How can Cedar Park's deep, partisan divides be healed? How is Cedar Park preparing for its rapid growth?
These questions by local residents dominated the discussion during Tuesday's "Council Chat" town hall hosted by the City of Cedar Park. The event featured Cedar Park City Council members Tim Kelly and Rodney Robinson and Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale.
While the discussion started with positivity and compliments among the council members and the members audience, the seemingly unending partisan debate that has disrupted city council meetings for nearly half a year returned to the forefront.
Council members Kelly, Robinson and Dorian Chavez have faced heavy criticisms and calls for their ousting over those months following them attending a June protest against an LGBTQ-supportive festival. They argued they didn't participate in the protest and were only opposing the originally planned but later cancelled Drag Queen Story Hour event.
Robinson has since apologized while Kelly and Chavez have doubled down on defending their actions, even going so far as to repeatedly attack local groups and critics on social media and while on national television and radio programs.
Several citizen questions asked how the council plans to restore "good faith in our community" after the controversy and work to heal the divide. Other questions raised concerns that attention generated by the divisive debate may drive businesses away from Cedar Park.
Van Arsdale repeatedly said he wished local residents and council members would stop endlessly attack each other personally on social media. He argued they should focus on debating ideas, since it could potentially lead to something productive, and argued elected officials should think about whether their statements are helping or hurting the city.
"I feel our role as council members is to be cheerleaders for the city ... I follow the old rule 'Do on to others as you would have them do on to you,'" Van Arsdale said.
Kelly argued the comments were aimed at him and said, "My comment is: Stop bringing it up. If you want to continue to paint this city in a negative light, claiming that's what's going on at city council or by members of the city council, then you are the one driving businesses away from this city. It is up to you to change that amongst your friends. It's not us on the city council - we do city business."
Cedar Park resident Neitha Engert argued Kelly and Robinson went against their own constituents by attending the protest
"You're just ready for a fight Tim. You think we're the ones ready for a fight. We're not. We just want everyone in Cedar Park to be accepted," Engert said. "You're pushing people away — it's you. Nobody cares what I say. What if you just stopped? What if you stopped at the top? What if you stopped responding Tim?"
Robinson argued council members need to more thoughtful about what they say because they are leaders of the city. He also argued having more community events and town halls would allow people to discuss tough issues in a respectful way instead of attacking each other.
The other major focus of citizen questions was how the city is planning to handle massive, sustained population growth over the coming years.
Van Arsdale noted the council has already seen challenges with growth because more people now tend to live near any new development, resulting increasingly frequent "tension and conflict" with any project because each person "has a different opinions about what ought to be there or ought not to be there."
Mobility was also raised as a question related to city growth with council members noting seniors have raised issues about being able to get around Cedar Park.
City staff said they are in the process of completing a transit study, which will have its final draft presented to the council later this month. They said they study will look at what public transportation options are available to the city, what is the public's interest in these options and what they would cost.
When asked about the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority system, all three council members said they are against rejoining the system because they don't believe the city receive enough benefit for the cost. Cedar Park originally joined the system when it was established but citizens voted in 1998 to leave the system. City staff explained membership requires the city to contribute a 1 percent sales tax, which they estimated at $15 million annually for Cedar Park.
Van Arsdale explained the city also can't rejoin the system because the 1 percent sale tax has already been dedicated to economic development agreements, storm water projects and other usages over the years since the city left.
Another growth issue raised was property tax. The council members explained Cedar Park actually is among the lowest property taxes in the region with the latest budget but the biggest driver for the size of the bill is the value of the taxpayer's property, which has been increasing for homes throughout the city as the population grows. They said they're working to keep rates low to avoid increasing the burden on citizens.
In other growth news, the Bell Boulevard road realignment construction is expected to begin in early 2020 and run through 2021 without disrupting traffic while the redevelopment's master plan is expected to be presented to the council in early 2020 and construction on a new city park, city library and other developments are expected to occur with 3 to 5 years.
The council members said the city is in a strong position despite the growth challenges due to the hard work and forward thinking of city staff. They said it is on them as the council to keep thinking about the city's needs over the coming decades.
New Cedar Park resident David Brown ended the meeting on a positive note by speaking about how much he and his family love being in Cedar Park, its supportive community and the amenities it has to offer residents.
"It's a diverse community with lots of wonderful services...This is a little slice of paradise" Brown said.