Ward 1 candidates to face off in Tuesday primary
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Ward 1 voters will have three candidates to choose from Tuesday in Jefferson City’s only primary.
James Branch, Kolbie Ward and Chris Holsman are competing for the City Council seat currently held by Bob Weber, who is term-limited and unable to run again.
The News Tribune has compiled a list of city issues and asked each candidate to weigh in with their thoughts.
Branch said he would like to see a conference center as long as the city doesn’t incur any debt to make it happen.
“We do lose a lot of that meeting business to Columbia and the Lake,” Branch said.
As far as sites, Branch said he has no problems with the old Missouri State Penitentiary site, but there is no existing infrastructure to support a conference center there.
Ward said she believes there are plenty of existing hotels in the city and she is unsure whether there will be enough business to support the construction of another with a conference center.
“I would love to get some conventions in here,” Ward said.
She said she believes the Capital Mall is a great site for a conference center, but she would need to look at each proposal before a decision could be made.
Holsman said existing hotels have perfectly adequate facilities that could be used for any conferences or conventions in town.
“I think we have a lot of hotels in town that would be upset,” Holsman said.
Holsman said he’s not completely opposed to the idea of a conference center, but he believes existing facilities could be utilized better instead of spending any money on a new facility.
Branch said he would like to see a multipurpose building in Jefferson City, but it has to be done feasibly.
“Money’s a finite resource,” Branch said.
He said if the multipurpose building and conference center could not be built at the same time, the multipurpose building should be built first.
Ward said while she believes the multipurpose building is more likely to have the support of citizens, she is opposed to building any new facilities when there are many unused and available buildings that could be refurbished.
“We are overrun with facilities that need to be used,” Ward said.
Holsman said he would like to learn more about the concept before making any decisions on the concept, but it is important to remember there are three YMCAs in Jefferson City with recreational facilities.
He said his main concern with any project like the multipurpose building is keeping the city on budget.
Missouri State Penitentiary
All three candidates said the historic buildings of MSP should be preserved, but the issue is difficult to discuss as the property is owned by the state.
Branch said recent changes to the budget process, including using five years of past actual figures as well as year-to-date totals, are appreciated and will help the council make informed decisions.
“Any time you can get actual past numbers on stuff that gives you a good base to form an opinion on what to do in the future,” Branch said.
Ward said she would have thought the council had been getting that type of information before and it’s surprising that it’s only now being discussed. Ward said she just would want to make sure the budget was balanced each year.
Holsman said the recent changes discussed put the council on the right track to making the best budget decisions possible for the city.
“Those are pretty useful tools,” Holsman said.
Branch said he supports the annexation philosophy of looking at small parcels of land on an annual, or even a case-by-case, basis.
“We’re in danger of becoming landlocked,” Branch said. “Annexation is a necessity.”
Branch said the city has to be better about showing people the benefits of annexation.
Ward said she believes the city should try to forcibly annex areas only in certain circumstances because some people specifically choose to live outside of city limits.
“If the people wish to be annexed, then I’m all for it,” Ward said.
Holsman said he is not opposed to annexation efforts, depending on the use of the land. However, he said, there is plenty of undeveloped land within city limits that could be dealt with first.
Branch said he believes an individual council member may not have a lot of influence, but the full council makes a difference in city issues.
“You’ve got to look at the effect on the entire community,” Branch said.
Ward said the council is the guiding force for city issues, but the more detailed aspects should be left to the professional staff of Jefferson City.
“You need to make sure the people you have are trustworthy,” Ward said.
Holsman said he sees the role of a council member as dealing with the complaints of city residents and the issues of the ward each member represents. Holsman said issues like needed stop signs in neighborhoods and neighbor disputes are the duties of each council member.
Branch said the city’s existing infrastructure is in pretty decent shape and everything is well maintained. He said Jefferson City’s roads probably are in much better shape than most other cities.
Ward said she believes the city does a good job of maintaining the existing infrastructure, but many residential neighborhoods are in need of sidewalks. She said the issue becomes one of safety for many who have to walk to work or school.
Holsman said the city’s infrastructure maintenance is no longer declining, and more and more is being done in terms of keeping up with needed maintenance. He said he would like to see more focus on the preservation of historic buildings in the city.
Strengths and weaknesses of Jefferson City
Branch said the biggest challenge to Jefferson City is attracting and keeping young professionals in the area.
“That’s the problem right now,” Branch said. “Nobody thinks there’s anything to do in this town.”
But the city’s greatest strength, Branch said, is that it’s a little low key.
“It’s a friendly place,” Branch said. “The biggest asset is they welcome people.”
Ward said the biggest challenge is balancing the small town feel of the area and the “Capital City mentality” that the city aspires to.
“We want to stick to our roots,” Ward said. “That’s a hard thing to do.”
But that small town feel is also the city’s greatest strength, she said.
“I love the feel of Jefferson City,” Ward said. “We don’t need to be St. Louis or Columbia or Kansas City.”
Holsman said he didn’t know Jefferson City’s biggest challenge, but it’s biggest strength simply is being the capital city.
“That’s what attracts visitors to Jefferson City,” Holsman said.
He said the city does need to work on its river access, which largely is underdeveloped.
Branch said the city’s relationship with the county is better than it has been in years, but there is always more to be done.
“It comes down to the people that are doing it,” Branch said. “You can’t grow one without the other.”
Ward said the city/county relationship is heading in the right direction, with more cooperative projects being undertaken. But, she said, it’s important to remember that while the city is a part of the county, Jefferson City has its own revenue stream and the county has to take care of all its unincorporated areas.
“They’re responsible for that too,” Ward said.
Holsman said the two entities need to pull together and work out any differences to continue moving in the right direction.
“Anything that’s a guaranteed thing to improve the city and county shouldn’t even be questioned,” Holsman said.