By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville Daily Register
Mayor Jim Goldsworthy used Wednesday’s Rotary Club luncheon to address topics he said are often warped by local gossip and misconception.
He said economy, crime management, scholastic status and civic restoration are areas where Gainesville is currently showing excellence — and yet this remains muted.
Goldsworthy urged the audience and the media to spread the good news.
“Our biggest challenge in the community that I see is that we don’t believe in ourselves,” he said Wednesday. “If you ask anybody on the street, they’ll tell you there’s no jobs here, you can’t make any money here, and that there’s a litany of bad things going on. But if we portray that mindset, then, in fact, that’s what happens.”
Evidence of progress
Goldsworthy contrasted the city’s current economic standing to what was observed in 2005, a mediocre year for Gainesville.
During that year, he said, the city was close to broke, with “36 seconds” of operating reserve funds and a 70-cent tax rate, plus a lower bond rating.
“It was pretty dismal,” he said. “We were a mid-range, B-rated city. It cost us a lot more money to issue debt.”
Goldsworthy said the contrasts since 2005 have been strong.
The city now shows an “A-1” bond rating and a 64.7-cent tax rate. The mayor also cited a city staff reduction of 13 percent — made possible through the “attrition” of tightening civic operations — and a full 90 days of operating reserves, the optimal maximum.
Sales tax revenue has been markedly higher during the past two years, Goldsworthy added, with energy businesses such as Orteq, Select and Complete now operating in city limits and creating sales tax revenue increases of up to 67 percent between years.
The new companies also help account for the city’s low unemployment rate of 4 percent.
“We’ve been blessed with a good energy sector but we’ve got great diversification of our industries as well,” he said. “And this increased sales tax did not happen by accident.”
Goldsworthy explained that a recent shared revenue agreement with the incoming Schlumberger oilfield services company may produce up to $1 million in annual profit for the city — stemming from the $450,000,000 in equipment that the company is expected to keep at its Gainesville facility.
“Those things don’t last forever, so we’re not making any employee decisions or lawmaking decisions based on that money,” he said.
“But what it allows us to do is give $1.7 million for a new city pool. We’re paying cash for that, and find another city in North Texas that’s paying almost $2 million for a capital improvement. It’s not there.”
Closing the net on crime
Goldworthy said Wednesday that roughly 3 percent of Gainesville’s population are people who need to live elsewhere.
“They want to spray-paint graffiti on our walls, they want to sell drugs, they want to break the law and we want them to go away,” he said.
The mayor admitted the city may never be able to hire one police officer for each street, though Gainesville Police Department did recently add two code enforcement officers.
But technology sometimes provides the best substitute. Goldsworthy said City Manager Barry Sullivan persuaded officials to purchase six wireless camera systems that provide 24-hour video feedback into the cars of policemen located blocks or miles away.
Several streets, he said, are currently being monitored at all hours even when police aren’t in sight.
“If that works — and it’s not that expensive — I want to have every street on camera,” he said. “And the bad guys are gonna go away. We’re not going to stop drugs and we’re not going to stop crime. We’re not going to reform everybody, but we want them to move. And if they move to Ardmore? Then, sorry, Ardmore: buy some cameras.”
A second crime enforcement option involves demolishing old local properties that are favored by Gainesville’s drug subculture and are in violation of city codes.
“Things on the government side of what we do with the city never happen fast enough for me,” Goldsworthy said. “When I see a house that’s dilapidated, I want to tear it down. But there’s channels we’ve got to go through and, before, they took way too long.”
The process is now accelerated.
The mayor said many property owners can’t afford to repair their dilapidated houses or tear them down. But because of a healthier budget, the city can afford to demolish the houses and then relinquish the lot to the owner.
Goldsworthy said 10 tear-downs are scheduled before the end of 2012, and that the city probably includes 200 houses in need of demolition.
“The more sales tax revenue we bring in, the more we’ll be able to clean the town up,” he said.
Youth and the future
Goldsworthy said one goal behind developing Gainesville to its maximum potential is that its current teenagers might have incentive to become adult residents.
“As long as I’ve been here, kids graduate from high school and they leave,” he said. “We have the jobs and we’re blessed with a very, very good economy. But we have to have the jobs that will drive the kids back, and that’s what we strive to.”
But the mayor added that Gainesville Independent School District, in its current iteration, gets a bad rap.
He credited the work of Superintendent Jeff Brasher and other administrators, including athletic directors, in enriching its students through what he said is effective curricula.
“You go stop a guy on the street, and they’ll tell you, ‘Don’t put your kid in that school. She’ll be on drugs, she’ll be in a gang, and pestilence and plague will follow,’” he said. “It’s just not true. I’ve got a senior and a sophomore and they’re having a fantastic high school experience. They’re getting a lot smarter and they’re 100 percent safe.”
Field of development
Goldsworthy said the proposed raze of the city’s Locke Field has been misunderstood by critics of the city. The fate of the historic baseball field, which may be demolished in favor of a 144-unit housing complex, was subject to a ballot in 2010 where the public voted to allow Gainesville officials to lease its property.
The mayor said Wednesday the criticism of Gainesville officials is invalid, since the public had already allowed the city to lease the property — and that the route of leasing it will only be good for the city.
“In 50 years, that land’s going to be worth a lot of money,” Goldsworthy said, adding that though the proposed housing complex is not a guaranteed “done deal,” the need for new housing is definitive.
He said several local employers, including representatives of the city’s new energy companies, have clamored for new housing since their well-paid employees are currently commuting to Gainesville from homes in the Metroplex.
“We’ve got the jobs, we’ve got the pay, we’ve got the sales tax and we’ve got a great town,” he said. “If people will live here, then we’re the best economic development corporation in North Texas. The school benefits greatly by having new kids being in the school system, and we benefit greatly by having those dollars stay in our community.”
Goldsworthy added, however, that the town rumor mill, with its errors and misinformation, is benefiting nobody.
“We have too wonderful of a community to be divisive,” he said. And if we are divisive — sitting in the weeds and throwing rocks at each other — we’ll get nowhere.”