Posted on Jul 15, 2019
At Monday July 15 meeting, Mayor Stephen Santellana gave an update about Wichita Falls, with comments in categories of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
All in all we are making progress. As the 2019 elections happen November Mayor Santellana is looking forward to getting the new council members on board, focusing on recruiting more jobs to Wichita Falls and executing the strategic plan.
The Good . . . 
Mayor Santellana welcomes the new councilors, Steve Jackson, Tim Brewer and Jeff Browning, noting we have an active council as they joined Bobby Whiteley, Eric West and Deandra Chenault.
Mayor Santellana noted that with the move to November council elections, a new councilor has time to learn their job and the issues facing the city, before beginning budgeting process in the July timeframe that leads to a finalized budget for the new fiscal year starting Oct 1.  Mayor Santellana expects this fall’s budget to be on the order of $180 million. Information on adopted annual budgets can be found on the city’s web site:
Sales tax, one of the major revenue sources is up! The Mayor shared that three years ago sales taxes missed the budgeted 2% growth, so the following year sales tax growth budget was set for 1% growth.  Sales tax growth came in almost 6% higher than the prior years sales tax revenues. This year again the city budgeted flat growth in sales tax revenue and sales tax revenue has been trending at 6%, though June’s flat results pulls the average for the year closer to 4%, but this is still favorable to budget.
The other major Property values are up everywhere except the Country Club and Notre Dame areas. The mayor and other councilors spent time with the Wichita Appraisal District and gained a better understanding of the complicated process required by state law to value property.  
Wichita Fall’s council and staff leadership have updated the Strategic Plan (shown in figure above) and these 5 areas summarize 25 priorities used to guide city decisions including the agenda for council meetings.  This reflects a two-year plan and is a living document that started 4 years ago.
Downtown development is moving strongly after a couple of years of the city helping to invigorate renewal.  The energy level and number of businesses moving downtown is growing and very exciting.
The Bad . . . 
3% Unemployment is difficult for employers to fill open positions. Mayor Santellana noted that his company has kept standing hiring ads for the last 6 months. The strong Texas oil economy pulls workers from local employment due to strong earning potential.
Accelerating economic growth is challenging with our historical flat population.  The 4A Board has some new faces and the chamber’s business recruitment staff is changing with a new strategic plan for recruiting.  This plan was developed with the assistance of the same expert who helped develop the city’s strategic plan.  A new hotel at the MPEC will also help accelerate economic growth attracting visitors and spending to our city.
The Ugly . . . 
Infrastructure is Ugly with many major programs needed expensive updates; without these updates, numerous operating issues drive priorities.  For example, this week there are two major pipeline breaks being repaired, one a 70 year old line, the other 80 years old.  We rely on other 100 year old pipelines to get the water distributed throughout the city. 
Pipe breaks are seasonal; in the summer and the winter when most failures happen.  In general, while fixing two breaks another happens.  Consequently there are many “holes” from these repairs that haven’t been filled as crews are off working to fix other breaks to provide water to our customers. 
Just to update outdated pipelines would cost $20 million. And our 500 miles of roadway would require $70 million to update.  The bond election for improved roadways is helping fund the critical repairs.
Engaging and informing the public is an area of change due to the current impact of Social Media. The old ways of face-to-face meetings don’t reach enough people.  For example, a scheduled town hall meeting with the Mayor drew 13 attendees, where a virtual town hall meeting can draw more people who don’t have to leave their homes.  The Channel 6 TV segment Mondays with the Mayor is reaching over 1,000 people. Countering falsehoods spread across multiple social media sites is hard to correct.  Small issues can also quickly boil over like last summer’s furor of prairie dogs.
The increased use of social media by the city should help better inform the public.  Council meetings are new viewable on YouTube at
There is a big effort to get the public informed about the Hotel Occupancy Tax increase included on the November ballot. Those visiting the city pay this tax on Hotel rooms, so it is a tax not paid by local residents. The ballot measure is to increase the tax from 13% to 15% -- note 6% of this tax goes to the state.  9 other cities used as benchmarks already charge 15%. This tax increase would add about $500,000 per year to the city’s revenue stream and would fund $6 million dollars of bonds to be used to update the MPEC and Memorial Auditorium.  These repairs would also help attract more events to our city.  Currently the facilities have issues including roof leaks when it rains, a poor PA system and aging Point of Sales system.
Another Ugly area is watching the state legislature for rule changes causing unfunded mandates. Examples include recent legislation on dogs on porches and outside dining.  And the city seems to be losing control of the tax cap.
When asked about his top three priorities, the Mayor shared:
  1. School bonds: He noted that while the responsibility of the Wichita Falls Independent School District board, new schools are a major issue in bringing new companies to our area.  Other parts of quality of life are attractive like cost of living, community, work force, but our aging schools don’t help attract new businesses.  Mayor Santellana asked us to consider nearby cities where new schools have been constructed – Burkburnett, Holiday, Graham, Jacksboro, Electa!
  2. Bring in new people and stop people from leaving.
  3. Economic Development, get the 4A board working to recruit new businesses.
Another question was asked about the Municipal Government Center, one of the May 5, 2018 bond propositions that failed that would have consolidated the current City Hall, Police Department and Central Fire Department in downtown Wichita Falls.   Mayor Santellana likened the justification to owning an older car were monthly repairs are costing more than the payments for a newer car.  He noted that the current city hall was an addition added in the 1970s to Municipal Auditorium, originally constructed in 1927.  
The site actually is adjacent to the original riverbed for the Wichita River and soil subsidence requires stabilization for the building.  Additionally the addition is not ADA compliant with restrooms on half floors, requiring a length list of updates.   Other updates are $10 million for electrical system, and $15 million to update the HVAC because the current structure is a single-pipe system that heats or cools the entire facility. The building can either be using the heated or the cooled air and switching from one to another can take some time.
Mayor Stephen Santellana said it will be a difficult decision with a pros and cons on both sides, but the issues at Memorial Auditorium are not going away and something needs to be done in the next couple of years
All in all we are making progress. As the elections happen in November Mayor Santellana is looking forward to getting the new council members on board, focusing on recruiting more jobs to Wichita Falls and executing the strategic plan.