United by common problems and demands, more than 50 elected and other officials from McLennan County and several cities came together Thursday to trade ideas and join forces in search of solutions —and opportunities.
There are no easy answers, officials said, but taxpayers — weary of booming cost of government—demand that something be done, including even junking the traditional way of getting things done.
Too many people work in one city and live in another for leaders to worry about competing with each other, they said.
“We need to involve all the government bodies . . . because we are all being regulated by outside forces,” said McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis. “If you don’t pull together, the people we are serving will say, “That’s enough. We can’t afford it anymore.”
Discussions at the first “Community of Cities” workshop were marked by talk of how to share the cost of government services, from streets to police protection and libraries to water. Several cities are already working together on a variety of issues.
“Anything that will economize your resources is good. We’re all in this together,” said Bellmead Mayor Robert Hawkins.
Waco’s huge population advantage over its neighbors doesn’t mean the suburbs are immune from big-city woes.
“When have you been around so many people that might have had the same problems?” asked Waco Mayor Bob Sheehy.
The meeting, at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, grew out of the aftermath of the Mount Carmel siege and fire earlier this year, Sheehy said. Before the standoff, Sheehy and other mayors already had begun a series of meetings on possible cooperation.
Afterwards, the idea for the multi-city workshop came up while Sheehy was briefing his counterparts on the work done by a task force charged with polishing the city’s post-Mount Carmel image.
Cities represented at the workshop were: Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy-Lakeview, Lorena, Northcrest, Robinson, Waco, West and Woodway. McGregor officials could not attend because of a scheduling conflict. Also at the meeting was an official from the Heart of Texas Council of Governments.
Cooperating with each other is nothing new in McLennan County. A chart attached to the meeting’s agenda listed about 40 ways the county government and area municipalities are tied together — from joint police operations to the animal shelter.
At the workshop, officials split up among one of six committees: human resources; infrastructure; finance and administration; economic development; neighborhood development; and public safety.
If nothing else, said Hewitt Mayor Louis Mexia, a problem shared by all cities is poor streets.
“To complicate things, we don’t have enough money,” said Mexia, who chaired the infrastructure committee.
Some cities, for example, are sharing street maintenance equipment to stretch increasingly scarce dollars.
Over at the human resources committee, officials talked of ways to link up the Waco-McLennan County Library with smaller libraries in the county, as well as school and university facilities.