By Dennis Minich
A group of more than 80 people filled the Harrisonville Area Chamber of Commerce meeting room last Thursday to listen as candidates for mayor and four board of aldermen seats participated in a candidate forum. It was sponsored by The South Cass Tribune.
While some in the crowd might have expected contentious moments, what they found was eight of the 11 candidates presenting their thoughts on a variety of issues ranging from taxes to jobs and their priorities for the city.
The first hour presented aldermen candidates. Present were Ward 1 hopefuls Dave Doerhoff and Chris Benjamin; Ward 2 incumbent Marcia Milner; Ward 3 candidates Clint Miller and Bill Mills and Ward 4 candidate Gary Davidson. Not present were Ward 1 candidate Brenda Durbin Cox, Ward 2 Candidate Morris Coburn and Ward 4 incumbent Jessica Levesen. The second hour was mayoral candidates, Brian Hasek, the incumbent and Judy Bowman, who currently serves as a Ward 1 alderman.
During the mayoral forum, both Hasek and Bowman agreed on many issues including the problems with the homeless population, political donations and the city’s involvement in the square renovations. But on a variety of topics the two differed in their perspectives.
When asked about the greatest need facing the city, Bowman responded, “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
She explained when new businesses are looking at the city there should be “no absolutes,” a reference to the mayor’s stated idea that financial incentives such as special taxing districts should be used to bring in businesses. She said the city needs all types of businesses from manufacturing, retail and restaurants, which would provide the money to do the kind of things “we want to do.”
Hasek countered jobs may not be the biggest issue.
“It’s not necessarily jobs, it the workforce. We don’t have people with the necessary skills, we don’t have qualified people to work the jobs that are available,” he said.
He said the biggest need is repair of the city’s infrastructure which has been ignored for years and he was here to address.
The two also disagreed about why the city is lagging behind much of the county in new home construction.
Bowman said the city’s reputation of being hard to work with is part of the problem. Hasek countered there is a lack of land available for lower-cost homes and also noted since the housing downturn there is less interest in home ownership.
The two also disagreed on a number of financial issues.
It was noted that a one-cent per gallon tax on gasoline would cost the average citizen about 30 cents per week, but could generate about $2.7 million annually. When asked if voters should be allowed to vote on a one-cent per gallon gasoline tax, Bowman said it was worth asking the voters.
“None of us like taxes, but we can utilize money, especially money that is paid primarily by out of towners, I think we need to take advantage of the opportunity presented to us,” she said.
Hasek noted Missouri voters rejected gas-tax increases last fall.
“I would like to know how the people in our four wards voted before putting it on the ballot. Taxes are about trust,” he said. “These things cost money and while I would like to have the extra money, I would hate to spend $30,000 to put something on the ballot we know is going to fail.”
The two disagreed about the city’s need for an economic development director.
“The city used to have this position. The last I looked we were spending 81,000 on this position,” Hasek said. “What you have to look at is the cost-benefit of having a position like that, what kind of business and revenue does that position bring to the city. I believe if you invest in your infrastructure and if you make your city more friendly with common-sense codes, businesses will want to come here. You don’t need someone reaching out.”
Bowman had a different view.
“When I go out door to door, the one thing I hear is Harrisonville is stagnant, nothing is going on here, everything is going on around us. When you look at that you see we could have an economic development director who is actively marketing the city, who is attending trade shows, having relationships with builders and bankers and do what it takes to get the right businesses here. We need jobs that pay above the county average, not just fast-food rates or retail rates. The ideal business is the business that creates other businesses,” she said.
The two also differed on how they viewed the city helping promote business.
Bowman said, “I believe the city should be actively involved in the community, actively involved in the chamber of commerce and every other civic organization. I think collaborative we do a lot of things better. The city needs to know the business in the town, know the people who run them, its needs, its staffing, its financing. That happens from being involved in the community.
Hasek answered, “I think the city needs to have an open and friendly dialogue with these businesses. I believe the biggest thing is to stay out of their way, not be overreaching hitting them with code violations. We need to find ways to help them and keep them in business.”
The two were asked what the average citizen would say is better and worse than four years ago.
Bowman answered, “I think people appreciate the new trash hauler. I think one of the best things we done is get a new trash hauler. I think we need to have more transparency.”
Hasek said, “Infrastructure is better, sidewalks, streets. We’ve more than doubled our commitment. We can always do a better job to communicate. I think that is something you can always improve upon.”
In terms of long-range planning, Hasek said to think infrastructure, noting buildings have not been kept up, equipment has aged and the No. 1 thing for development is infrastructure.
Bowman said the city has not had a long-range plan since 2010. She said the city needs a map to run.
In their closing statements, Bowman said her goal would be to help Harrisonville maintain its small-town culture, but have the amenities the residents want.
Hasek noted it is time to start working together. Once the election is over it is time to move forward.
During the aldermen discussion many of the same topics were discussed with similar answers.
Looking ahead to the next four years, candidates were asked what the top priority would be:
Doerhoff said bringing good paying jobs to the city is the foundation for everything else.
Benjamin agreed noting the city has only grown by 100 residents since 2010.
Milner noted the schools are down 150 students in recent years.
Mills added economic development should be cooperative effort between city hall, the county and the school district. To grow business, they have to figure out what the market for new jobs would be.
Miller cited a need to work together for growth and meet the infrastructure needs.
Davidson reiterated infrastructure and economic growth.
On the idea of placing the fuel tax on the ballot, all expressed dislike for taxes, but a willingness to try except Benjamin who said, “Governor Parsons is pushing for a one-cent tax statewide. I support Gov. Parsons, his is the way to do it.”
In closing remarks:
Davidson said, “The biggest thing I can be is a voice for the people. I don’t know everything, but the one thing I can do is listen.”
Miller read from the state auditor’s follow up report: “I commend the work the city has done so far to correct the problems of the past.”
Mills said, “I think I have a few more years to give to this town and I will do my best.
Milner said, “I think everyone goes in looking to do the best of their ability. Have a voice, without your opinions we will sit here and be stagnant.
Benjamin said, “I’m very concerned this city divided into two camps, we have to get past that. We have to be able to work together. We shouldn’t have our leaders dividing us, they should be bringing us together.”
Doerhoff said, “My commitment is to listen and to always hear both sides of the argument.”