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Sunday, June, 26

Candidate for Denton City Council Place 6 – Chris Watts

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Chris Watts – Owner of real estate investment company

How long have you lived in Denton?

I’m 60, I’ve been here 59 years. I understand we moved here when I was one, so I don’t have much memory of that, but I’ve been here pretty much my whole life.

In quick rapid-fire answers, what are the three things you love the most about Denton?

I like the people – I love the people, actually. I grew up in this town when we had one high school and we have four or five now. The people are so compassionate, they’re so supportive that it just provides a feel in this community that just is encouraging and uplifting.

I like the possibilities for Denton. Denton has two major universities (and) a community college, so whatever you need is here from an educational perspective. And that will also provide opportunities in the community for job growth. We want people if they get educated here (to) find a job here and stay here.

And lastly, I like the pace of Denton. Denton is very unique in that for its size, it provides an opportunity to give people what they need. If you want sort of a suburban lifestyle, you can find that here in Denton. If you want the old town charm and the old town feel that I grew up in 50-60 years ago, you can have that as well with the old parts of our Square and our residential communities. We still have that core kind of small-town feel for the city.

Why are you running for a position on Denton’s City Council?

As you mentioned, I served as mayor for six years, was termed out in 2020. And prior to that, I served six years as District Four representative from 2007 to 2013.

Truthfully, I was watching the redistricting discussion that the City council was having with the citizens. And I was disappointed at the lack of … response to the citizens’ concerns about the issue. There was a lot of opposition to it in certain areas, and in certain areas there wasn’t, so I think there could have been a way to really meet the needs of all of those in a way that didn’t compromise the spirit and the integrity of the policy.

And I thought I really made it a point when I served as a public servant, as mayor, and as house representative, to really try to listen to the community. And if they didn’t agree with me, we would still try very hard to implement their concerns as long as it didn’t compromise the intent and spirit of the policy. So that’s why I decided to run, just to give the community … an alternative voice in their representation.

Denton has been experiencing a lot of growth over the past few years. How can it continue to expand while still keeping its local Downtown Square charm and small-town feel?

I think we’ve been successful with that over the last decade or so because Denton is located in one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country, and it has been that way for the last five to 10 years.

And it’s been challenging, but due to citizen input and the commitment of previous councils, to manage the growth, to make sure that we provide an opportunity for our citizens for good jobs, for diversity of housing stock. But also maintain that small-town feel, small-town charm, with its zoning regulations, with how we look at the downtown core area. And what type of zoning do we have in place to ensure that when people want to develop … they go through a rigorous process to ensure that we don’t upset that.

Because that’s really the core of what Denton is … that’s what Denton’s identity is — the Downtown Square and that old charm feel. And so we do that through regulation and community input.

What are your views on expanding public transit in Denton?

I served on the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) board. Denton County Transportation Authority is the source of public transportation in our city. That is a consortium of three-member cities, which are Lewisville, Highland Village, and Denton. And we pay a half-cent sales tax to that organization to provide public transportation.

In the past, it was via a fixed-route bus system and a light rail from Denton to Dallas, with stops in between in Highland Village and Lewisville. Right now we’re currently paying about $15 million.

About three years ago as I was mayor, we viewed a pilot project for GoZone On Demand public transportation program. DCTA implemented that in September of last year. Basically, it provides sort of like a Lyft or Uber-type platform where people can call and schedule a ride, and they can be picked up fairly close to their destination and dropped off fairly close to their destination.

And what we found was, and this has been fairly controversial and still is sort of an ongoing kind of discussion within the city, and that is, we’ve got six fixed-route bus routes. And in the last two weeks of December, which is the latest date I have, those six routes accounted for about 166 people per day. And one of those routes carried about 40 percent of those. So you’ve got almost 80 or 90 people a day spread out over five routes, which quite frankly, you’re having about two to four people per hour riding a fixed-bus route vehicle.

The on-demand, because it’s gained in popularity and it’s grown in popularity, carried about four times that amount of people in that same time frame. There’s been glitches that DCTA had to work hard to figure out and especially in the beginning, but you know, they’re beginning to find what works.

… The GoZone system provides public transportation to many, many more people who were not able to get public transportation when it was the fixed-bus routes because we cover a much larger area of the city. Now the big question is about the bus fixed-routes, how many do you keep if you’re keeping them? Are they cost-efficient?

The next obstacle to tackle in this public transportation paradigm is the rail system. We’re only averaging about 400 people a day on the train between three cities. We’ve got to continue to figure out a way how can we make it convenient, and how can we make it where it’s useful for people to ride the train. They’re not riding the train from Denton to Lewisville – they’re going to be riding the train to get to Dallas and to go throughout the different public transportation corridors or routes that Dallas has ignored.

So how can we work on that to continue our partnership with DART, to improve that connectivity, and that we can help people get where they’re going in a much more efficient way. … People don’t want to spend a lot of time on the road. That’s why right now if you go to Dallas and you’ve got to go several different places, it might be an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes, whereas with traffic you jump in the car and be there and 30 or 35. So we’ve got to figure out a way how do we make that a more convenient and efficient experience for the rider.

There are a lot of road construction projects going on in Denton, with more scheduled to begin soon. What are your thoughts on these road construction projects and the frustrations they may cause Dentonites?

When I got elected as mayor in 2014, we quickly recognized that there was a neglect of funding for road infrastructure, i.e. maintenance, road reconstruction, and if we needed new roads. So about 2014 to 2017, we submitted various bond programs to the community for a vote. The citizens stepped up and we were able to provide sufficient funding to really, number one, address our old roads that were in disrepair and figure out … what are the ones that we can maintain and then what are the conditions where we have to just do a total rebuild of the road.

We’re getting on the tail end of a large swath of that project. But when you got a city that’s growing like ours, and you’ve got a city that’s over 100 years old like ours, this is just going to be something that we manage.

The frustrations are real — I’ve experienced them just like everyone else. We got to make sure though that we’re doing the planning that is necessary to be as cost-effective and efficient as possible. One example was in the past, … they would do a road back in the 2000s … they would repave a road, but yet the utilities were never taken into consideration on how old are they. And so eventually you’d have to tear up that road to do the new utility infrastructure.

Now we’re planning it such that if we see a road that needs work, or if we see utility work that needs to occur, we try to really marry those together so that we do it one time — we tear the road up one time. And that’s made for reduced costs, it’s made for projects that are completed in a shorter amount of time, which in the end, let’s face it, it means hopefully there’s less frustration and less construction delays because of the new construction.

But unfortunately, it is just a product of just being a city. However, the city can continually look at its planning mechanisms and its paradigms to ensure that we’re doing it as efficiently as we can, which will then mitigate the time that those roads are under construction.

What do you think about the skyrocketing housing prices in Denton and if elected, what do you intend to do to help keep people from being priced out of their homes?

I’ve been in the real estate business for over 35 years. I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, when you have housing prices jumping literally 16 to 20 percent a year. And in some cases last year and during the pandemic, they jumped 15 percent in a six-month period.

… There’s two possible questions in there. I’m going to deal with the one that’s the direct one — that is how do you keep people from being priced out of their homes? So that’s assuming that we’ve got people already in their homes and let’s say you’re on a fixed income – you’re a senior or someone who’s on a fixed income with disabilities or the like. How do we keep that house affordable for them?

The two main factors that will reduce affordability are your insurance rates and then your property taxes. On the insurance ratings, the City of Denton because of the way we fund and we provide for our fire department through buildings, through equipment, through training, we’re able to acquire one of the lowest insurance ratings on a scale of one to 10. I think Denton is about a two, which directly impacts your insurance premiums.

So it’s imperative that we, number one, for public safety purposes, make sure that we fund public safety – our fire department, our police department — as best we can to provide for the public safety of our community. And in doing that, through the far end, we’re also able to keep insurance rates low as a community based upon that insurance rating.

The second one is your property taxes. So let’s say in the example — and this is an example that’s happened all over the city – somebody might be in a house that’s worth $100,000-$125,000 four years ago, five years ago. That house right now is probably worth close to $300,000. And now you’ve got property taxes that are increasing potentially three times.

It’s imperative that City Council and city staff maintain operational excellence and standards that provide the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars. And so what we have is called the effective tax rate where you can have a tax rate that says we’re not going to collect any more taxes, relatively speaking, than we did last year, except for a couple of new constructions and things such as that. That’s where the city can really do the best at helping people not be priced out of their homes because if your assessed value goes up and you don’t adjust that tax rate, well then your taxes are gonna go sky high.

I think if you look historically at Denton’s tax rate, it’s consistently come down over the years because the appraisal growth has increased. Since we have more assessed value, then we can lower our tax rate to get the same revenue. If we didn’t lower the tax rate, the city would be looking at 10 or 15 percent more revenue, which that’s really just coming off the backs of hard-working taxpayers.

So those are the two main areas I think that the city can do to make sure that people who are already in their homes can stay in their homes. If you’re on a fixed income and your taxes go from $2,500 a year to $7,000 or $8,000 a year, it’s not workable. It just doesn’t work. And it doesn’t even work if you are not on a fixed income. Those are increases we have to make sure we manage and we do that by really operating the city in an economically efficient and operational way.

What are some of the charities and nonprofits you support in Denton?

Over the years, I’ve supported Serve Denton, I’ve supported United Way, A Grace Like Rain, Our Daily Bread, Monsignor King, Denton Animal Support Foundation, which provides additional assistance to our adoption center here in Denton. …

I do work with veterans groups because I do own property that I rent out. I do work with veterans groups to provide housing for veterans. That’s one of the things that we’ve really worked hard at is how can we reduce the number of homeless vets in our community and we’ve made really great strides in doing that.

Please tell us about an obstacle you faced during your life you feel helped prepare you for a position on Denton City Council.

I want to say most of my life experience has prepared me only because we grew up in a very economically-challenged environment. And it wasn’t just economically challenged — it had other challenges just within the family system.

And those kinds of circumstances either build character or they don’t. And at one point due to domestic violence, we had to move out of a house very quickly and wound up living at the lake out here at Lake Lewisville for a couple of days – my mom, myself, and two other brothers, a dog, and everything you could fit in a station wagon. That was that was challenging.

Of course, as a 10 or 11-year-old child you don’t really understand the nature of that. I mean, you do, but you don’t. But as an adult, I certainly looked back and thought, good heavens, how did my mom really cope with that and do that, but she was such a strong person. And then we got help from our church, got into some more permanent housing.

Had to work at an early age – learned about fiscal responsibility in my own life and in my own family, and put myself through college. Started investing in real estate when I was 25 and fortunately, … I had to make all the decisions, had no capital – had to create that through my investment decisions.

I think it’s just all of those different life experiences have just given me a wide range of knowledge and experience to draw upon because on City Council you got to make tough decisions, number one. You got to make compassionate decisions, and you have to make economic decisions. And I think that things in my life have prepared me — I’ve had to make those kinds of decisions in my life, in general, personally. And so I think it’s helped me be prepared to be able to make those on a larger scale.

What are your hopes for the future of Denton — where do you see Denton going?

Denton’s future is bright. … We hear people talk about different things moving forward in cities, states, or the nation. Denton has constantly moved forward. When I look at my life, I’ve been here my whole life and I look at how Denton has changed from where it is now to today.

Now, I will tell you, the Square at one point was not the Square we have today. I remember when most of those storefronts were either boarded up or had tape across the windows. It was a commitment from City Councils in the past to really turn that into the special place in Denton and basically in our state that it has.

So I think Denton’s future is bright. I think it’s going to take good decision making. I think it’s going to take a collective effort of the community and the community providing input to the Council. And the council looking at all of that input, and making a decision that meets as many of those interests as possible so that we get to a win-win to continue to expand our economic development so we can provide good jobs for our community. Because without economic development, nothing else matters because simply what will happen is – and this goes back to the pricing people out of their homes.

You want to have strong economic development because that takes the tax burden off of the residential. It does provide some relief, whereas if you had no businesses here or very few and you didn’t have much sales tax, well then the tax burden, the property tax burden, is gonna fall primarily on residential properties.

So it’s imperative that we have good, strong financial economic growth. Not just take whatever you can get, but to really be measured, and to have a vision of what it is. And to make sure that whatever it is, meets those goals of it helps provide relief to residential property owners, it helps provide jobs to our citizens. And we need all kinds of jobs — we need to $40,000-$50,000 a year jobs just like we need the $$150,000-$200,000 a year jobs.

We need to make sure that whatever we do, we have in mind that our community is very diverse and there’s all kinds of needs. We can’t just focus on one set of needs – we have to make sure that we’re all-inclusive to see how can we balance all this to provide the best opportunity that we can for our citizens here.

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