Editor's note: This article is the first in a series profiling the six candidates for Hays City Commission.
Shaun Musil says he’s enjoyed serving as a Hays city commissioner the last four years, and he is hoping November’s election will allow him to continue working on significant projects, such was water development at R9 Ranch and renovations to the wastewater treatment plant.
Musil, 45, owns the Paisley Pear Wine Bar, Bistro & Market in downtown Hays. He has lived in Hays for 23 years and said he wants to be involved in making local decisions.
“I guess one of the biggest things I focus on since I’ve been a city commissioner is infrastructure,” Musil said. “It’s not an exciting thing to talk about, but I think it’s very important.
“Also, I’ve always made it a priority to be available to any and everybody.”
Q: Why did you decide to run for city commission?
A: When I ran four-and-a-half years ago, I’d always just wanted to be involved in local decisions, and I think when you run for city commission, you just get to be involved in the public. You can’t make everyone happy, but it sure is nice to be part of making the tough decisions, and it’s really been an enjoyment.
Q: If elected, what will your top priorities be?
A: I’d say the top priorities are hopefully move along the water project that we have going on with the R9 Ranch. It could be the biggest project ever in our community. We’ve also got the wastewater plant that’s up and going now. I guess one of the biggest things I focus on since I’ve been a city commissioner is infrastructure. It’s not an exciting thing to talk about, but I think it’s very important. Also I’ve always made a priority to be available to any and everybody. I get labeled as I try to be a people-pleaser. I guess if that's my label, I’ll own it.
Q: What do you feel are the city of Hays’ biggest strengths? Weaknesses?
A: Our biggest strength is we have just unbelievable people that live in our community. It’s a very clean, safe community. It’s just a very nice town to live in. Weaknesses would be we have low unemployment, which is a good thing, but it’s also hard to recruit the retail businesses people are begging for because of the low unemployment. And of course one of the weaknesses would be there’s not a lot of affordable housing.
Q: Recently, the city commission discussed a concept to construct three roundabout structures on North Vine Street to help with traffic control. Do you favor this idea? If not, what would you propose as an alternative?
A: When I first saw it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ But there’s no doubt we’re wanting to do it. We have some huge issues, and with the development that will be going in there very soon I believe, if we don’t do something it’s going to be even a worse mess. I guess I would say I partially favor it, but I still need to know how we’re going to fund it and that has not been talked about. So it could be a good idea, but there’s a lot more to be talked about. I haven’t seen an alternative.
Q: There has been much discussion about economic development and new business recruitment within the city. What do you think the city should do to help move the local economy forward? What are some obstacles the city faces? Did you agree with the city commission’s decision to reduce support for the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development?
A: First of all, I think we should always be looking at anything and everything, listening to people. We sometimes, I feel like as commissioners, because we have the information we don’t always treat people with respect. I think we drive people off sometimes. I just think we need to not be afraid to look at other avenues. A lot of people say it would be nice to bring a business in here that creates high-paying jobs. I know we’ve had a big push on retail, which a lot of people want, but that’s just a very tough thing to bring into our community. I think we need more of it. But we need jobs that pay more, that bring people to our community, whether it’s a factory, that’s just tough. The obstacles that we’re always told about is land prices. But I also recently visited with a local landowner, and he says the biggest thing is people when they want to buy our land, it’s all kind of like well, we want to buy it for an investment. People are willing to sell, but let us know what you’re going to use it for. I really don’t have a problem with that. I think we need to have any and every business here. … I did support this year on the Ellis County Coalition reduction. I do support the Ellis County Coalition. I think it's something that we need, but as has been talked about, it’s needed revamped. It’s been very stagnant my four years on there, and the money is not just a given that we give every year. We have to see something happen with the dollars that were given out.
Q: Speaking of the coalition, outside agency funding is often a topic of much discussion during budget planning. Do you support the decisions the commission made this year (reduce funding for FHSU scholarships and the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development, leave all others at full support)? Would you have recommended any other additional changes?
A: I do not. I don't support the Fort Hays State scholarship reduction. I’ve said this many, many times. If I had to raise property taxes to give employees raises or even just to survive, yes I would absolutely agree with that. But for what Fort Hays does to our community, there are some things I think they could do a little bit better for us, but I think without Fort Hays, it would be interesting to see what our community would be. I think it would be a big loss. I think we need to have a continued partnership with Fort Hays. I guess my biggest thing is when you say recommending other additional changes, it’s just like everybody. The money that we give out, I think there’s a lot of agencies that absolutely depend on us, like the CARE Council, which I think is very important to our community. But it’s not a given. Any of the money that we have is not a given. Before I would raise property taxes or raise anything on the residents, I would definitely cut outside agencies.
Q: Should the city give incentives to established businesses or potential new businesses to expand or move into the city? If so, what?
A: I wish we didn’t have to do any incentives. But there’s no doubt that's kind of the way the business world has went right now. The towns that people want us to be like, the Kearneys and Garden Cities, that’s how they’re growing. They’re giving out more incentives than we are, actually. And with our high land prices, we have to be able to do something. But the businesses have to prove to us that it’s worth our time. We had some new business like a hotel come in. … When a business can prove to us what they’re going to bring to the community dollar-wise, it’s not really a hard decision. When we had issues with other businesses we said no to, a lot of it was prove to us what you’re going to do for our community and we’ll consider giving you incentives. If I had my druthers I’d say no, don’t give any incentives. But I just don’t think that’s the way to do it right now.
Q: Housing needs also have been discussed. Do you feel affordable housing, and/or housing availability, is an issue in the city? If so, how should the issue be addressed?
A: I was one that also voted to possibly give incentives to Overland (Property) Group. They didn't get their funding that they wanted. At the time, I was 100-percent behind that. But when you look at the rentals, I think we have over 150 (vacant) rentals out there right now. We do need affordable housing, there's no doubt. But there is a lot of open housing, and to give incentives to somebody outside the community to hurt locals, to me in my opinion, that would not be in the best interest.
Q: As you know, a legal process is in the works to secure future water rights to the city-owned R9 Ranch in Edwards County. What are your thoughts about that project, and is there anything else you feel the city should be looking at in terms of water resources?
A: I feel like from what I’ve learned being on city commission, they almost exhausted everything possible for water resources. And this, no doubt, would be a long-term water source. We feel like we’ve done everything possible. It’s kind of in the state’s hands. We’re ready for them to trigger the water act but right now we’re just kind of waiting on them. I feel like we’re in a good place. The region has kind of approved what we’ve set out to do. I really think if it happens, we will not only help Hays, but we will help the region which is very important to Hays.
Q: In the past, city commissioners have shot down ideas of using city sales tax to fund a potential school bond. What are your thoughts on using city sales tax to help fund renovations/improvements for Hays USD 489 school buildings?
A: I 100-percent support the schools, whether it’s private or public. My wife’s a teacher, my kids are in schools. But also TMP, Fort Hays State, NCK are very important to this community. I support anything that helps the schools. I think it helps our community also. The sales tax, I originally was all for it. I’ve had many people say we don’t want you using city sales tax for that. My thing is I believe the city commission should have allowed the voters to make that decision. If the voters said no, then absolutely not. I think on something that important, I think the voters should have made a decision instead of five people on a panel.
Q: Are there any other issues you would like to discuss?
A: I guess for me, I just want to be known and people know that I do my best every day to represent the community. As my campaign goes on, I’m pretty positive I'm the only one that everything I’ve purchased for my campaign has been purchased locally. I think it’s kind of strange to purchase stuff online when you’re representing the local community that relies on sales tax. I just want to be known as a person that. I don’t know all the answers, but I’m not afraid to ask the questions and I just hope people will give me another chance to represent them in the community.