Why are you running for Katy City Council and what should voters know about you?
Hicks: To lead is to serve and to serve is to lead. Community involvement and loving people is what I have …
Early voting is just around the corner for the 2021 spring elections. Voters head to the polls April 19-27 for early voting with Election Day set for May 1.
Residents in Katy's Ward B will be choosing between incumbent Jenifer Stockdick and challenger Gina Hicks to fill their ward's Katy City Council seat. Both candidates agreed to answer the questions below as presented by the Katy Times. The questions cover a range of issues including animal control, economic recovery and permitting.
Responses are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
Why are you running for Katy City Council and what should voters know about you?
Hicks: To lead is to serve and to serve is to lead. Community involvement and loving people is what I have always been about. The past several years I have been serving in various roles in Katy and neighboring cities with youth sports leagues, church volunteer service, speaking at conferences or to Rotary and community groups and looking to make more of an impact closer to home where we chose to raise our family. City Council is the closest an elected official gets to residents. I am about people. Being a resource, an advocate and strategically working to get things done. Using my network, relationships and leadership I will help the City move forward in a strategic manner.
Stockdick: As a lifelong resident of Katy, I feel a strong connection to this community that has given so much to me and my family. After serving on many local boards, I felt that running for elected office was the next step in my service to the Katy community. I am running for re-election so that I can continue to be a voice of the people and work to increase transparency. I have some ideas of improvements we can make in the Public Safety sector like implementing a CERT Team, as just one of my ideas. We live in a great City and there is always room for improvement in any community.
My service to Katy: Katy Fire Department, Katy ISD Bond Committee, Katy ISD VIPS, Leadership Katy, currently Chairman of the Board for the Katy YMCA’s, VP of Heritage Meadows HOA, HLSR Captain and VP for BNI Katy.
Do you support making Katy’s Animal Control Department a “no kill” animal shelter with an in-house adoption program? Why or why not?
Hicks: I toured our Animal Control Department as well as neighboring cities that are considered a “no kill” animal shelter. As reported, we are increasing our percentage of placement rate with the animals in our care to the 90% rate that qualifies an office as a “no-kill” shelter. Partnerships have been established with the Humane Society and other 501c3 rescue agencies to increase the placement rate and ethical treatment of animals. I am interested to learn more from the advisory committee on the animal concerns in our city and I trust the Mayor and Chief will bring our standards and expectations to that of a so called “no kill” facility.
We do not currently have the resources to become an adoption program. The number of staff would have to more than double and the shelter would need to raise additional funds outside of the allocated general fund. Our intake numbers on animals would drastically increase by having such a program which would then require a bigger shelter and probable tax increase to our taxpayers.
Stockdick: Yes. I have been a voice for change in our current system from the start and believe there is much room for improvement. We need to start in-house adoptions, grow relationships with rescue organizations and be more transparent with residents. I’d like to start a Pilot Program for Spay/Neuter/Vaccinate/Return Program. We can work with local Vets to put a low-cost program in place. We have multiple 501C3’s willing to work with the city and give of their time and dollars. This pilot program will take a commitment from our Animal Control Department and will require complete transparency to City Council and to the public. By putting a plan like this in place, we can ensure the animals of Katy are treated in a more humane manner and they will be provided the best possible outcome.
Katy’s permitting process for new buildings/businesses is one of the strictest in the Houston metro area and those seeking permits express concerns about the process being excessive and inconsistent. What do you feel should be done to improve and streamline the process while ensuring safety and quality of life are maintained within city limits?
Hicks: I have met with those in the permit department. With my background, I can be a resource to the department to modernize and streamline processes for builders, inspectors and business owners or residents. This has to be a collaborative effort and involve other departments within the city, especially the IT department. I would recommend the creation of an advisory committee to consult with internal departments and recommend appropriate next steps. This would include people in technology, engineering, construction and residents and business owners that have experienced the permit process. Modernizing processes would include online applications, knowledge base, alert notifications for owners and contractors when items are needed or approved as well as training for employees.
Meeting with local business owners that are currently in the building process I was encouraged to hear that the City has been great to work with and has responded in efficient timing. Department leadership was quick to provide approval forms within minutes and made follow-up calls that things were being addressed immediately. Some of the frustration is communication and I would like to see a quarterly process where contractors have the opportunity to ask their questions about ordinances and exchange ideas on improvement.
Stockdick: Permitting is always a touchy subject as most people view it as a positive when it provides for their wants and a negative when it forces them to alter their plans. I feel that most complaints we see when it comes to permitting and other development issues is from small businesses that don’t have the experience and staff to help navigate development within a city. Another area we need to improve is the department procedures and policies. I would like staff to be responsive to the applicants and in a timely manner.
I believe that small business is the backbone of our community and country, so I want to see the City help small businesses understand development regulations and have open discussions about needed changes.
Another idea I have is for City staff to hold workshops where local businesses and developers can come learn about regulations, best practices, ask direct questions to staff and make suggestions on changes to processes and procedures.
Business owners throughout the city have suffered economically due to the pandemic. What do you feel the city should do to help local businesses recover from the financial struggles brought about by COVID-19?
Hicks: As a small business owner, I can identify with the struggles businesses face in good times and times of unprecedented difficulty. With my involvement in the area Chambers of Commerce, I have talked with many business owners. This community is very resilient, and our citizens have come together to support each other and our local businesses. Many have weathered through this pandemic in creative and new ways of operating to stay afloat. One of my priorities is quality growth. As leaders in the community, we need to provide an atmosphere where business leaders can thrive.
The City can host events and do more marketing to bring people into the city to make the commercial areas of Katy a location for commerce in West Houston and our boutique areas one where neighbors can gather. We can work with businesses to get them involved so they can benefit from community-focused events.
Stockdick: I believe the City should provide incentives when going out for bids by allowing a 10% cost benefit to local businesses that bid on city contracts. This will be recouped by the funds staying local and growing our community. I also believe that council and staff can work with and help the Katy Economic Development Council and Katy Area Chamber of Commerce to provide education on funding sources such as grants as well as help promote shop local and other programs to increase local funds staying local.
As the City begins to open back up, our Tourism Department can re-engage in attracting visitors to bring outside funds into the city to help our businesses recover.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge the city is facing over the next five years and what do you feel should be done by the city to address that concern?
Hicks: The biggest challenge is keeping up with the rapid growth pace that the West Houston area has been experiencing and is projected to only increase. These challenges include mobility, city services including water, sewer and drainage as well as emergency services and response of the police and fire departments. There are some major projects with TXDOT coming soon which will redirect more traffic onto our local streets. Even though available land for more residential areas is limited within the city limits, there are many communities being built right outside our limits which will bring more people into our city using our roads and emergency services. The City needs to be strategic with our infrastructure and commercial growth projects as well as be diligent in our tracking of the growth trends surrounding our city. I will work with the Mayor, City Administrator, City staff and other councilmembers to ensure city services keep up with projected opportunities.
Stockdick: Looking at the next five years we must ensure that new development does not negatively affect drainage while improving detention in older areas to control future flooding. I also believe that five years may be a little shortsighted for this question. Looking forward I believe another overwhelming issue that will face Katy is growth and aging. As a community with a long history, we have aging infrastructure. As one of the best places to live in the Houston surrounding area, we are also attracting new residents and growth which requires new roads, drainage, water and sewer investments. We must continue to invest in the maintenance of aging infrastructure so that we do not find ourselves with decaying areas. Katy is a small city at the heart of a larger community. If we allow aging infrastructure to take place in our city, it will have a ripple effect on the greater Katy area.