Archive for Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Two-year council candidates share their views

February 21, 2001

Name: Todd Cohen

Address: 604 Ninth Street

Age (including date of birth): 34 (May 8, 1966)

Occupation: Assistant director for news and public issues, Office of University Relations, University of Kansas

Family: Wife: Stacy. Children: Abby, 4; Alex, 1.

1. What are the major issues facing Baldwin City and how would you address them?

The biggest challenge is that we have been hit with soaring taxes and energy costs just as the city must address long overdue infrastructure improvements for water, sewer and electrical services. Add to the mix rapid residential and business growth and demands for more recreational facilities.

The council to must first adopt a new, more open approach by communicating with the public and encouraging input. We must examine the city budget, cut expenses where possible to keep taxes stable, establish short- and long-term capital improvement goals, then take action on infrastructure problems so all residents can receive good city services.

2. How do you think the city should plan for growth and how should those plans be funded?

A 20-year master plan to help the city guide growth is needed. Mapping future growth would help encourage developers to build where the city can best provide good water and electrical service and other city services. It also would help the city anticipate future demand for services, such as sewer treatment and plan accordingly.

It is an open question whether new growth pays for itself entirely in property taxes collected on improved property, or whether impact fees are needed so existing residents are not forced to pay for news roads and sewers. I think reasonable impact fees with the proceeds deposited in dedicated funds, not the general fund, to pay for infrastructure improvements is the best course. The current fees are too high and only serve to drive away business and increase housing costs.

3. Do you have any concerns about the city budget? Explain.

The council's primary duty is to ensure that the people's money is being spent properly with maximum efficiency. The next council must look everywhere for cost savings. Primary focus must be the power plant. While neighboring Ottawa's power plant pays for itself, the Baldwin City plant does not. The council must decide whether to keep investing in this plant or seek alternative power sources.

4. How do you think Baldwin City should proceed with the 160 acres south of town it plans to develop into a business and recreation area?

I wish the council had not decided in secret and without any citizen involvement to reject the offer of land for a recreation center north of the high school to pursue this plan. As a result, poor decisions were made and money wasted.

I cannot support this project. My reasons include: 1) Industrial parks should not be located next to residential areas; 2) The location would require delivery trucks to drive through neighborhoods to reach the park, endangering children 3) I question whether manufacturers would want to be more than a mile off Hwy. 56, adjacent to a recreational park and in close proximity to homes. A wiser location might be next to the future four-lane Hwy. 59 freeway.

5. Why are you running for this position and what qualifications do you have for the position?

My wife and I bought a home here because it is a great place to live, raise children and retire. We have a vested interest in how Baldwin City develops. As a homeowner, I want affordable utilities and good customer service. As a parent, I want safe streets and sidewalks and recreational opportunities. As a taxpayer, I want my money spent wisely and efficiently.

I am running because I believe I can make a valuable contribution and I have experience related to city government. I am a former city/county government newspaper reporter and editor. I presently do public relations for KU. I have bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science from KU and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Washington. While in college, I was a legislative and budget assistant for the Seattle City Council.

6. Any additional comments.

I thank everyone who has been so supportive and encouraging in this election. I would appreciate your support. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me by email at tscohen@grapevine.net.

Name: Mike Magers

Address: 218 Chapel Street

Age: 30 years old DOB: 2/26/1970

Occupation: Self-employed: Owner of The Salt Mine Bar & Grill

Family: Wife Heather Magers (formerly Heather Walker) graduated from BHS in 1993 and Baker University School of Nursing in December 2000. No children.

1. What are the major issues facing Baldwin City and how would you address them?

I believe three of the biggest issues facing Baldwin City right now are high electric rates, high taxes and poor communication.

Electric Rates: The solution to the problem of high electric rates is first to determine the feasibility of Baldwin City maintaining its own electric facility. We currently employ equipment that is inefficient, antiquated and costly to maintain. I believe it is a solid fact that we cannot continue to use this machinery and hope to run a viable, efficient electric plant. My current belief is that since we are not in a financial position to seriously upgrade this equipment we would be better off letting another utility provider come into Baldwin City and provide us with power.

High Taxes: We must do a better job of spending our tax dollars wisely and utilizing key resources to fund city projects and improvements. We cannot continue to waste money on bad ideas and bad projects, for example the proposed industrial/recreational park, when we have many other pressing needs. By concentrating our money on the things that are essential to make a community run, and not spending money on projects that the private sector can manage, we will see far greater results from the tax dollars our citizens put into our community. I believe that most of us would not mind paying higher taxes if we felt like we were getting something for our money. I also believe that when making decisions we must look farther down the road than we have in the past and by doing so we can save ourselves the effort of doing something twice and spending twice as much money.

Poor Communication: I think it is essential that the city government do as much as possible to make sure the citizens are fully informed of the decisions that have to be made. In doing so the government must also make available all of the information that is involved in making those decisions such as costs, possible outcomes and who is affected. If we can achieve this then there are no surprises when a decision is made and most of us should feel like we knew what was coming and that we had an opportunity to evaluate the decision and take part in the process.

2. How do you think the city should plan for growth, and how should those plans be funded?

Baldwin City, without question, will continue to grow and managed growth is good. Growth is essential to life and the development and maintenance of a community. A problem we have created for ourselves over the last decade or more is that we have not maintained well or upgraded our essential resources such as electrical equipment and sewage facilities to meet our growing needs. As a result we have been faced with a great deal of expense over the last few years in replacing electrical equipment and now building a new sewage plant to accommodate our current growth. These updates and repairs need to be budgeted for by their respective plants and as necessary the money is there for such improvement. Another facet of planning for growth is by first determining what our identity is as a city and what our values are and then directing growth in a manner consistent with those ideas. We need to decide what areas of the city we want to grow and for what purposes. By zoning our land according to where we want housing or commercial property we can direct our growth and maintain our identity. The funding of growth that we see through developers should come from building permits and fees associated with developing land and building dwellings and commercial buildings. If we were not in the position of having to spend a great deal of money on upgrading our infrastructure, our current growth would not seem so financially burdensome. As for the development and growth of our infrastructure it can be funded through tax revenues and varying grants available to all communities for such endeavors.

3. Do you have any concerns about the city's budget? Explain.

I have immense concerns about the city's budget in that I wonder where all of the tax dollars are going and why we pay so much for so little. I am very concerned about how we are spending our money when we give our city administrator a $460/month car allowance when we could simply be paying him 31 cents a mile for his mileage. At 31 cents a mile he would have to be driving 1500 miles a month and that, I am certain, is not the case. This is a prime example of how we waste money in Baldwin City. I think one of the first things that should happen when the council meets after the election is to take a long look at the books and see where we can trim some fat. If this car allowance is indicative of the rest of the budget then I am certain we can save a great deal of money.

4. How do you think Baldwin City should proceed with the 160 acres south of town it plans to develop into a business and recreation area?

I believe at this point we should consider our $25 thousand earnest payment, a loss and not take another step in that direction. I also believe that it is a travesty that the city can spend this kind of money without any input from the citizens of Baldwin City. The city is not in a position, nor should it be in the position, of developing land. Our current growth is indicative of the fact that there are private developers who are willing to come into Baldwin and develop land for projects such as the proposed business area. I do believe that we need a recreational area for Baldwin but I think we need to look in a different direction. I think we were terribly remiss in not taking Baker University up on an offer it made to donate land for such an endeavor. It is my hope that such an undertaking with Baker is not out of the question and if it is still a possibility, it should be pursued.

5. Why are you running for this position, and what qualifications do you have for the position?

I am running for the position of city council member because I have come to a point where I am frustrated and concerned with the direction our city is heading. I want to make myself a part of the process in the hope that I can foster better communication and a better relationship between our city government and the citizens of Baldwin City. I see an adversarial relationship forming between government and people and it cannot continue. Our council members and mayor should view themselves as employees of the people and as working towards a common goal in cooperation with them. As a businessperson, I understand what it takes to be profitable and I am capable of looking down the road and planning for the future. I think my best qualification for this position is that I can listen and that I do not believe I have all the answers.

Name: Eugene Nelson

Address: 712 Jersey, P.O. Box 796, Baldwin City, KS 66006-0796

Age: 65 (born January 8, 1936)

Occupation: Retired Professor and Chairman of the Department of Biology, Baker University (28 years). Currently, President, Sports Cache Bait and Tackle, Inc. (20 years); and owner, Baldwin City Rentals, LLC. (22 years).

Family: Wife, Phyllis, and three adult sons. Our children attended Baldwin schools and Baker University. Eleven grandchildren, two attend Baldwin schools.

1. What are the major issues facing Baldwin City and how would you address them?

The major challenges that we face are: reducing our budget and thereby lowering property taxes, reducing electricity costs and improving reliability, increasing our waste-water treatment capacity and system integrity, improving our water distribution system, adding recreation and green space, and repairing streets and bridges. Each of these challenges presents its own set of problems and possible solutions. The common element is that the solutions are expensive and in my opinion we are near the limit on spending and borrowing. Substantial progress is being made in all of these arenas, but we seem to be getting ahead of ourselves in our ability to pay for progress and we need to slow our pace for a year or two so that we can catch up and bring our taxes and utility rates into a more competitive position with our neighboring communities.

2. How do you think the city should plan for growth, and how should those plans be funded?

The Baldwin City Planning and Zoning Commission is responsible for long range planning for the city. They also hold hearings on requests for variances or zoning changes. They have written a long range plan which is regularly reviewed and changes are adopted by the city council. A copy is maintained in the city clerk's office.

Private citizens and developers also present plans for their properties to the city. The city staff reviews these plans and any projects involving land division are passed on to the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council for approval.

Any individual Baldwin citizen has the right and the responsibility to speak at any City Council meeting or any public hearing of the Planning Commission to question or offer suggestions for improvement of city plans or actions.

Funding for planning activities comes from a variety of sources. The six Planning Commissioners are unpaid volunteers recommended by the mayor and approved by the elected City Council. The Building Official is a city employee and the City Council members are paid $40.00 per month from the general fund. Private individuals develop their plans at their own expense usually with the help of architects and engineers.

The city also hires architects and engineers to plan large projects such as the swimming pool or the new sewer plant. Money for those activities comes from the general fund in some cases, or from utility budgets in others. Connection fees charged to developers help to pay for planning for expansion of the sewer plant.

Sometimes the timing or sizing of a project is mandated by federal or state regulations such as those that require us to build a new sewer plant now and to build it with capacity for twenty years of expected growth.

City ordinances, zoning codes and building codes regulate certain types of developments such as the height of telephone towers and permitted locations for bars and adult bookstores.

I feel that this multi-faceted approach to planning meets the needs of our citizens for basic city planning, but still allows for private property rights and for individual creativity to be expressed.

3. Do you have any concerns about the city's budget? Explain.

I am concerned about the city budget. We need to look harder for ways to reduce it so that we can reduce the tax burden on our citizens. I voted "No" when the 2001 budget was passed last summer because I thought we could find additional ways to reduce our spending. When planning our budget we need to compare our property tax rate with other cities of our size and with other cities in our county. Our tax rate should be closer to the average for these other cities than it is.

High property taxes raise our rents, our house payments and the price we pay for our local goods and services. They also lower property values because buyers or renters can obtain a better house for the same monthly payment in a nearby community with lower taxes. Service businesses that we need are forced to raise their prices and they may be forced to quit if their revenues cannot cover their rents. Some of our long-term residents may find that their fixed income will no longer meet their rising rent or tax bill.

For most of us our discretionary income is a small proportion of our total income. It is that small proportion that we lose first when taxes or utilities rise. Rising costs for essentials take the fun out of our lives. We need to resist that.

4. How do you think Baldwin City should proceed with the 160 acres south of town it plans to develop into a business and recreation area?

We should renew our option for another year and take our time to determine how best to use this land. The land increases in value every year. What we spend on the option is applied to the purchase price. Land inside the city has been increasing at about 6-8% per year. Our option costs us only 4% per year ($25,000) so time is on our side. In recent months residential and commercial land in the city with utility access has been selling for two to four dollars per square foot. Our option gives us the right to purchase the 160 acres (6,969,600 square feet) for eight cents a square foot ($590,000). If we can buy a square foot for 8 cents and sell it for $3.00, it is not hard to see that by annexing and developing a portion of the land, we should be able to pay some, if not all, of our costs for the rest of it.

The sewer plant is only a few blocks east of this land on Orange Street and the new 34.5 kV electrical supply line from Kansas City Power and Light is projected to enter the city from the west close to the corner of this property. The new power line will double the city's available power and make it doubly difficult for a storm to knock us out. A new power substation could be located on the 160 acres.

The land is well located for recreation and green space being on the south edge of the city away from the high traffic areas of Highway 56 and County 1055. It is also at the leading edge of our projected westward expansion toward the new four-lane highway three miles west of town that will connect I35 and I70 as well as Lawrence and Ottawa. After the four-lane highway is built as projected by the Kansas Department of Transportation, it is possible that in 20-25 years more of Baldwin City will lie west of Lawrence Avenue than east of it. It is undoubtedly premium land for recreation, residential or light industrial development.

Our debt load and relatively high mill levy make it unwise to undertake any more big projects at this time. We need to keep the lid on spending for a year or two to give time for our assessed valuation to rise and our mill levy to fall. Our individual property values have been rising at over 5% per year and our new growth is probably adding another 5% per year. That means our assessed valuation may be growing at around 10% per year, a rate sufficient to double it in seven years. If those rates continue and we can keep a lid on borrowing and spending, our mill levy should come down significantly in a year or two. By that time we should be able to create a plan for development of the tract, or sell it and take on other projects.

5. Why are you running for this position, and what qualifications do you have for the position?

I am running because my family and I have benefited a great deal from living in Baldwin. That has been possible because my friends and neighbors were willing to give up a good deal of their time to represent us at council meetings, the library, the fire department and elsewhere. Now that I have retired, some have asked me to take my turn and clearly I owe it to them to run and to serve, if elected.

My qualifications stem from a fairly wide variety of experiences in a fairly long life. My experiences as a college and graduate student helped to improve my reading speed and understanding of complex and technical material (BA in Biology with minors in Chemistry and Geology, Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.; Ph.D. in Zoology with emphasis in Physiology and Ecology, University of Colorado, Boulder). My experience in teaching college courses in Microbiology helped me to understand the treatment processes for drinking water and waste water and the diseases that can result when these systems fail. Teaching Human Ecology helped me to better understand a variety of relevant topics including: population growth, community planning, management of natural resources such as soil, water, fossil fuels, forests and minerals, conventional and nonconventional electrical energy sources, parks, recreation, wilderness preservation, etc. I had experience in obtaining and managing state and federal grants at all three of the universities at which I studied and taught. My experiences in operating my bait shop and rental business have helped me to understand life outside the college environment and the problems faced by small businesses.

As I worked my way through high school and college I was exposed to a variety of businesses and work environments: off-set printer for an insurance company and a university press, night watchman in a factory, drugstore night manager, grocery store checker and stockman.

In the '70's I served for three years on the Baldwin City Nursing Home Board. For the past two-and-a-half years I have served on the Baldwin City Building Commission which had the responsibility for obtaining financing for the new swimming pool. For the past year-and-a-half I have served on the Baldwin City Council having been appointed to fill the position left by Jerry Roberts.

6. Any additional comments you would like to share?

The most important thing any one of us can do for our community is to vote and then to be present at and participate in city council meetings.

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