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City council, county judge candidates take podium

Burnet Bulletin of Burnet, Texas

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The runoff campaign in the Burnet County Judge race got off to an unofficial and somewhat tepid start Monday at a forum sponsored by the Burnet Chamber of Commerce with candidates James Oakley and George Russell mostly touting their credentials for the job and attempting to demonstrate their command of the issues the county faces in the future.

Oakley and Russell and the four candidates running for three positions on the' Burnet City Council took questions from chamber officials and an audience of about 30 at the Sylvester H. Reed Memorial Building.

The city council election is May 10 and early voting starts Monday.

The county judge runoff election is May 27.

Oakley, a former two-term county commissioner touted what he termed his relevant experience and Russell, the current mayor of Marble Falls cited his own resume which also includes stints as city manager in Georgetown and Marble Falls.

"I have real experience working in county government," Oakley said. "I worked on projects as county commissioner that came in under budget and on schedule."

Russell, who is serving his third two-year term as Marble Falls mayor, said he is prepared to handle whatever the county judge job demands.

"At one time or another I've seen or heard about or dealt with everything that has to do with running a municipality or a county government," he said.

As for the most important issues facing the county, both candidates said water.

"You can almost say that water is number one, two and three," Russell said.

In also listing water issues as the county's top priority, Oakley also worked in criticism of the Lower Colorado River Authority, which has the responsibility for managing the water in the Highland Lakes.

"The disparity in the prices that prices that the firm customers like the cities pay and what inter-ruptible customers such as the rice farmers down stream pay is unacceptable," Oakley said.

LCRA currently is developing a new water rate structure but currently charges firms customers $ 151 and acre foot for stored water from the Highland Lakes while the interruptible customers pay $6.50 an acre foot.

Oakley also listed the county's jail and transportation needs among the most crucial issues.

Both candidates touted their fiscal conservative credentials, but Russell warned that even though the county is on track to be debt free in 2016, it faces the real possibility of having to raise property taxes during the next county judge's term and Oakley said he favors trying to find more money in the budget for the emergency services districts' volunteer fire departments.

Because an ongoing near-record drought has devastated Lake Buchanan and caused a drop in property values, "the effective tax rate is going to go up," Russell said.

"Whoever is on the commissioners court is going to have to deal with that," he said.

The city council forum also was a low-key affair with little to no disagreement among the candidates about the issues facing the city.

"Good city services is the most important thing a city can offer," said Philip Thurman, who serves as the council's mayor pro tem. "Citizens want and deserve good water, wastewater, fire, police and EMS services."

Thurman touted the city's successes in his nearly two years on the council, saying the city has gone from an alarming financial position with insufficient cash on hand weather an emergency or downturn to a point where it has a robust 90-day reserve fund.

Paul Shell, who has served 10 years in multiple stints on the council, said his 21 year military career and 39 years as owner of his own construction company qualifies him to occupy a city leadership role.

"I've got a few more things I'd like to do," he said.

Joyce Laudenschlager, the city's long-time finance director who retired last year, said the city "is in the best financial shape it has ever been in."

She would like to be on the council because her financial background will help and even though she just retired she would like to stay involved because, "everything's still fresh in my mind."

The fourth council candidate, Zachary Worrell, acknowledged he does not have the leadership experience of the other candidates but he favors being prudent with the city's finances.

"You have to set priorities," he said. "If it's not a priority, it can wait."

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Original Publication Date: April 23, 2014

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