1. Name: Thomas Muir
2. Age: 48
3. Family (spouse’s name, children’s names and ages): Spouse - Elizabeth Muir; Children - Grace Muir (19), Bella Muir (15) and Julia Muir (11)
4. Education: Sanger High School (’88); University of North Texas - Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Accounting (’93); Certified Public Accountant; Certified Financial Planner®; TCU Ranch Management Evening Division graduate (’06)
5. Profession/Title/Company: Fee-only Investment Advisor / President / Cultivar Capital, Inc.; Entrepreneurial small business owner
6. How long have you been a resident of Sanger? My wife and I have both lived in Sanger our entire lives.
7. Why did you choose to run for City Council/Mayor? Serving my local community is important to me. We are all to love those around us and be engaged personally with our neighbors; one outlet for me to do this is through my service on city council. Elizabeth and I have raised our family in Sanger and want it to be a great place for our kids both now and into their future. Because we have grown up in the community and plan on remaining here, we have a long-term vested interest in Sanger being a place we can all be proud to call home.
8. Why do you believe you are qualified for the seat of Councilman/Mayor? As a small business owner, I make decisions that are both short-term and strategic in nature. Sometimes a quick decision is called for, while at other times a long-term strategic plan must be laid out. These types of decisions are much like those made by the mayor and council. These decisions ensure that Sanger moves forward by addressing both immediate issues that arise, while planning out those decisions that can take multiple years to fund and see to completion.
In addition, I bring a significant background in finance to the position because of my education, professional licenses and career experience. This understanding of finance is important when considering annual budgeted operations, as well as long-term bond issuance needed to cover major capital projects. It is certainly a balancing act to accomplish as many key projects as possible without overburdening the city and its citizens with higher taxes.
Lastly, through years of serving in various volunteer positions within the community, I have worked alongside many others that are invested in our community. This type of community spirit and involvement is what it takes to build a healthy community. These relationships foster understanding and cooperation that makes our city even better.
9. What would you say to residents – primarily east of downtown – who are currently affected by sewage smell about efforts/plans to fix the problem? All council members are well aware of the issue with the smell from the current wastewater treatment plant; several live in the subdivision next to the plant.
Prior to the current challenges, council had already begun a multi-year project of working toward a longer-term solution that would minimize the potential for odor issues through improved facilities and processes. Unfortunately, before construction could be fully completed the microbes within the system got out of balance. There could be several causes for this, but we have some evidence that it may have been caused initially by illegal dumping into our broader wastewater system. This severely degraded the microorganisms within the plant. Recovering the good microbes within the system has taken time and ebbs and flows since this is an organic process. During this time, we have had outside consultants and labs working to help us address the issue, but it has been a slow arduous task.
I would ask citizens to bear with us as I believe we are “on the 5-yard line and about to cross the goal line.” We were already in the middle of a significant upgrade to our current wastewater treatment plant. This is by far our largest current project at about $12 million dollars. This project should be completed sometime this summer and is the culmination of multiple years of work that preceded the current smell issue. This process included needs assessment, design selection, engineering, land acquisition, bond issuance and construction that is currently “on the ground” and nearing completion. Engineering estimates indicate that this will likely handle future growth for some time, allowing us to save toward a new plant over that time. In addition to handling potential odor issues, we also wanted to ensure that we were planning for future growth by endeavoring to increase the plant’s capacity as we see the upgrades come online.
The city currently also owns a site where an additional new plant could be located. Yet, to be prudent with taxpayer dollars, we elected to complete an “overhaul” of the current facilities. If we had built a completely new plant, my estimates indicated that the city portion of property taxes would have had to go up by around 30% to fund the debt service. This was an unacceptable option. Under the current plan that is nearing completion, we were able to maintain a stable tax rate.
Again, we appreciate the citizens’ patience and forbearance on this issue as we near completion of the project.
10. What would you say to residents about the current state of the streets that are in need of repair? And if you believe more money should be made available for ongoing street repair, where will this money come from? Prioritization is one of the hardest things in a growing community. Some infrastructure is older and needs additional maintenance, while growth is requiring investment in new infrastructure. We have had to prioritize our street improvement and maintenance program, with higher traffic thoroughfares getting priority. We went through a process of rating our streets based on their current state of repair. We then assessed which streets were worst and/or tended to carry more traffic. These have been the focus of the past years. After some quick analysis of our street related capital projects initiated since 2007 when I came on council, the city has spent in excess of $6 million on streets and the related sidewalk and drainage improvements. This does not count the current major project.
This is our McReynolds Road project, which is about a $7 million project. The county is funding about $6 million of this, with the city funding the remainder. Anytime I can leverage the resources of another entity, I am saving local taxpayers.
In the older part of town, our streets still need additional work. We are trying to approach this strategically but this requires moving a little slower. We developed a multi-year capital improvement plan to move this forward. As we make these improvements, we want to move the water and wastewater out from underneath the roads and into their own right-of-way, prior to redoing the surface. If we just fix streets without fixing the ailing infrastructure underneath them, then the street will return to its status of ill repair in fairly short order. This process requires more patience because it is more costly, but we believe it will pay off in longevity and also improve our water and wastewater systems over time.
Most people just see the surface of the road; when I look at the road, I see the underlying water and wastewater lines that need replacement and relocation to a right-of-way outside the roadway. It takes time and steady resources to do things right. In the interim, we are feeling some of the pains of decades of aging infrastructure.
The last time we made a modest increase in the tax rate in 2013, we increased the budgeted amount for streets. This has helped fund some of the thoroughfares discussed above and will allow us to allocate continued future resources toward streets at a measured pace.
11. What do you believe are the most important projects to be either started or completed in the city in the next two years? We have completed some key projects recently that are less visible to residents. We have redone the water and wastewater lines along the east side of I-35 and a significant piece on the west side of I-35. This makes some of our prime commercial property more “shovel ready” in an effort to promote business growth. This type of growth brings in jobs and higher commercial tax base, hopefully reducing the burden on the residential taxpayer. We also placed a new water well online at a cost of around $2 million. Likewise, the wastewater treatment plant and McReynolds road thoroughfare mentioned previously are key areas of completion that will occur shortly.
We have two economic development projects we believe are about to be realized. The first of these is a national distribution/logistics carrier coming to commercial acreage along I-35. Second is a Holiday Inn Express to be located between Fuzzy’s and Dairy Queen. We are hopeful that attracting a national chain will cause other retail and commercial development to follow suit, bringing jobs and improving the amenities available to our citizens.
Lastly, while FM 455 is technically a TXDOT project, its future expansion will be a key project within the city. As with any big project, it will likely bring some growing pains also. We have been in the planning stages for several years now as we have kept abreast of the TXDOT planning process. The road construction will be funded by TXDOT, but the city will likely bear some significant financial cost to relocate water, sewer and electric lines. Also, we are trying to improve some of the alternative routes that will be needed to bypass FM 455 during its construction. This includes improving some parallel streets through town that can be used as bypasses. This will address a portion of the internal street repair needs and facilitate traffic flow during construction of FM 455.
12. Is it important to you to keep the property tax rate from rising for the residents of Sanger? It is of critical importance not to burden residents any more than is necessary. It is at the heart of all the decisions we make as a council. You see within much of the above discussion a balancing of the needs for improved infrastructure with the desire to maintain a reasonable tax rate. One way we seek to keep improvements coming while controlling the tax rate, is by partnering with the county or receiving grants for community development.
The city was able to slightly lower the tax rate in 2017 and has held the rate steady prior to that since 2014. The last time we made a modest increase in 2013, we increased the budgeted amount for streets. This has helped fund some of the thoroughfares discussed above and will continue to allow us to allocate ongoing resources to streets.
We have also improved the city’s financial Moody’s rating by four rankings during my tenure on council. This saves taxpayers money when we go out for bonds to fund major projects. Reduced interest cost is another way we are able to keep our tax rate stable