Candidates favor spending cuts

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Cuts in government spending seemed to be on the mind of nearly every local candidate Tuesday night during the Candidate's Forum sponsored by the McCook Radio Group and the McCook Daily Gazette.

Eighteen candidates for seats in various offices in Red Willow County were given the opportunity to explain their stand on the the issues facing the offices they are hoping to fill.

Gene Morris of the McCook Daily Gazette, Kathy Kugler of Southwest Nebraska News, Larry Eisenmenger of the McCook Chamber of Commerce, Phil Harr of the McCook Economic Development Corp. and timer Cort Mohr of the Toastmaster's Club were panelists for the event. Dave Stout was the moderator.

First up to the microphone was incumbent Pauletta Gerver and challenger Cheryl Leitner for Red Willow County Clerk.

Gerver said that during her eight years as county clerk, the office has gone through a number of changes, most importantly the transition from a double set of books on computer and paper, to a single set of books on the computer, making her office more efficient.

She said that her office is dedicated to customer service.

"The customer is the most important person in the office, we care about your needs and value your time," she told the group of about 50 people who attended the meeting in addition to the radio audience on McCook Radio Group's KICX, KBRL and K-ROCK.

Leitner said, if elected, she plans to encourage better customer service in the office.

"People aren't satisfied with the office help. The staff should be more knowledgeable and be able to prove they are working from the rules."

While running unopposed for seats on the McCook Board of Education, James Coady and Greg Larson took a few minutes to tell constituents of their plans for the local school system.

Coady said he is particularly proud of implementing all-day kindergarten during his eight years in office.

However, he said, he is disappointed that the board has not been able to get new facilities.

"It's not fair to let the buildings crumble," he said.

Larson said he still has a lot he wants to accomplish.

When asked by panelist Kathy Kugler of Southwest Nebraska News what the school system could do to ensure that they young people of McCook stay in McCook.

"When you graduate from high school, you probably just want to get away from home," he said.

"Let them go out and get the experience and then bring that experience back to McCook. Our responsibility is to make sure they have jobs to come back to," he said.

The five candidates for the two-year term on the McCook City Council attended the forum to explain their plans for the city of McCook.

Rod Bryan said his life centers around God first, family second and work third.

In order to help the city grow, Bryan said the city needs to provide services that make people comfortable. He said the city's current water problems nearly stopped his family from moving to McCook a year and a half ago and the same problems may be stopping others from moving to McCook.

"You have to have good water," he said.

Jerda Garey believes her experience as an administrator at the college level in McCook, and as the state director of career and technical education for the Iowa Department of Education will benefit the city of McCook.

She also told voters community service has always been an important part of her life.

"The City Council is facing many problems. I understand those problems and I understand the community. I believe I truly have the heart to serve the community," she said.

In order to help McCook grow, Garey said the city needs to give people a reason to come to McCook.

"We need to become activists to bring people to this town," she said.

Phillip "Ben" Gonzales told voters while he has no experience in the political arena he wants to represent the working-class people.

"I'm as working class as you can get. There's a lot of people out there who are just like me and I'd like to represent them," he said.

Gonzales said the city will have to address the expected state funding cuts, not by raising taxes, but by cutting back on expenses.

"Taxing everyone won't work," he said. "There are people put there who can't afford to pay any more."

"We'll have to cut back on things. We're going to have to tighten our belts and cut back."

Billy Shafer said he is running for the City Council because "I would like to give something back to the community that has given me so much over the past 40 years."

He said he will support the continuation of the city sales tax only if it is used to benefit the entire city.

"The ball park lighting didn't benefit the whole city," he said, explaining that he would like to see the money used to help offset the cost of McCook's water solution.

"Vote for me so we can get somebody new into the City Council who can help straighten our mess out," he said in closing.

In response to a question from Harr, Dan Sigwing said he hopes to foster a greater spirit of cooperation among city departments and other governmental agencies by talking to the groups and understanding their needs by becoming involved and working with the staff to address their problems.

Sigwing said he is running for office because "I felt it was time to do something and get in there and make some common sense decisions."

Three candidates for the four year term on the McCook City Council attended the meeting.

Incumbent Phil Lyons told his constituents in his 12 years he has always been accessible to the public and plans to continue with that practice after the election.

"Accessibility is the name of the game," he said. "My number is in the phone book, I'm available at the office and I talk to folks and listen to what people have to say." Lyons said during his three terms in office, he has consistently voted against increased spending and increased taxes.

He also pointed out that he was the lone vote against the purchase of the McCook Army Airbase Land in 1998.

"I don't go along to get along," he assured voters.

Brenda McMurtrey said she is running for City Council because she has looked at all the issues facing the city and thought that her one vote could make the difference.

She said she is concerned with the cost of the water solution, and the rising cost of water and utilities.

"I keep hearing over and over that it's getting too expensive to live in McCook," she said. "We need to look hard at where we're spending money and make cuts."

McMurtrey said in order to keep the community involved, she believes the Council should form more committees in order for people to become more involved.

Jerry Reitz told voters the next four years will be filled with expensive decisions for the city.

"Most residents understand the need to support reasonable spending," he said.

He told voters he will work to keep spending cuts and tax increases as low as possible.

"We have to minimize the amount of money the city has to request from its citizens. That must be the ultimate goal of the Council," he said.

Reitz said in order to fund city expenses, he believes the city should use the REWARDS grant writer to find money. "If the federal and state governments are going to give our tax dollars away, we need to do what we can to get that money back," he said.

Reitz also said the city of McCook should promote itself at a greater level to encourage economic development.

Stout read a statement from Dan Petty, who is recovering from injuries suffered in a farming accident earlier this month.

Petty said he is expecting to return to McCook on Friday and encouraged voters to call him with any questions.

Incumbent Earl McNutt and challenger Wayne Stewart are on the ballot this year for County Commissioner.

McNutt told voters the major issues facing County Commissioners in the upcoming years are the jail study and zoning regulations.

He said in order to encourage growth in the area it will be imperative to broaden the tax base. "Somehow we've got to encourage people to remain in the area and become involved. It's a challenging issue because people become defensive when businesses want to come into town. We've go to reverse that and encourage people to come into the community."

McNutt takes pride in the many accomplishments experienced by the county since he took office four years ago. He highlighted the move of the probation office, the implementation of NOAA radio, the Household Hazardous Waste facility, the development of the Kiplinger Equestrian Arena and the newly implemented jail study.

Stewart said he thinks its important that Commissioners be aware of spending throughout the year, not just at budget time.

"We've got to live within our means," he said.

With the drought, the county may be facing lower tax collections, he told voters.

"We might have to run a piece of equipment a year longer. I don't want to raise taxes on people."

Stewart said the decision to build a new jail should be put on hold.

"We shouldn't even think of a new jail when we have people facing the water problems in McCook and the need for new schools in the city. We should work on projects like the jail when times are good."

He also stressed the importance of being available to the public. "That would be my top priority," he said.

Candidate for the open seat of Red Willow County Commission, 3rd District are Leigh Hoyt and Duane Tappe. Hoyt said he fully supports the idea of a new county wide jail facility.

"I have traveled a three state area and have noticed a lot of county/city jails. I think it will work out well. I encourage the city and county to work together on this. I think we can make this work," he said.

Hoyt said he feels the current Commissioners are "going down the right path" by implementing the jail study.

Hoyt said that he plans to not only become a part of the community but also bring members of the community to the table.

"Citizens need to be a part of the decision making process.

Tappe said if he is elected to the seat on the Red Willow County Board of Commissioners he plans to retire from his position as Director of Educational Service Unit 15 in order to devote himself to the job of County Commissioner.

Tappe told voters he plans to "finish his living days in the McCook area and I want to help the area not only to survive, but to thrive."

On the subject of maintaining county roads, Tappe said he may not know a lot about maintaining roads, but "if I'm elected, I know who to get after."

"We have good personnel who know how to take care of those roads."

Tappe also expressed his concerns for developing county-wide law enforcement.

"It is possible, but we need a lot more input from different people. We need to spend time thinking this through," he said.

"I don't think we're ready to say, 'Yep. Let's do it.'" Tappe also expressed his support for the Friday night car races.

He said he enjoys the races and its a good economic boost for the area.

But, he said, he would like to see restrictions on the start and stop time.

"I'm not for getting rid of the races."

The race for Mid-Plains Community College Area Board of Governors pits Roger Wilson against incumbent Dale Poore. Poore said he would like to continue on the board in order to see a number of projects he helped start through to completion.

Those projects include the ongoing conflict over the return of the name McCook Community College to the local facility, strengthening the vice-president's role, encouraging faculty input and the Hormel Technology Center.

Poore said in order to create a spirit of cooperation between the community and the board, it is important to gain cooperation between facilities, communities and board members.

"It is strictly a campaigning process. We've got to sell McCook to nine other board members." If elected, Wilson said he plans to address several issues where he feels the college is experiencing difficulties.

The first is the name of the college, the second, the morale of the faculty and staff and the third is the non-functional student union.

The problem of morale facing the faculty and staff must be addressed immediately, said Wilson.

"In the past they were encouraged not to be vocal. They were encouraged not to talk to board members and not to attend meetings and not to talk to the media. That needs to be changed," he said.

In order to encourage better attendance at the college, Wilson suggests that programs which were "arbitrarily lost" (such as music and agriculture programs) should be re-established.

"We need to redevelop those programs for the students," he said.

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