With election day looming just a few days away Tuesday, Blue Springs City Council candidates offered their views on local economic development and taxes – many of them similar.
Incumbent Dale Carter is challenged in District 1, essentially the city's northern third, by Galen Ericson and Scott Casey. District 2 incumbent Chris Lievsay is challenged by
Travis Hagewood, and Susan Culpepper is running unopposed in District 3.
Friday morning's candidates forum at St. Mary's Medical Center also included two of the three school board candidates answering a few questions. Rhonda Gilstrap and Bobby Hawk are incumbents running for re-election, and challenger Carl Tharp was not able to addend.
Carter said that to foster economic development, the city must be easy to work with have a code conducive to that.
“We can't run people through traps,” he said.
Economic development, Carter said in his opening statement, is the third leg of a three-legged stool that's most important for elected officials. The first two are public safety and infrastructure, and he noted improvements he supported for both legs – a hotel-motel ordinance that reduced police calls and the Roanoke Drive improvements.
“To pay for the first two legs, you need to be aggressive in trying to bring in new jobs and businesses,” Carter said.
In finding the balance between being friendly to business and still making business corridors look inviting to people, Carter said he would “err on the side of businesses.”
“If it first into our comprehensive plan and code, I would do all I can to support it,” he said, later using the narrow council vote recently against a proposed car wash at a prime intersection for businesses. “When you miss an opportunity like that the market hears us, and they don't want to hear that.”
Ericson said the city should develop an economic development pattern to help fill vacant buildings, make sure infrastructure isn't unappealing, encourage buying local and making it simpler and easier for prospective business owners to renovate buildings.
“Jobs and tax revenues are a top priority for all of us,” he said. “I believe in incentives that are a net positive that won't hurt existing businesses.”
Casey said pushing green initiatives like bringing back recycling and having solar panels on some city buildings can be worthwhile in the long run. He also would like to have municipal fiber installed to ideally lower internet prices and nurture co-working spaces for small start-up businesses to fill blighted areas.
“It's all about promising he right tools that businesses are looking for,” he said.
Casey said he would err on the side of what people want.
“You don't want potential weeds in the garden,” he said, and such an approach means more revenue in the long run.
Lievsay said the city needs to be welcoming and “making sure our code is responsive to businesses.”
Hagewood said it's important to educate citizens to build the city from within and make downtown more of a place people want to go to.
“You can't make a business come to Blue Springs,” Culpepper said, “but what we can do, and we're doing, is making it easier.”
Culpepper said getting citizens to pass the use tax, though she said it's an “awful” label for what amounts to an internet sales tax, can help growth by putting local businesses on a level playing field.
All other candidates favored another run at capturing use tax revenue, though Ericson and Hagewood urged that it be less confusing and the city make sure citizens are well-educated. Lievsay said he preferred having the Missouri Municipal League, of which he is now president, lobby the state to do away with having individual cities seek their citizens' approval.
“It's confusing because it's confusing (thanks to the state), not because we want it that way,” Lievsay said.
All candidates also favored asking voters for renewal of the half-cent parks sales tax in a few years.
When asked what he would not cut when trying to finesse the city budget, Carter said the city has tried to pare down to core services in recent years and anything outside of public safety and infrastructure should be on the table.
Ericson advocated cutting “superfluous studies,” which many times can be replaced a little math and some common senses. Hagewood agreed on that point, adding the city needs to explore alternative ways to increase revenue.
“I'm not interested in cutting services,” Casey said. “We can build revenue if we're smart about it.”
“I think the way to grow revenue is more jobs and more residents,” Lievsay said, adding that he voted against the City Hall renovations (now nearly complete) because it was a bad time to take on such a project. “It's about making smart decisions with the money we have.”
For the school board, Gilstrap said her longtime experience, as well as her leadership with the Missouri School Board Association will be beneficial. One way the district is looking to the future is its plan to turn the Freshman Center into a career technology and vocation center.
Hawk, appointed to the board last year to fill a term, mentioned his passion for the district as a former student and now a parent and community member.
“We need to see what we can learn from other districts,” he said. “We're all on a learning curve, and we need to be willing to adapt.”
“I know there's a lot I don't know,” he said, “and I'm willing to continue to learn.”