.
Democratic candidate Ruben Becerra and Republican candidate Will Conley fought hard against each other at the Texas State University student media debate hosted by KTSW at the San Marcos Activity Center.
The candidates focused on topics such as job growth, infrastructure needs, experience and economic developent issues.
Conley, a former county commissioner and current chairman for the Central Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), focused much of the night on his experience with county politics, citing his track record as one that has focused on the needs of the county.
Becerra did not agree, citing the county’s $455 million debt and tax incentives to major companies like Amazon have burdened the financial stability of Hays County.
“Of that debt, we have created many other revenue streams beyond property taxes and sales tax to help pay that back,” Conley said. “The county’s credit rating is at its highest level it’s ever been. It’s like your personal credit score. I will also, with few exceptions, say that debt was voted on overwhelming by the citizens of Hays County.”
Conley said the debt was an investment the county made for conservation efforts, transportation systems and park space. Conley also argued that debt is being reduced not by citizens’ property taxes, but by different revenue sources independent to what the citizenry of Hays County pays.
“Here’s what I heard just now, ‘this is very complicated, you don’t understand, and you voted for it, so shut up,’” Becerra said. “I don’t subscribe to that philosophy or mentality. We vote for things with the assumption that people are being useful and responsible with our hard earned money.
Becerra was concerned with the “chronic waste” of taxpayer dollars. As an example, he cited the $100 million county jail expansion project, which was approved by voters in 2016.
“My opponent lives in a non-factual fantasy. He just speaks in broad accusations without even knowing the details of any of that,” Conley said, rebutting Becerra’s talk of ‘chronic waste’.
Conley countered, citing the county’s financing rating is the highest it’s ever been and savings is the highest it’s ever been, doing so by building a half a billion dollars worth of state infrastructure on time and under budget.
“That is indisputable. Indisputable,” he said.
On economic development, Becerra said he is not a fan of tax incentives for big companies while small businesses struggle to optimize success.
Becerra criticized Amazon, as the trillion dollar corporation just raised its minimum wage to $15 all while cutting incentives and benefits to alleviate cost to its fulfillment center employees, directly affecting employees in Hays County.
“So what I would do is make sure we get accuracy in reporting and get our money’s worth so that everyone has true competitiveness coming into our county,” Becerra said.
Conley said he has been one of the leaders in economic development for Hays County, citing his efforts as one of the founders of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, an economic development organization serving Hays and Caldwell counties which he called a success.
“Companies today have the ability to do almost anything they want to do internationally, so you are competing on an international field,” Conley said. “And what you need, first and foremost, when you’re looking to attract a company, is a plan and a way to implement that plan. We’ve developed comprehensive plans working with all stakeholders in our community that have put us on the offensive.”
Conley said the students at Texas State are part of the economic development plan as the university provides a skilled workforce that will bring companies to Hays County.
Becerra criticized the GSMP as an organization funded by tax dollars, adding community members have called the organization “whale hunters,” pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars to compete globally.
“It’s important to me to be truthful in the things we are doing in every way when it comes to your future,” Becerra said. “My kids are staying here too. It’s our future and our community. Let’s just do everything we can efficiently.”
Becerra said he has a passion for serving people and will continue to do so throughout his life.
“That mentality, that looking glass, that kaleidoscope is what’s missing in our commissioners court,” Becerra said. “I see the lack of effort to make things happen.”
Conley said the best way to resolve poverty issues is to have jobs available for the people in a community, then to equip people with basic resources like food, shelter and water.
“Those are things we have done directly in the county, those are things we have done partnering with our nonprofits in this community and with our municipalities and we will continue to do,” Conley said. “You’re not promised anything in America except a fair opportunity and there is a fair standard no person should fall below.”