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Midland And Odessa Mayors Talk About Their Priorities And The Future Of Their Cities

Midland Mayor Patrick Payton and Odessa Mayor Javier Joven on Thursday discussed the directions they’d like to see their communities head in the coming years. The event was sponsored by a young professional group connected to the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

By Mitch Borden

Over the course of an hour, Odessa’s recently elected Mayor Javier Joven and Midland Mayor Patrick Payton outlined their vision, largely touching on taxes and quality-of-life issues. 

After a year of state lockdowns and restrictions, it was apparent both mayors are ready to move beyond the coronavirus pandemic. But the two Permian Basin leaders were blunt about the long road to recovery for Midland and Odessa. 

Almost a year ago, shortly after the pandemic began, West Texas oil prices crashed to about negative $37 — and even though the oil market has rebounded, the Midland - Odessa area's recovery has been much slower.

According to Payton, sales tax revenue in Midland is still down and residents shouldn’t expect a lot of new and exciting projects from the city for the next year and possibly beyond.

“Quite frankly, in city government, we lost a year and we’re not just gonna make up a year this year in the budget,” Payton told the live audience at the Rolling 7's Ranch where the event was held. “I wouldn’t expect too many things very creative.[sic]” 

To Payton, once the city gets to 2023, leaders will be able to get a better idea of where the city stands — especially following midterm elections. 

However, that doesn’t deter Payton from wanting to work towards some ambitious goals. He made it clear to audience members he wants to make Midland a place where people want to settle down — which could mean taxes may rise across the largely conservative community.

“At some point, and I don’t know what that point is, your property taxes are going to go up if you’re gonna want the things people say they want in this city,” Payton told the crowd. 

Quality-of-life issues, in Payton’s opinion, is a huge challenge Midland needs to tackle. He believes the community has gotten behind on investing in things like parks and sports fields, which for some has made Midland a pitstop rather than a destination.  In the future Payton wants to see more money go towards making Midland a more livable place

He explained, “I know many of you are thinking 'all that means is that you are going to spend money and spend money.' Well you know what, sometimes it takes money to spend to keep the workforce here.” Payton continued, “What I am afraid of is the 30 and 40 somethings that are living here now are living as a tour of duty...until they are able to move away.”

Payton assured residents though the City of Midland would bring any proposal to raise property taxes to the voters.

While Payton is thinking about how to attract and keep people in Midland, Odessa’s Mayor Javier Joven is more concerned about trimming his city's spending. For him, quality of life shouldn’t just refer to things like museums and sports fields. Instead, he said that term should apply to a city’s basic functions like providing water, sewer and public safety — things he believes have been “put on the back burner” in Odessa.

Joven freely admitted there were going to be a lot of cuts to his city’s budget coming up in the future. 

“We have to get out of the real estate business. We have to get out of the recreational business. The reason is, at this point, we can’t afford it.” He went on, “These budgets are going to be hard, a lot of people are going to walk away with a lot less...until we can get back on track.” 

When asked what his top priority will be as mayor before he leaves office, Joven pointed to a topic he’s been vocal about pursuing.

“If it’s one thing and one thing alone...it’s gonna be this, and I might get emotional about this, but  [it] is making abortion illegal in Odessa, Texas. ” 

Earlier this year, Joven introduced an ordinance to the Odessa City Council to make the city a sanctuary for the unborn which would bar any medical provider from performing abortions within the city limits. The council has not voted on the ordinance to date, but Joven is hopeful that he will be able to get it to pass if it receives enough public support.  

Later during the forum, both mayors were asked by former Midland mayoral candidate Jenny Cudd whether they were considering declaring Midland and Odessa sanctuary cities for second amendment rights. Earlier this year, Cudd came into the national spotlight after being arrested for storming the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6. 

Payton quickly responded, ““I’m not a big fan of virtue signaling.” 

The conservative lawmaker said he has asked Midland’s legal department to look into the potential pros and cons of making Midland a sanctuary city, but said he isn’t particularly interested in moving forward with thiese kinds of initiatives. 

“I’m not gonna put the city in...the position...where someone can come in and sue the pants off the city based off some decisions we make in that regard,” Payton explained. “We have to think a little further down the line than just being reactionary.” 

Joven said he’d rather acknowledge what the constitution already has laid out concerning second amendment rights and apply the laws already on the books. 

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.