Candidate profile: Wichita Falls mayoral candidates

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As your local election headquarters, we are putting a spotlight on key local races that you’ll be considering inside of the ballot box.

Wichita Falls residents will be voting on whether to re-elect Mayor Stephen Santellana or elect Vietnam Veteran Lowry Crane.

Stephen Santellana was first elected to the city council in 2015 and then became mayor in 2016.

One issue we talked to the mayor about is the city using some of its tax incentive funds to help bring companies like Amfuel, Vitro or CertainTeed to town, but, even though deals with companies don’t always pan out, Santallena believes the city council is better at picking what companies to give 4A or 4B funds too now.

“I know personally that we ask those questions now: how strong a company is, what is this incentive package do, how am I protecting taxpayers money. Now we ask all those types of questions where we really didn’t do that in the past. Now I think incentive packages are a lot stronger than what they were.”

Since he was elected mayor, Santallena said he’s proud to have helped give downtown Wichita Falls a boost when it comes to revitalization.

And, if voters send him back for another term, he hopes downtown growth will double, even triple, in the next two years.

“A lot of people criticize and say downtown development might not be a big economic driver, but it’s a huge quality of life issue and it helps me keep millennials here. Now if I have millennials here that want to raise families here and buy homes here that does help us on the backside. There are now more places for SAFB to go, MSU students to go and my citizens. Go down there on a Saturday and see what downtown is today and look back at three years ago where it was.”

We asked him what has been his biggest success, biggest failure, and what he learned from those.

“You know, I think our biggest success is keeping taxes at bay, you know for the 3rd year in a row we haven’t been raising taxes in a non-growth kind of situation, being able to tighten our belts is really a great accomplishment. The same thing with our water and sewer rates, holding those at bay for the 5th year, at one point we were highest in Texas now we’re teetering around that middle maybe a little bit lower, that’s a huge accomplishment people don’t realize how hard that is to do when you’re not growing. Um, failures, I don’t know if we have a lot of failures I’ve had a lot of criticism out there any time you’re in this position, and you do things, sometimes you’re thinking outside the box, those criticisms are really what get me down but I wouldn’t call those failures but something to learn from.”

Is there still disappointment though?

“Um a lot of times people lean towards that bond, maybe the bond propositions disappointment, but for me, it’s still the will of the people. That’s what people wanted, so I keep pressing forward with that.”

We also asked him about that convention hotel at the MPEC, and what research went into that and has that been a disappointment where does that stand so far.

“Not really a disappointment, we had some bumps in the road, and tons of research, the market studies that go through that and the people that look at that to see if it will be a viable project still coming back, and every time they come back they say it’s stronger. It’s a strong project and we actually think it’s going to do well. It’s that financing piece, and the people that will help develop us, that’s the toughest part of this. Good news we’ve got a couple of private people now that want to go in and build this thing on their own, to me that’s huge. That’s a really good piece of news. I think we split our way with this last guy and I think we’re going to cultivate relationships in the future with other people. I still think its a neater piece of the puzzle I just think the public will probably be taken out of that piece. Which I think will actually help and really appease a lot of the public.”

This is what Mayor Santallena had to say when it comes to keeping young people in Wichita Falls and help economically with Wichita Falls and the future.

“You know it’s job and quality of life, it’s 2-fold. We’re continually working that job, right now, jobs are out there, we’re having a hard time filling them, but the quality of life issue is something that we continue to hit on. You know, people look at development as just bringing jobs in, also have to look at the other side of that is keeping people here. Attracting these millennials, and through research, we understand that things like downtown development, parks and trails, these are all good quality of life issues. Then, of course, things that are outside the preview of my office, uh stuff the ISD has to deal with, you know, some of the schools that we need to take a look at, you know, people wanna come to our community, community and cost of living, great in Wichita Falls. But its other amenities, you know, people wanna come here and stay here. So hopefully we can keep continuing to work on those things.”

We also asked him to rate his job performance over the last two years.

“Yeah, I think so. I think I’ve done a good job. We kept control of spending at bay, relationships with counsel and staff were just top notch, I think the community feels good. I always say that positivity breeds positivity, you get a sense, a buzz of positivity around us. Huge wins, you know, I think downtown development is a huge win for Wichita Falls. Tax, of course, I already hit on this, keeping taxes at bay for the 3rd year, it’s tough, you know, counsel not raising taxes is not an easy job to do, and they continue to come back to you and say we need increases and we keep coming back and saying, we just can’t have those. So its just been a lot of good things a lot of positivity. Sales tax 6 and half percent, when we budgeted on flat I told the citizens I no longer have any more money I don’t think we’re gonna grow and then we came back at 6 and a half percent, unemployment at 3 percent. There’s just so many good positive numbers out there. Economic factors and things in the community, Sheppard Air Force Base growing, MSU growing, Vernon College growing. Positivity is out there, you know, it’s just abound, so I hope that the citizens continue to let me lead through that process, you know, I always said in two, four, six years I can’t change the direction of the ship but I can point it in the right direction.”

KFDX gave both candidates the opportunity to speak to voters about their backgrounds and what makes them the best candidate to be Mayor of Wichita Falls. However, the Crane campaign declined to be part of our pre-election coverage, but he did send us a statement. 

“I’m not dodging the media and will be so transparent after the Election you will be dodging me. I’m for lowering the water rates, I’m for lowering property taxes, I’m for staying within the budget, I’m for our employees, I’m for personally getting business to come to Wichita Falls, I’m against using city funds to build the hotel in the MPEC parking lot. I’m for transparency and listening to the taxpayers. I will build a great relationship with Sheppard Air Force Base, and with our colleges.”

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