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Editor’s notebook: Candidates should offer what is possible

It’s election season which means you’ll be hearing a lot of chatter from the men and women who hope to serve on the Port Arthur City Council and the school board.

I’ve covered quite a few campaigns over the years and it’s remarkable how similar pitches become city-to-city, year-to-year.

Mind you, the similarity makes sense. Everyone wants jobs, everyone wants good roads and everyone wants to keep taxes low and civil servants honest. Truly, we electorate don’t ask for much.

Except, we kind of do.

Pity the poor politician who would walk up to a lectern and tell the truth.

“I will be one vote,” she might say. “I will try and bring jobs here, but that could take years and it depends on a number of variables, most of which the city cannot control. I will try and fix the streets, but there isn’t money to fix all of them and many neighborhoods will be ignored until next year. I will try to revitalize downtown, but ultimate revitalization must include the business community and there is no guarantee of such things, but I hope it will work out, but it might not and even if it does, it could take years.”

Her campaign would die on that lectern.

But what else is there to say? Most city council people I’ve met mean well and want to do what is best for the city but what is best for the city is, quite often, kept in check by a budget. Or, worse than a budgetary constraint, there is the fact that even with all the tax abatements on earth, sometimes a business just does not want to expand or move to town or hire more people. Anyway, I am generally no fan of tax abatements as they can easily cost a city more than they’re worth and giving them away out of fear or competition with surrounding cities is little more than a race to the bottom.

This doesn’t mean we should expect little or no change from candidates, but in order to get the best candidates, we need to select candidates who have unique visions and realistic proposals that can be executed no matter what.

Take Austin, for example.

That city offers a 20-year loan to low-income homeowners for repairs and, provided the owner doesn’t sell the home for the term of the loan, the debt is partially forgiven. If the homeowner does sell the house, he has to repay the entire loan.

Everyone who applies does not get a loan, of course. However, the program specifically targets people who might very well want to fix their house but who would otherwise be unable to do so. The loan could fix a roof leak or it could pay to rebuild the home entirely but whatever the case, the money spent is likely to stay in Austin, some of it will be repaid and, anyway, better homes make better neighborhoods.

In short, this program will get houses fixed up, no matter the economic forecast or the oil and gas industry’s situation. This is just one of several programs the city of Austin offers for home repairs and these are the sorts of things more cities should consider.

Port Arthur is a unique and lovely place, but city politics and civic improvement are not things unique to our area. In fact, most Texas cities (aside, perhaps, from a few small bedroom communities) deal with some of the same problems that face us. Our would-be elected leaders would do well to study how other cities are dealing with these issues and, if someone is working somewhere else, they should consider bringing it here.