Archive for Wednesday, February 12, 2003

City, school cnadidates air opinions

February 12, 2003

Bill Graveman, who moderated Sunday afternoon's candidates' forum, said he was impressed with the wide range of views expressed by the candidates.

"Some of them seemed to have a very good understanding of the issues and some didn't have as good an understanding because they haven't been previously elected," Graveman said. "But I think that sometimes those people with fresh viewpoints are good -- they give people a chance to get somebody new if that's who they want to get."

An audience of about 20, most related to candidates,were there to talk about a particular issue, attended the forum where 13 candidates, three for mayor, five for city council and five for school board, spoke.

Graveman said he regretted that more people didn't attend the forum, which was sponsored by the Businessmen's Alliance of Tonganoxie.

These candidates appeared at Sunday's forum:

Mayor

David Taylor

David Taylor said city hall should do all it can to help residents and to make them want to live here.

"I feel that we should maintain the things that drew us to this city in the first place," Taylor said. "City hall is actually 'the people's house,' and the attitude has changed over the years."

Taylor said the city charges $25 to check to see why a water bill is too high.

"Is this fair?" Taylor asked. "You have a right to question a high bill. I feel city hall should bend over backwards to help all of us any way they can."

Taylor said it's important for the city administrator, or city council members, to keep the public informed of what's going on.

Taylor said he would not be in favor of cutting back on new construction.

"I think it would be a shame to stop all the building," Taylor said. "A lot of people count on this work for their income. I think we should take it slow and easy, but I don't think we should stop."

And, as far as competing businesses moving into Tonganoxie, Taylor said he's against that.

"I don't like it," Taylor said. "I really don't like it -- we're sacrificing our people downtown for people coming in with deep pockets."

Ron Kampfer

Ron Kampfer said it's important to establish a good working relationship between the city and local businesses.

"If we could get them back together and get them working together closer there may be less problems," Kampfer said.

When one of the candidates suggested the city of Tonganoxie enact a ban on future housing developments until the city's water and sewer systems are improved, Kampfer said he wasn't so much in favor of stopping development as he was in possibly making it slow down.

"Yes, we need to shut it off, maybe not totally, but more than half," Kampfer said. "If we don't, I think we're going to have a lot more people irritated about the sewer and water."

This would be temporary, as the city is working to improve the water and sewer situation, Kampfer said.

"The mayor's got a pretty good go on it -- we just need to make sure we can keep at it," Kampfer added.

When council and mayoral candidates were asked about their views on a new development on the highway that will include the type of businesses that already are in Tonganoxie, Kampfer said he would like to see the downtown utilized more. He said competition wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

"I agree with competition," he said. "I think we need it."

Herb Robbins

Herb Robbins said teamwork is the key to Tonganoxie's future.

"The state is in bad financial states, and I'm sure it's going to filter down to the city and schools," Robbins said. "So we're just going to have to bite the bullet and do the best we can. If you don't have a council that's willing to work and willing to work together, nothing gets done."

A past mayor of Tonganoxie, Robbins said water issues have been an ongoing problem.

"I was on the council in the '70s, and water was an issue then," Robbins said. "Water's been an issue every year since then."

Possible solutions would be for the city to supply its own water, to purchase water from the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities, or to renegotiate to purchase more water from Bonner Springs, he said.

Robbins said he supports the idea of doing business in town.

"I think our business people are the heart of the city and if the business people can't make it, the city will die," Robbins said.

As far as new businesses moving into town that duplicate products and services already available, Robbins said there's little that can be done.

"That's just competition," he said.

City council

Council candidates Tammy Bartels and Mike Weston did not attend Sunday's forum.

Lois Seelbinder

Lois Seelbinder said when it comes to city government, there's always room for improvement.

"It would help us a lot to eliminate the excesses," Seelbinder said. "I'm against raising taxes."

Seelbinder said she'd like to cut back on use of city vehicles for personal use.

"I think items like that can be eliminated," Seelbinder said. "The employees can drive their cars to work just like the rest of us have done or are doing."

The budget should be fine-tuned and periodically reviewed to ensure that all items stay within the budget, Seelbinder said.

Seelbinder said she's concerned that the city's water supply and sewer system can't handle the pressure from new development.

"The past three years we had the influx of Stone Creek that was using water from the city well and all this other new development without any concern of infrastructure being in place before they allowed the new residents to be tapping onto our existing water supply," Seelbinder said, adding that the city needs to obtain an additional water source.

"Until we can get the water supply and our sanitary sewer system to handle new residences, I think there should be a moratorium on building," Seelbinder said. "When that infrastructure is in place, it's a different story."

Seelbinder noted that developments already approved for construction wouldn't fall into the construction moratorium. She noted it's to the builders' best interest.

"I would hate for those builders to be given a go-ahead, construct houses and then have the experience of maintaining their loans on construction and everything else until the city can supply water," Seelbinder said. "Now that's crucifying the builder."

Ron Cranor

Ron Cranor said an immediate fix to the city's water problem would be to tap into another water district, such as the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Public Utilities.

As far as trimming the city's budget, Cranor said from the federal level to the city, budgets can usually be trimmed.

For instance, he said when he moved to Tonganoxie in 1964, the city's ambulance doubled as a hearse for Quisenberry Funeral Home.

"We've gotten used to having a big fancy EMS service," Cranor said. "... It costs money and if people want it they're going to have to pay for it."

Cranor said he's been surprised at Tonganoxie's growth in recent years. Slowing the growth at this stage, with developments in progress, would be difficult, if not impossible, he said.

"You can't stop what's already platted out to be built, that's a done deal," Cranor said.

And, as far as competing businesses coming to town, Cranor said it was out of the city's hands.

"Because the property's already been zoned, I don't know how you can stop people from building, provided they meet all the requirements," Cranor said.

Jim Truesdell

Jim Truesdell said cooperation is important, especially in a small town.

"I'm a team player," Truesdell said. "That's one of my strengths."

Truesdell said he was not focusing on a particular issue.

"I do think planning is going to be very important on all issues that we're talking about, he said.

Truesdell said the school district's talk of a possible future expansion would tie in with the city's situation.

"We need to plan to make sure that our infrastructure and water and or sewer system are going to be able to accommodate these expansions," Truesdell said.

It's important for the city to watch the budget, he added.

"I think it goes back to planning, in our city engineers and maintenance people trying to use what we have in the most efficient was we can," he said.

Truesdell said he is supportive of local businesses, and would like to see different types of businesses come to town.

"But I would hope it would be something different than what we have here," he said.

Velda Roberts

Planning and growth are key to the city's future success, said Velda Roberts.

"We live in a time when 'good enough' is not successful," Roberts said. "We want to be successful."

Roberts, who said she has attended about 90 percent of the city council meetings during the past three or four years, said the city's water supply is a problem.

"But it's been a problem for a long time," Roberts said.

To obtain a more ample supply of water, residents will have to pay more.

"If we want to have water and if we want to have a prosperous, growing community ... we're going to have to bite the bullet and share in some of that cost," Roberts said.

Roberts said construction should continue.

"My personal feeling is that shutting down is not where Tonganoxie should look," Roberts said. "We should be looking toward growth and future development."

It's important for residents to keep themselves informed of city happenings, Roberts said.

"It can't be spoon-fed to you," Roberts said.

On the planned retail center on the highway, Roberts said it's not up to the city to decide which businesses can move to town.

"You want new businesses, but the one thing you don't want is to bring new businesses to town that are going to kill existing businesses," she said.

Jonathan Boone

Jonathan Boone said growth in Tonganoxie has to continue.

"We don't need to shut down," Boone said. "We need to build a bigger tax base. We've got residences going in left and right, but still bringing in taxpayers into the city."

The city needs to take care of new businesses, as well as existing businesses, he said.

Boone said he's against raising taxes. "I know some people who can't afford to have another increase," Boone said.

And, he said he's not in favor of taking vehicles away from city employees.

Boone said the city should look for cuts in the police department, and should not contract services such as engineering.

"Any time you have to hire anybody else to do something you could do yourself it costs money," he said. "We need to get our tax base built up so we can bring in more revenue, keep analyzing our budget to make sure we can afford what we have ... and try our best not to raise taxes."

SCHOOL BOARD

Position No. 1 (south Tonganoxie city)

Rick Lamb

School board candidate Rick Lamb said the school district faces the challenge of continuing to offer a high-quality education. The school district is in the midst of making curriculum changes.

"The curriculum audit will tie curriculum with programs and with state assessments, teaching in a way that does tie in closer with state assessments," Lamb said.

The school district also faces the challenge of making ends meet, Lamb said, noting that 80 percent of the general fund budget is used for salaries.

"As it should be," Lamb said. "Those are the ones who touch the lives of kids."

It's important for the district to balance finances with the ability to retain good teachers, Lamb said.

"All of those things go into providing the package of education," he added.

Lamb said he would give the school district a rating of between eight and nine.

"The only reason it's not higher is space," Lamb said. "I think we provide an excellent education. For people that want it, it's there."

Lamb noted the pressure districts will face with the No Child Left Behind Act.

"The federal government doesn't do us any favors," Lamb said. "They keep passing these things -- they're putting more and more pressure on us."

Lamb is seeking re-election to the board. He is being challenged by Joel Stinson and Brian Daily, neither of whom attended the forum. The Feb. 25 primary will narrow the field to two candidates.

Position No. 2 (north portion of district)

April Dohle

School board candidate April Dohle said the most important issue faced by the district is the challenge of maintaining high-quality education.

"I feel that it is much easier to retain a quality education and reputation than it is to regain a reputation and the quality of education," Dohle said.

Dohle said she's concerned about possible budget cuts.

"There's a direct correlation between the strength of a community and the strength of a school," Dohle said.

It's important to remember that schools work toward a common good: "The kids," Dohle added.

When asked to rate the educational quality of the Tonganoxie school system on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest, Dohle said, based on her knowledge, that she'd give the district a score of seven.

Some of the bigger issues facing the school district are the building space limitations and the No Child Left Behind act which includes unfunded mandates for school districts to follow.

Dohle is seeking a seat held by incumbent Ron Moore, who did not attend the forum. Because only two candidates are running, that position will not be on the Feb. 25 primary election ballot.

Position No. 3 (south portion of district outside of Tonganoxie)

Leana Leslie

Leana Leslie said it's important to make sure the curriculum is where it needs to be -- so it's consistent from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"We need to be helping our staff to make sure they're able to implement their curriculum as best they can, and with some of our facilities shortcomings that we're experiencing right now, helping them find a way to be more creative in using the facilities that we have."

When asked how she would rank the school, she said it would be in a high eight.

"We've got some limitations," Leslie said. "We've always got room to grow."

She praised the school district's teachers.

Leslie noted that the elementary school's enrollment is climbing close to the 800-mark, close to where it was a decade ago.

"The thing we didn't have several years ago were all these federal and state mandated things that we have to offer in these schools now," Leslie said.

Leslie said she would be in favor of building a new school.

"I want mobile units to be a very temporary solution," Leslie said. "Building a new school, I think that would be great. I don't know that that's the option, we need to use our funds wisely and I'm not saying that's the only way to go."

Leslie is opposed in the race by Kris Grinter. Because only two candidates are running, that position will not be on the Feb. 25 primary election ballot.

Position No. 5 (north portion of district outside of Tonganoxie)

Kay Smith

One of the challenges faced by the school district is a growing shortage of space as enrollment increases, Smith said.

"Space is a big issue right now," Smith said. "As a high school teacher, I know what it means to have five extra kids in the classroom."

Smith said she would give the school a rating of nine.

"I think Tonganoxie offers a lot of things that other schools in our community don't," Smith said, mentioning the vocational agricultural, vocational work study, the building trades and auto mechanics programs.

"Basically, we're offering a lot of things to meet the needs of the kids," Smith said. "It's there if they take it."

Smith also praised Superintendent Richard Erickson for his willingness to talk to teachers and community residents.

Smith said she was concerned about lunchroom crowding and about after school traffic at the junior high school, as well as about challenges school districts will face in meeting guidelines of the No Child Left Behind act.

Smith, who joined the school board last fall to fill an unexpired term, is seeking election to that board seat. She is running unopposed.

At-large position

Wally Brawner

School board candidate Wally Brawner said the most important issue faced by the school is finance.

"We're going to have to find alternate sources," Brawner said.

It's also important, he added, to communicate the school's situation with the community, helping everyone understand the problem.

When asked to rate the educational quality of the school system, Brawner said he thought it would be an eight. Tonganoxie, and Kansas schools in general, he said, are in good shape.

"I see in the paper it indicates that the students are at least average or above average on all the state tests that are conducted," Brawner said. "The dropout rate is quite low and the graduation rate is extremely high."

Brawner is seeking a seat held by incumbent Richard Dean, who did not attend the forum but requested that anyone call him with questions. Because only two candidates are running, that position will not be on the Feb. 25 primary election ballot.

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