Editor’s note: This story on the Blue Springs mayoral forum first ran in the March 7 edition of The Examiner, before pandemic-related restrictions started and the scheduled April 7 municipal elections were moved to June 2. The Examiner plans to run some previous election stories again as a benefit to citizens.
Three-term incumbent Mayor incumbent Carson Ross says he's still the right leader to keep Blue Springs moving forward, while three challengers say they offer citizens a good option to make a change in the June 2 election.
Ross, current City Council Members Susan Culpepper and Chris Lievsay and recent Council Member Dale Carter shared their views on reinvigorating Missouri 7, recycling programs, a vision for the city’s south side, tax abatements and how to attract young adults to the city during a candidate forum in March.
No matter who is elected, Blue Springs officials seem primed to make a second attempt at asking voters to approve a use tax – essentially a local sales tax for goods purchased online. Ross called for it in his state of the city address last month, saying the delivery trucks add to the road maintenance needs the city wants to better address, and all three of his challengers support another ballot attempt.
“The curve is going the wrong way,” Carter said, referring to how local businesses are at a disadvantage, and less tax revenue from them creates budget issues.
“We need people to understand that it's not new,” Culpepper said of such a tax, as she and Ross both emphasized voter education.
The mayor also said dedicating such tax revenue to a defined purpose – street maintenance, for example – could help gain voter approval.
Ross noted the city's various rankings nationally and statewide as a desirable place to live touted his dedication to being engaged with others inside and outside the city to provide leadership – “You can't run the city on remote control,” he said – while Culpepper cited her service on the council (seven years) and Planning Commission (21) as well as several organizations around the city. Carter said he believes city leaders can be more collaborative to improve its economy and future, and Lievsay said the city can have a proactive business approach but has missed the mark on some priorities citizens consider most important.
One such priority would be a recycling center and household hazardous waste program, two programs recently sliced from the city budget as too costly or inefficient.
Lievsay said he would revisit a recycling center that perhaps would be fee-based and open to other communities and proposed partnering with Lee's Summit for a less costly HHW program than the previous regional partnership. Such programs, along with private solar power – on which the city is too restrictive, he said – help attract young adults to the city.
Ross said such programs would have to be fiscally responsible for the city to bring back.
“Recycling, you'd have to convince me,” he said.
Carter said a more robust city economy would solve the question of such programs, while Culpepper said a recycling center would be too costly but supported bringing back the household hazardous waste program.
“We can't have that out front in the trash,” she said.
Ross and Culpepper said the right housing is key to attracting young adults. They want the possibility for nearby amenities and leisure activities, Culpepper said, while Carter said the combination of jobs and opportunities go with the right housing.
Residential development on the city's south side has been a hot-button topic of late. Culpepper and Lievsay said a good balance and diversity in housing, respectively, is important for the area. Ross said now that the city has met a senior living need, the next area it's lacking is low-maintenance neighborhoods for baby boomers looking to downsize and millennials starting out. Carter suggested the city should revisit the development code and comprehensive development plan and make use of the optional fifth Monday council meetings to discuss such meaty issues.
All favor a case-by-case approach with tax abatement for businesses, though Lievsay said he'd be hesitant to use that outside of removing blight. The former White Oak Shopping Plaza – now a new PriceChopper as well as shops and restaurants – provided such an example, they all agreed.
When asked about empty commercial spots along Missouri 7 and elsewhere in the city, Ross said it's a matter of more citizen support for local businesses. Carter said the city has earned a reputation of being hard to deal with for businesses, something he hopes to discuss with city staff to change, and needs to market more to the business community.
Culpepper said the city is working to be better with businesses, but it also needs to be good stewards with infrastructure maintenance, and citizens can help with patronage.
“It all works in a big circle,” she said.
Lievsay said a more proactive approach can help bring in businesses, but infrastructure maintenance can also play a big role.
“Economic development is a function of investing in the community,” he said.