Similar to other candidate forums in this election season, and on the eve of early voting, economic development was at the forefront of a Facebook event hosted by former Denton City Council member Kevin Roden on Monday.
“Sixty percent of the city’s budget is based off rooftops,” Mayor Pro Tem Gerard Hudspeth said. “Sales tax is 30% of the budget. What we have to do is get aggressive about our business. We increased the [return on investment] on utilities by 3%. That is what allowed us to keep our budget balanced.”
Hudspeth, a litigation consultant, faces Keely Briggs, a community volunteer and advocate in her third term representing District 2, in the race for mayor. Hudspeth is in his second term as District 1 council member.
The mayor’s office is being vacated by Chris Watts on term limits.
The two candidates also answered questions about Denton’s arts scene and how it may be revived during the pandemic.
“We have to do all that we can,” Briggs said. “We just recently got to be a culture district because of our music scenes and all of our artists. It’s vitally important to our community … that we take care of our artists, musicians and venues.”
For Hudspeth, a revitalization of live music venues may require using the Denton’s parks “in a different way” so that social distancing can be practiced in open space rather than allowing people to be “shoulder to shoulder,” as Roden put it, inside bars.
In a city with a $1.34 billion budget for fiscal year 2020-21, Denton’s average taxable home value is $256,480 — up from $248,909 in 2019-20. City documents show that based on those values, the average tax bill will increase by $44 annually. But for utility bills, the average ratepayer will see a monthly decrease of $24, according to the city.
“The base of your city, of your municipality, comes from your tax dollars from your home,” Hudspeth said. “I would say that matters because you’re affected by it every day. You’re talking police, fire, potholes.”
The property tax rate is 59 cents per $100 valuation.
The second-largest revenue source in the general fund, according to city documents, is sales tax. The new fiscal year budget projects about $36.4 million in sales tax revenue.
“It looks like when we went back and looked at our sales tax, we thought it was going to be a lot worse than it actually was,” Briggs said. “Going forward, we are going to have to be just as careful and make sure we’re doing all we can to get our sales tax base back up.”
“What we have to do is get aggressive about our businesses,” Hudspeth said. “Also, youth sports are a huge economic boost for hotels and restaurants. We need to look at empty spaces and avoid sprawls. Let’s take aggressive steps, targeted steps.”
The 2020-21 budget projection for sales tax revenue is almost 4% below the 2019-20 estimated amount, documents show. But the city’s budget overview document states “the five-year financial forecast projects continued increases in sales tax receipts annually which includes collections related to the Rayzor Ranch and Golden Triangle Mall. The city has economic development agreements with Denton Crossing, Unicorn Lake, Golden Triangle Mall, Rayzor Ranch, WinCo and O’Reilly Hospitality for sales tax rebates.”
Discussions about economic development during this election cycle have generally included how the University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University and North Central Texas College contribute to Denton’s survival.
“I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Hudspeth said. “It’s relationships. I’m an NCTC graduate and also a graduate of UNT, so I’m really excited to see them thrive.”
Briggs said those institutions’ impact on Denton is also about “partnerships.”
“It’s about having real conversations and respect for each other, about what each university can bring to our city and what we can bring to them,” she said.
The other candidate for mayor, Michael Mitchell, a delivery driver, did not participate in the forum.
Early voting begins Tuesday and continues through Oct. 30 for the Nov. 3 election.