Though they’re opponents in the upcoming November mayoral election, lifelong Odessans Mark Ritter and David Turner both agree – water is a major issue facing the City of Odessa.
With Odessa City Council members recently approving a test water well study in Fort Stockton and a possible desalination plant in Ward County, both candidates agree that the city must look to alternative water sources for the continued growth of Odessa.
“We have got to secure water, that is a major thing,” Ritter said. “I am a big backer of desalination and the coal plant (the Summit Power Group clean coal plant), not only to expand our economics but expand our job opportunities.”
Turner agreed, and said a partnership to supply water to Summit’s plant to be located in Penwell will lessen the costs of desalination. Desalination is the process of cleaning brackish, or salty, groundwater.
But, Turner said selling the desalinated water to oil companies would be even more profitable.
“There’s a lot of oil companies needing water right now,” Turner said. “If we can finance it more through revenue as opposed to general obligation, I would be more in favor.”
Finding more water sources would have also helped in preventing the 40 percent water rate increase, which just went into effect, Turner said.
“If there was water to sell, we wouldn’t have a budget issue. It was the limitations put on the cities,” Turner said. “The Colorado River Municipal Water District should’ve been looking for other water sources. Personally, I took the water for granted in the past, but in the future we’re going to have to be conscious of the water.”
While he disagreed with the water rate increase, Ritter said the citizens were more angered by the lack of transparency from the City Council.
“I would’ve told (the citizens) three months ago that I knew it was going to be a problem. The City Council hid that from the people,” Ritter said. “No wonder people thought it was a punishment. They weren’t happy with it, but they didn’t have a choice.”
Ritter said that the council should discuss the budget more thoroughly during meetings.
“They need to come out at least once a month, ‘That’s where we are and what’s going on.’ They have not done that publicly. ” Ritter said. “The water issue is a mess, and it’s because past council have not done proper planning.”
The opponents also agreed that labor shortages and housing was a concern for city officials.
“This is very dear to my heart, because I own a business. We battle it on a daily basis,” said Turner, who owns seven Subway restaurants. “The labor issue isn’t going to be solved until the housing is going to be solved.”
Turner said that because the housing industry is a supply-and-demand economy, more workforce housing camps need to be created as the city waits on more apartments and homes to be built.
The city needs to work with the Odessa Chamber of Commerce to attract more apartment chains to build in Odessa as the chamber did with bringing in prospective industrial businesses, Turner said.
“Coca-Cola came here on Interstate 20. I believe we can market to apartments in the same way,” Turner said. “We’re in a good position, but we’re going to have to continue growing.”
However, Ritter said that he was growing wary of the continuous apartment construction in Odessa.
“I’m starting to ask the question, ‘Are we getting ready to overbuild Odessa?’ ” Ritter said. “The boom is not going to last forever. It will fall at some point, and that is something I’m starting to question. What kind of future planning are we doing now?”
Turner said that he lived through the 1980s economic bust and said that while Odessa is booming now, the city needs to remember the cyclical nature of the area economy and rely on economists such as Ray Perryman, head of the Perryman Group.
Ritter said that permanent housing is also the way to bring in more employees looking to live in Odessa on a long-term basis. Ritter said the City of Odessa should host a job fair to attract employees.
“The city needs to take responsibility,” Ritter said. “I have yet to see anybody do a job fair for anybody here in town. It’s just the individual companies doing that.”
Ritter also said some of the development focus should be expanded to include downtown and the south and west sides of Odessa.
“We have done tax abatements everywhere else, why can’t we do that with (downtown)?” Ritter proposed. “We’re not making money o the buildings as they’re sitting there empty.”
Ritter also said he also wants to ensure that all funeral processions are accompanied by a police escort.
As a funeral assistant, Ritter said that he has seen many accidents due to the lack of police presence in a funeral procession.
Turner said that the city’s aging road infrastructure is another issue that needs more effort from the city.
“We’re putting more cars on the road than we thought we would have at this time and it’s wearing the roads out,” Turner said. “It behooves Odessa and Midland to work together to approach the state. We need some more money to come back here.”
Turner and Ritter will face each other in the Nov. 6 mayoral election. Mayor Larry Melton is unable to run in the election due to his term limits expiring.