WANTED: Residents interested in improving the quality of life in Stephenville. Qualified individuals should possess opinions about how to best improve the quality of public facilities within the Stephenville city limits. Interested residents should attend and provide input at important public meetings scheduled for May 31 and June 14 at the Stephenville Senior Citizen Center.

By DOUG MYERS Managing Editor

The Stephenville City Council needs your help.

“Our facilities are so incredibly outdated and have outlived their usefulness,” council member Nancy Hunter said. “The council is seeking input from the citizens who are going to be using these facilities.”

“We need public input to help us determine what facilities we need to keep, what facilities we need to upgrade, and what activities require new facilities, and whether we should build individual facilities or a multi-purpose center,” council member Malcolm Cross said.

“All this is being done for the public, and whatever we upgrade or build anew will ultimately be paid for by the public,” Cross said. “So public input is crucial if we’re to determine what’s most beneficial and least expensive.”

Consequently, two firms that the council recently hired to provide design services will be holding public meetings to discuss potential improvements to key city facilities.

“It’s going to be exciting,” City Administrator Mark Kaiser said.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 31, at the Stephenville Senior Citizen Center, the firm of Brinkley Sargeant & Associates will hold a public meeting - with the possibility of setting up “focus groups” - to discuss the need for a new recreational hall, senior citizen center and swimming pool.

Then, at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, at the Senior Citizen Center, the firm of Hidell & Associates will hold a public meeting - also with the possibility of establishing “focus groups” - to discuss whether a new public library should be built or the existing library should be relocated.

Kaiser said he expects the process to take about a year.

If a bond issue will be needed to pay for the improvements, the measure likely would be sent to voters in May 2008, Kaiser said.

“All of those are to be determined,” Kaiser said.

During the initial meetings, residents will be asked for input and then the firms will likely have “subsequent meetings in focus groups,” Kaiser said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Todd McEvoy said the “major reason for public participation is to let the architects know what everyone wants.”

“Without major public participation, only the voice of a few will be heard,” McEvoy said. “That may give an illusion that Stephenville as a whole supports something that only select citizens choose.”

McEvoy said some citizens may support “everything from indoor swimming pools and racquetball courts, et cetera, while others may support only basic needs for the services to be provided.”

“The architects were hired because of their experience to hear the wants of the citizens and combine that with the needs and financial impact to the community,” McEvoy said. “In my opinion the citizens should always vote on all major enhancements to our quality of life facilities. Please be involved in the process as it is crucial to the development of the project and successful completion.”

Council member Mark Murphy echoed the sentiments of Cross and McEvoy.

“It is extremely important for the citizens to be involved in the input

phase for what will be in these facilities,” Murphy said. “I know we were elected to represent the voice of the people, but only eight or nine opinions are not enough on something this exciting for our city’s future.”

Murphy said he hopes “many folks turn out to these town hall meetings and let us know what they want.”

“We can’t continue with the patching and repairing of our worn-out

facilities,” Murphy said. “Stephenville has no swimming pool now. We will keep the old building structures for future use, but we need a new library, rec hall and Senior Center.

“If we can be efficient by having these facilities share in air conditioning, heating, electric plant, et cetera, it will save a lot of construction and maintenance costs.”

Council member Barry Ratliff said “public participation” is necessary.

“Our quality of life facilities have been overlooked for too long,” Ratliff said.

However, Ratliff said, the amenities offered in each of these facilities have a financial impact.

“Every taxpaying citizen will be affected — not just the citizens who favor the library, swimming pool, or rec hall,” Ratliff said. “I believe any major enhancement to a quality of life facility must be decided by the voters.”

Ratliff said residents have an opportunity to “consider and give voice to their needs, thus creating a better idea of what the majority of the city wants.”

“It is imperative that everyone exercise the opportunity for input,” Ratliff said. “Otherwise, those who do not weigh in on this issue will be paying for the desires of those who do. We need something that will insure passage, something that everyone can afford to build now and to maintain in the future.”

Council member Pat Shelbourne said community input is “essential.”

“Location, how to configure the facilities (combining some versus leaving each one separate from the others), parking, features of the facilities all of these questions and more need to be addressed,” Shelbourne said. “I would encourage our community to present as much input as possible.”

DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at doug.myers@empiretribune.com or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.