Mayoral forum brings out issues
The four candidates for Baldwin City mayor addressed issues of growth, recreation and business in front of a sizable crowd of around 200 people Thursday night.
Incumbent Stan Krysztof, Slade Dillon, Michael C. Green and Ken Hayes answered the same eight questions during the public forum sponsored by the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce. The questions were submitted by the public and selected by the chamber board of directors prior to the forum.
The three newcomers had at least one thing in common the desire to move the city in a different direction. Krysztof said he wants to see some projects through with another term as mayor.
Following are the questions, in the order they were asked, followed by some of the comments made by the candidates.
Question 1: How do you plan to address both the growing needs of our community and still continue to upgrade the infrastructure?
Hayes, 34 and a co-owner of Cornerstone Construction, said the city needs to seek other sources of funding.
"We need to outsource and find money, both state and federal, to help out with these upgrades," he said during the two-minute response period. We have to stop looking internally to generate this money and start looking externally."
Hayes said other cities have experienced infrastructure problems similar to Baldwin, but have approached them differently.
"We are not the first city that has an infrastructure that is having problems," Hayes said. "This is not unique. What we are doing that is unique is we are not following through with finding these programs and accessing this money. The more sources we can located for affordable financing of this money or free grants, we should do that. We need to find every source we can to lessen the burden on this community."
Green, 52 and a home builder, said the city needs to get out of the electricity business.
"In the last four years, we have invested a great deal of money in the electrical infrastructure that is not paying for itself," Green said. "That is our main problem right now that we have to address as a city. Energy in general is a very important issue coming up for us. So we have to make some really hard decisions concerning the direction we are going to."
Dillon, a student loan officer at Baldwin State Bank, agreed with Green. He said the city shouldn't be the one sending out the electric bills.
"I believe we need to get out of that business as quickly as possible," said Dillon, 29. "That needs to be the focus. You are going to lose some revenues. I'm willing to accept that because you lose a lot of cost, too.
"It's the main way to simplify the city operation. It needs to be done, it needs to be done yesterday."
Krysztof, 62, defended the upgrades the city is making to its infrastructure, including electricity.
"We do pursue grants," said Krysztof, who owns K&K Grinding. "We do have grants working. But the bills come in for more than the grants."
Question 2: What are your thoughts regarding the possible sale of the Baldwin City Lake?
Green said he didn't have feelings on the issue one way or another, but that he'd be willing to sell the land if it would benefit the city financially. However, he said the decision would need community involvement.
"If there was a cost benefit to that, if there was a trade off funds, revenues, proceeds from the sale of that property could be applied to another area that would be a good way to go," Green said.
Dillon said the lake is the biggest park the city has albeit a few miles in the country and should be considered an asset.
"I don't think we need to sell the lake," he said. "The Katharine Kelley Nature Trail, it's nice. As far as park land, that's pretty much what we've got right now. We should treasure it."
Krysztof said the city doesn't plan to sell the lake. He said the land was appraised, in the event that it could be traded for land more suitable for recreational facilities, such as baseball fields, closer to town.
"The lake has never been for sale," Krysztof said. "The lake has been discussed (for park property). It is two or three miles out of town."
Hayes said there are better reasons to keep the lake, than to sell it.
"I'm 100 percent opposed to selling the City Lake," Hayes said. "This is an asset we have. Obviously discussion has been the liquidation of the park for strictly monetary reasons. I think there are some better reasons to hold onto the lake. It's paid for. I think there is adequate space around the lake, that we can improve it, and use for a park area."
Hayes added that retaining ownership of City Lake made more sense than any of the considered uses for a 160-acre tract of land south of town.
"I think we should take what we have and start maximizing what we own, as opposed to striking out in new directions and buying ground we are not exactly sure what we want to do with," Hayes said.
Question 3: What do you think about annexing new ground into the city limits, and if you are for this, where are you going to get that land?
Nearly all the candidates agreed that any annexation should be considered at the request of developers or property owners.
Dillon said the city needs to take care of the land it already has, not add to it.
"We need to take care of the ground we've got," Dillon said. "We need to upgrade the sewer on the ground we've got. That should be a concern. We've got a good deal of property annexed already that remains to be developed."
Krysztof said annexation has been considered by request in past years, but is not something the city is pursuing itself.
"In the last six years the city has not gone out to pursue annexation of ground," Krysztof said. "The annexation has been through developers requesting joining the city."
However, Krysztof said certain areas should be annexed, such as the Baldwin City Golf Course, because it is surrounded by city property.
"The city has looked into the idea," Krysztof said. "There are a whole bunch of islands. Those are the areas the city is looking to bring into annexation, simply because the city is providing all the utilities there right now and they are not paying the city taxes."
Hayes said annexation should be limited to those islands, for now.
"We have enough trouble getting services to the ground we have," Hayes said. "As far as the islands in the city, if they are using our services and it's not a detriment to us to go ahead and bring them in, then we should."
He said the city's infrastructure isn't prepared for the annexation of large pieces of property.
"As far as big chunks, large pieces of ground, I don't think we should, until we have the capability to service the people who will live on that ground, whether it be business, industrial, recreational or housing," Hayes said. "Until we have our systems in place where we can reach out and give services to these people adequately, which right now we are incapable of doing, then we can start bringing in new pieces of ground."
Green said annexation can help a city control its growth. However, he said annexation should remain a market function and considered at a developer's or property owner's request.
"If indeed we were to experience rapid growth, then annexation may be something we want to take a look at," Green said. "Other than that, it's a market function. Somebody wants annexed in, the city needs to look at that, and refer to the processes for that and the cost of taking that additional infrastructure on."
Question 4: We are experiencing phenomenal growth in Baldwin City, we'd like to hear about how you plan to manage growth in Baldwin.
Krysztof said growth can be managed by utilities. He referred to a current moratorium on new developments, because the sewer plant is reaching its capacity.
"We can control it in the form of how we handle the utility part of it," Krysztof said. "Right now we have a moratorium on new development, simply because our sewer system cannot handle it. Until we can get that increased we have to put a stop to new growth. Although, there are still 220 houses that can be built. Those are the houses that platting has been approved."
Hayes said the moratorium on new developments was a "good move." And he recommended controlling future development by "mapping" how future areas should develop.
"In the future, once the new sewer plant is constructed, the procedure that should be put in place should be a future planning, as far as areas being mapped out around the city, without actually annexing them, for a growth pattern," Hayes said. "Areas should be delineated as being potential residential growth areas, industrial growths area, commercial growth areas. The idea in mind is to control the development and channel it, to make for a better city."
Green referred to growth as "investment" in Baldwin City. He said growth should be monitored, so that the city keeps what attracts its residents.
"The county is a high growth area. We are still at a manageable level here," Green said. "We need to go back and define what the city is all about."
Dillon said growth is to be expected, and the city needs to provide its customers with adequate utilities, such as sewer, but not electricity.
"The people are going to come," Dillon said. "I don't want the city to lose it's small town flavor. We have the benefit of not being located on an interstate. It's a good thing to be 15 miles off the road in my book. We need adequate sewer, we don't need to provide them power."
Question 5: What is your opinion regarding the purchase of 160 acres south of town?
Only the incumbent, Krysztof, saw value in pursuing a business and recreation area on this land. The other candidates said the non-refundable, $25,000 deposit on the land was a mistake. The price tag on the land is $560,000.
"It's not a good idea," Hayes said.
He referred to his ownership in Cornerstone Construction and listed a few things that always make the project work: exposure, accessibility to utilities and a customer base that wants it.
"We don't have any of these," Hayes said. "It's not what I would consider handy for any kind of business looking for exposure to traffic. It is near the railway, but we know that goes to 'Nowhere.' That's not really a help. And the Vinland Valley Airport is a ways away. It's just not really handy toward any means of transportation, other maybe than horse and buggy."
He also said that business and recreation should not be mixed.
"I think we should take our lumps on the $25,000 and walk away from it," Hayes said.
Green said the city needs to "get out of the business of business," which includes developing a business park.
"I don't think this is the time to be taking on the financing burden of providing an industrial park," Green said. "The city has to get out of the business of business. The city is a provider of services. We need to become proficient at providing that service to our citizens, tax payers and rate payers.
"The business park is something that is not even a remote possibility."
Dillon said the land would better serve the community as a golf course, and he was joking.
"It would be a great place for a golf course," Dillon said. "I don't see why you would put a business park there. I would golf there. It seems like we have more pressing problems at this time.
"If someone wants to do business here, they will find a place to do business," he said. "The government doesn't need to provide you with a place to do business on the far end of town, on a gravel road."
Krysztof said a business park and recreational area is needed in town. He said his business would operate just fine more than a mile from U.S. Highway 56.
"I have no problems having my business 1.2 miles south of the highway," Krysztof said. "Mine presently is a half mile. I'm not in business for people to see me on the highway. I do my business out of town."
He said several tracts of land were considered, including areas by Baldwin High School and 93 acres on the highway.
"What do you want for the same money 93 acres or 160 acres?" Krysztof asked. "Baldwin City is in need of a recreation park. Baldwin City is in need of a business park. We've got to find someplace for athletic fields."
Question 6: Youth recreation is a topic of interest for many Baldwin families, what are your feelings regarding youth recreation?
All candidates agreed that Baldwin City lacks adequate recreational facilities. And the newcomers considered offerings for free land from Baker University for that purpose to be "lost opportunities."
"The last four years I can only summarize really as unexplainable lost opportunities in the area of recreation," Green said. "We need to provide recreational opportunities and facilities for all community members, as well as non-community members. We are very deficient in this area. We also have a great director in Monte Ezell. We need to empower him with more money and facilities."
Dillon agreed and said more cooperation is needed between the parties involved.
"I agree there have been quite a few lost opportunities," Dillon said. "I think I could pride myself to get along with the people involved."
Krysztof said the city is cooperating and seeking recreational opportunities with Baker University and the school district. However, he said the most recent land offering from Baker would have required the city to build $20 million of recreational facilities over 15 years.
"The city is not the sole responsibility of providing recreational facilities," Krysztof said.
Hayes said the city should have found a way to make the free land work.
"If someone is going to give the city free ground, I'm going to jump right on it," Hayes said. "OK, so the price tag was $20 million on this North Park project. It doesn't mean you have to build it over 15 years, you can build it over 30. Just because an architect has an idea of what could be there, doesn't mean you have to build it to the letter.
"So the situation we've been maneuvered into is we're going to buy 160 acres for $560,000 for a potential recreation facility and we turned our back on free ground. That's not a good decision, at all."
Question 7: Do you have any new ideas on how to bring in new businesses to Baldwin City?
Dillon said business will come, without the city recruiting i.
"If there is a market, the merchant will find it," Dillon said. "We are turning more and more into a bedroom community. We are not quite the size of city to be calling up Wal-Mart."
Krysztof said the city is missing out of a broader tax base because it doesn't have any land to offer businesses interested in locating in Baldwin.
"There are people out there that are interested in coming in," Krysztof said. "We have to get our infrastructure up to snuff. We have to show them where land is available."
He said he could have brought in four businesses in the past four years. One of them, he said, located in Ottawa and built a $600,000 building containing $1 million of equipment. He said that could have been part of Baldwin City's tax base.
Hayes said business should be done by the private sector. The city's responsibility is to provide quality utility services.
"I believe strongly enough that businesses want to come to Baldwin that I am risking my own money," Hayes said, referring to his own commercial undertaking. "As far as bringing it into the city, we do need to get the infrastructure on-line to service a potential client."
Hayes said high taxes may also be keeping businesses away.
"As far as roadblocks go, we have managed to erect quite a few of our own," Hayes said. "You can't look at a potential client as 'Well, he's got a million dollars worth of equipment, we can't wait to tax him.' We need to take a different approach. We need to look at how many people it will employ and how many jobs it will bring into our city. I think we need to be aggressive. I think we need to look at doing tax abatements in certain situations."
Green said the city needs to look at how it treats current business owners in the community. He said impact fees for construction, a high tax rate, and high utility rates don't make Baldwin City attractive to businesses.
"We need to look at how we treat people here now," Green said. "I don't see how we can attract any business with the conditions we have now."
Question 8: Why do you want to be mayor?
Krysztof said he wants to see some projects through to their completion.
"It has been a frustrating, enjoyable, challenging six years," Krysztof said. "... simply because I would say we are in the area of 60-75 percent of getting the city back to functioning where it should be, as far as the infrastructure goes. I want to see it through."
Hayes said he wants to positively influence Baldwin City.
"I'm interested in the city," Hayes said. "I want to live here for the rest of my life. I want to have a positive affect."
Green said he is willing to take on a thankless job to better the city.
"I find myself asking why I think so much differently (than the mayor and city council)," Green said. "It is a thankless job. I do admire and respect people who come forward and dedicate their time to the city. I decided that's what I need to do."
Dillon said the job would be a learning experience and one he could do well.
"I think I can be an affective person to lead the community," he said.