Council candidates provide answers
Despite lousy wet weather and the threat of freezing rain and snow, about 40 people showed up at Baker University Monday night to hear the first candidate forum for the seven candidates for Baldwin City Council.
Moderator Ivan Huntoon, who is vice president of the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce and in charge of the forums, explained the rules of the forum, then allowed each candidate to give opening comments before starting a series of questions. The candidates answered according to a drawing to determine who went first, which was then skipped to the next candidate for the subsequent question.
The first question went to the heart of the biggest question facing Baldwin City. That's how the Gardner Intermodal, a massive warehouse area for goods shipped by railroad, will affect the city and what needs to be done to prepare for it.
"I don't think anyone knows what it will mean to Baldwin City," said Ted Brecheisen, Jr., an incumbent council member. "I will say when you talk about a facility like this you've got to look at the Kansas City area. That's where most of it will go. It will be spread out. I think it will have a ripple effect in Baldwin."
Jason Mock, a student at Baker University who is seeking a council post for the second time, was next in the order.
"I think the best thing Baldwin can do is look at the similar facility in Alliance, Texas," said Mock, who moved here as a fifth grader and graduated from Baldwin High School. "They had 7,000 jobs there. Are all of those 7,000 people going to move to Baldwin? I hope not. In all reality, I think the school board candidates will be dealing with this more. We've got two years to prepare and I think we can do that."
Kenny Niehoff, a life-long resident of the Baldwin area, isn't so sure of the Intermodal's effect.
"My personal feeling is I don't see it affecting Baldwin City as much as people think it is," said Niehoff, who is seeking public office for the first time. "I think it's effect is only what we allow it to affect us. Those are entry-level jobs that need low-income housing. We don't have a lot of that here. Unless you start building a lot of apartment complexes, I don't think it will affect us."
Nancy Brown, also an incumbent and member of the safety committee, is more concerned about increased truck traffic on U.S. Highway 56 that the Intermodal will create.
"There will be increased traffic and the chance for hazardous chemical spills," said Brown. "There are increased chances for accidents. On the positive side, we could see more jobs and more housing starts. I see that as a major need we need to look at."
Tony Brown, the third of the incumbents seeking re-election, believes there's no doubt that Baldwin will get bigger.
"I disagree," said Brown. "I think growth is coming. "You can't have 7,500 jobs coming in here east of us and not have anything happen here. Gardner will double. Edgerton will grow a lot. I think we need to plan for it. If it doesn't happen, we're miles ahead. I think it's the management that will come here."
Ken Wagner, who was on the city council six years ago, but chose not to seek re-election two years ago, knows the Intermodal will make a difference and he'd like to see it be a positive.
"I think the Intermodal will cause some real problems in Baldwin," said Wagner. "We need to channel this growth. I think the Intermodal gives us a chance to look at some property tax relief."
He said that would come through additional businesses that pay commercial tax rates and would bring relief to home owners. A business park would be beneficial, he said, but it wouldn't be industrial.
"I'm not talking about heavy smoke stacks here," said Wagner.
Jennifer Hayes, who is seeking public office for the first time, believes the Intermodal will make an impact.
"I have to lean more toward the growth side," said Hayes. "It's coming. If we can prepare and not react, we'll be better off. We need to communicate effectively about the growth that is inevitably coming."
Candidates answered questions regarding infrastructure improvements, promoting commercial activity, parks and recreation, control of areas outside the city limits and quality of life issues. The final question was about whether the city should shoulder the majority of the roughly $250,000 cost to fix the eyesore ditch that's south of the Baker University Sports Complex. The issue came up at council meetings several years ago, but no action has been taken on the matter.
"I think that anytime two entities can work together, it's beneficial to both," said Hayes. "I don't know a lot of details about this."
Brecheisen referred to it as a $226,000 culvert. Although no vote was taken on it, he was opposed to it during council meetings.
"The city could participate," said Brecheisen. "For the past 25 years, it hasn't been a problem. The city's participation in this should be minimal at this time."
Mock believes something can work.
"I think the city and Baker can strike a deal to make this look better as a welcome to downtown," said Mock.
"It's an eyesore," said Niehoff. "When I come into town every day, that's the first thing I see. I think with the costs involved, the city's costs should be minimal."
N. Brown's concerns were more than money, again citing safety.
"From a safety standpoint, you could lose small children and animals there," she said.
T. Brown lives near the complex.
"If it's any consolation, it does look better in the dark than it does during the day," he said, drawing laughs. "I think it's imperative that the city partner with Baker on this."
"I believe we should partner with Baker on this," he said. "Part of the problem is the drainage that has been added out there with new construction."
He noted that contractors now must pay into a fund to help with needed improvements around the city.
"I think it's an excellent use of those funds to partner with Baker on this," said Wagner.
Many of the questions asked of the council candidates were in the Signal's candidate questionnaire they were sent and asked to answer. Those responses will be in next week's Signal.