Local marketing consultant and political newcomer Dallas Shipp said he decided to run for a seat on College Station City Council after it approved a 2.5-cent tax rate increase for the fiscal year that began earlier this month.
"I've complained about a lot of things for a long time -- especially in the business community here, there's kind of this running joke of 'it's just so difficult to do business in the city of College Station,' " Shipp said. "And so when the talk began about increasing property tax rates this summer, that was kind of my [moment of], you know what, I'm gonna throw my name in the hat and give this a shot."
He is running against 11-month incumbent Linda Harvell for the Place 3 seat.
Shipp describes himself as an outside-the-box thinker with the creativity needed to solve the city's pressing issues, including understaffing in the police and fire departments and looming infrastructure needs as the city grows. The City Council "has a lot of catching up to do" to find ways to pay for those needs, Shipp said, but "you can't put all that on the backs of property owners."
"I understand that as the city grows, we have to grow with it, so I am very forward-thinking when it comes to what needs to happen for that," the 36-year-old said.
Rather than continuing to raise taxes, Shipp said his primary concern, if elected, would be to find a way to diversify the city's tax base. He proposes a strong focus on recruiting more business to town, which he said likely will require streamlining the process business owners currently go through when opening or expanding locations in College Station.
The hurdles business owners have to jump through with the city, whether it be with landscaping requirements or color palettes, currently stifles business growth, Shipp said, and has led some to choose to locate in Bryan over College Station.
A common thread of business growth runs through almost all of Shipp's campaign goals.
Recruiting businesses and their employees to move to College Station will be difficult, Shipp said, if the lack of affordable housing continues.
Affordable housing is a main area of concern he hopes to tackle. While Shipp doesn't believe it's the council's job to necessarily "create" more affordable housing, he does think the impact fees on new homes the council approved last year have contributed to the issue. Shipp said he would consider reducing the fees, which have made it more expensive for builders to construct homes, while also considering ideas such as changing lot size requirements to allow builders to put more houses on a street, which could lower the overall cost per home.
And while he can't yet say exactly where cuts should be made, Shipp said the council needs to do a better job of ranking needs and identifying areas where costs in low-priority programs or departments can be trimmed.
"It's a balancing act," Shipp said. "To me, it seems more common sense than we've made it out to be the past 20 years I've been here."
Shipp perceives a divide both on the current council and in the city as a whole when it comes to growth -- that "you're either pro-neighborhood or pro-business." The two aren't mutually exclusive, he said, but there seem to be two "camps" in town on the issue, which is what Shipp said separates him from Harvell. There are those who want to see College Station remain the way it was decades ago, he said, and those who understand the city has to grow. The city needs a candidate who is pro-growth but understands the importance of having strong neighborhoods, Shipp said, adding that he's supported by individuals in the real estate community as well as neighborhoods.
There's a "smart way" to plan for the commercial development the city needs when it's in the area of single-family homes, Shipp said, and that includes mitigating potential negative impacts through tools such as outdoor lighting and height requirements. He also pointed to the efforts made by the owners of Aggieland Outfitters to involve residents of the Southside neighborhood when the business was requesting its controversial rezoning for a new location at George Bush Drive and Fairview Avenue.
"This isn't about plowing through neighborhoods to put businesses up, and it's not about keeping businesses away from any neighborhood in town," Shipp said. "This has to be a common-sense approach that takes all of that into account, but at the end of the day, we have to create a city in College Station that has more of a culture of 'yes' when it comes to development. We just need to do it in the right manner."
As a marketing professional with a writing background, Shipp said he would have the advantage of being able to "tell the story" and communicate the city's needs and the council's actions. In addition to being a creative problem solver with relationships that can help bridge the gaps between the city and other parts of the community, including Texas A&M, Shipp said he also sees himself differing from Harvell in his ability to articulate his decisions.
"You may disagree with me, but I'm going to tell you why I came to this decision," Shipp said.
Early voting begins Oct. 23 and runs through Nov. 3. Election Day is Nov. 7.