Candidates debate issues at forum
After a fast start, Monday night's public forum for mayoral and city council candidates settled into a rehash of two common themes from throughout the campaign communication and lost opportunities.
But it was a good dose of both that started the forum in Baker University's Harder Union off on a hot start. Baldwin resident Monte Lauridsen asked the two incumbents, councilmen Eugene Nelson and Lee Whaley, a pointed question about the handling of the offer made this summer by Baker University and Michael C. Green of land and money to start a community building and build ball fields.
The question was in response to Nelson's letter to the editor where he outlined how the offer was presented by Mayor Stan Krysztof at a budget committee hearing, but no vote was taken. Nelson said he learned that the offer had been turned down several days later when he read a story about it in the Signal. He said he was surprised and thought there would be more discussion.
Lauridsen got to the point with the incumbents.
"Why in the world would you let the mayor take action without a vote," said Lauridsen. "Why didn't you insist on more information and more discussion?"
Nelson outlined what he did by going to Bob Layton at Baker and City Administrator Larry Paine to get more information and get the story confirmed. In speaking with both, he got the impression he should not pursue the matter, he said.
"Let sleeping dogs lie," said Nelson. "It seemed to me like both sides wanted to leave that alone."
Whaley had less to say about the situation, but didn't think the deal was good.
"We didn't figure it was that much to discuss," said Whaley.
The issue again brought ire and fire for, as council candidate Todd Cohen said, "lost opportunities." But there was a new issue that surfaced as well, again pointing to a lack of communication.
A question from the audience asked about the 40-unit apartment complex being proposed in east Baldwin bordered by U.S. Highway 56 and High Street. Developers brought the plans to the Planning Commission last week for review and to get the zoning changed from commercial to residential. The project is far from being approved, but it brought responses from the candidates.
"I was surprised on a controversial issue like that that there wasn't someone from the city council at the meeting," said Ken Wagner, a candidate for one of the two four-year council positions. "If I am elected to the city council, I would be adamantly opposed to it."
None of the candidates spoke in favor of the proposal. Several didn't know about it.
"The council has not been made aware of it," said Whaley.
Several concerns were raised, including population density, the load the complex would add to the sewer and electrical systems, lack of sidewalks in the area and that the project didn't include enough parking.
Another subject raised by several in the audience of about 50 concerned how to pay for improvements. None of the candidates favored increasing the mill levy and both incumbents pointed out that they had voted against the current city budget, but lost the vote.
"We simply can't increase property taxes anymore," said Wagner. "What I think needs to happen is the city needs to look at every expense, including the power plant. I would question why we need seven police officers for a town of 3,400."
Slade Dillon, a candidate for mayor, tried to play down a proposal he made several weeks ago to institute a sales tax to pay for improvements.
"I was simply trying to give an alternative," said Dillon.
Cohen and Ken Hayes, the other mayoral candidate, quickly shut down the idea of a sales tax.
"By putting a sales tax on, it would damage every business in Baldwin," said Hayes. "We need to look at maximizing the money we have."
"I do not want to support a sales tax increase either," said Cohen. "It's regressive. We're basically going to have to encourage growth of the tax base, save where we can with expenses and seek out grants."
Nelson agreed, but didn't offer a solution.
"Our tax problem is our most serious problem," said Nelson. "We need to correct that."
Monday's forum was the last public gathering of candidates before Tuesday's election. A new mayor and three council candidates will be chosen. Hayes and Dillon are running for mayor. Four-year council candidates are George McCrary, Carol Taul, Wagner and Whaley. Two-year council candidates are Cohen and Nelson. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.