Incumbents clashed with City Commission challengers at Tuesday’s public forum while the three running for mayor remained relatively civil.
About 50 were on hand at Investors Heritage Auditorium to hear the three mayoral candidates, and about half stayed for the 11 running for City Commission. The topics ranged from their favorite cities to how they’d balance the budget.
The May 22 primary will cut the mayoral candidates to two and winnow the 11 running for the commission to eight for November’s general election.
Here are some of highlights from the forum hosted by the Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce:
Longevity pay, nonprofits and public safety were three items candidates considered when asked how they would balance the city’s $30.65 million budget.
The city phased out longevity pay in 2009 to account for budget shortfalls, but the current City Commission recently met with city employees to hear what they had to say about bringing longevity pay back.
But candidates Lynn Bowers, Robert Roach and Tommy Haynes said the current budget likely wouldn’t allow reinstatement of longevity pay, and suggested retaining employees and boosting morale through showing them respect and appreciation rather than giving them more money.
City Commission candidates were also asked how they’d fund nonprofit organizations, which accounts for roughly $360,000 of the city’s budget. Most said that while they’d continue to fund nonprofits to some degree, the budget’s focus should be on basic services.
For the money that goes to nonprofits each year, City Commission candidate Jerry Bailey said the city needs to get its money’s worth.
“We need to find out what they’re doing for us that we would have to pay for if they were doing it not as a non-profit agency,” Bailey said. “… I think we need to sign a contract (with each agency) and they need to offer what they would provide to us for that amount of money (the city is funding them).”
But incumbent Michael Turner said agencies like the Franklin County Women’s Shelter and Access Soup Kitchen and Men’s Shelter have proven they’re worth the money.
“I think it’s important to make clear that these agencies provide a valuable service,” Turner said. “In many cases, they provide services the city would have to provide if they didn’t exist.”
All three mayoral candidates said in balancing the budget, they would focus on funding the city’s basic services, including public safety, sanitation, public works and infrastructure.
Bill May, mayor from 1996-2008, and Kyle Thompson both said funding public safety would be their number one priority. Thompson said that’s because crime in Frankfort is 30 percent higher than the national average.
Although she also said she’d emphasize funding public safety, mayoral candidate Donna Hecker challenged Thompson’s statistics, saying that Frankfort’s crime rate is actually below the national average and that Frankfort crime has been decreasing since 2006.
After the forum, both candidates stood by their original crime assessments. According to city-data.com, where Hecker got her data, the overall crime rate has been decreasing since 2006 like Hecker said.
The website also shows though that in 2010, Frankfort had a slightly higher crime rate than the national average. Hecker acknowledged that but said the crime wave in 2010, when Frankfort had five homicides, compared to zero or one the years before.
But Thompson, who used data from the FBI and city police, said those rates showed some leveling off in 2011, but the rate is still higher than the national average.
In his closing argument, Bailey accused the current City Commission of wasteful spending and challenged them to issue a resolution reducing their salary by 10 percent by May 7.
The controversial pay-as-you-throw garbage system implemented by the current City Commission earlier this year was a hot topic for both mayoral and City Commission candidates.
All three mayoral candidates said, to some degree, they weren’t fans of the PAYT system and would work to tweak the program if elected.
As City Commissioner, May was one of the dissenting votes for PAYT, and Thompson said he also would have voted against it had he been in office.
Although she said PAYT wasn’t an “ideal” system, Hecker said she’s seen its benefits, citing less garbage going to the landfill and increased recycling among residents since PAYT began.
“In the long run, we will find out this will benefit the community as a whole,” Hecker said. “Would I tweak it? Absolutely.”
While City Commission candidates weren’t asked by the panel their thoughts on PAYT, several, including Bailey, Terry Sutton, Doug McGaughey and Louis McClain, said the program was a waste of money.
“We got to quit buying trucks, we got to quit buying garbage cans,” Bailey said. “We got money – we just got to spend it in the right way.”
But Wilder defended the program he and other incumbents Turner and Katie Hedden helped implement, saying audits and budget reports show the City Commission has about $8 million in its reserve fund – the same amount he said it started with when the three took office.
“I’m hearing lots of candidates accuse us of overspending money that we don’t have … and that is absolutely not true,” Wilder said in his closing argument.
“Regarding the idea that we wasted a million dollars on garbage cans, this is a long-term, cost-saving mechanism, and we’re not just making this up – there are thousands of other cities that have had huge cost savings over time after investing in these programs.”
Riverfront and business development
A majority of mayoral and City Commission candidates agreed that more needed to be done to aid business and riverfront development in Frankfort.
After Joy Jeffries, executive director of Frankfort/Franklin County Tourist and Convention Commission, pointed out to each set of candidates that business owners have told her it’s difficult to set up shop in Frankfort, City Commission candidates Bowers, Wilder and Turner called for tweaking the current planning and zoning regulations to give business owners a “one-stop shop” option in bringing their industry to Frankfort.
May said it’s a system that needs to be tweaked and reworked, and also supported making a one-stop shop at City Hall to obtain permits and inspections.
Hecker said she’d like to implement an ordinance to close the “loops” buyers have to go through in purchasing abandoned or blighted properties.
But Thompson disagreed, saying the city needs to enforce the ordinances it has, rather than create new ones.
“We have adequate zoning regulations … They were created by wise legal minds and they were created years ago, and they can be utilized,” Thompson said.
“But instead of utilizing funds that we don’t have for, say, a million dollars for trash cans, perhaps we could have used a million dollars and bought some blighted properties downtown and developed those resources.”
The panel was composed of State Journal reporter Kayleigh Zyskowski, Downtown Frankfort, Inc. Director Brittain Skinner, Frankfort Chamber of Commerce Director Carmen Inman and Jeffries.
The forum will be re-broadcasted 8:30 p.m. Thursday on Cable 10. It will also be available through Frankfort Plant Board’s video on-demand service until the election.