Incumbent, challenger face off for second time in JC 4th Ward

Ward 4 voters will make a choice in the April 2 general election between incumbent Bill Luebbert and challenger Carlos Graham.

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Bill Luebbert

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Carlos Graham

The two candidates have faced off before — Graham lost a bid for the 4th Ward seat on the Jefferson City Council to Luebbert two years ago.

The News Tribune has compiled a list of city issues and asked each candidate to weigh in with their thoughts.

Conference center

Luebbert said the vote taken in February 2011 approving the increased lodging tax showed public support for a conference center, so the project must move forward.

“I think the people have spoken,” Luebbert said.

But, Luebbert said, the people also have made it clear that they don’t want any city funds, outside of the dedicated lodging tax funds, involved in the conference center project. As far as possible sites, Luebbert said the West McCarty Street site probably would be best functionally, but has a disadvantage because the state would want any parking lost from selling or leasing the site to be replaced by the city.

Graham also said the conference center project should move forward because the citizens voiced support by approving the lodging tax increase. The issue now, he said, is how much will be available from that fund and whether a facility will be able to support the kind of events to make it profitable and avoid being a financial burden.

“I hope that it will be a transparent and open process,” Graham said.

Graham said the most important thing is the project is well thought out and the timing is right.

Multipurpose building

Luebbert said the multipurpose building would provide a nice amount of additional space to accommodate traveling teams or competitions. He said the facility would help bring people into Jefferson City.

“I think that would be a very nice asset to the city,” Luebbert said. “I have a great deal of enthusiasm for it.”

Graham said as long as the Parks and Recreation Department can afford the project and there is public support for it, it could be a good project. He said there are other entities, like the YMCA, but the multipurpose building would allow for some different type of events.

“Give us a laid out plan that can be looked at,” Graham said. “It still needs to be fully vetted.”

Missouri State Penitentiary

Luebbert said it’s great to see the large interest in the old Missouri State Penitentiary that has been developed by the tours operated through the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said once the CVB finishes its planned MSP museum, another nice attraction will tie into the local landmark. But the buildings are deteriorating, he said, and there hasn’t been much traction in the ongoing negotiations with the state.

“There’s a long way to go,” Luebbert said.

Luebbert said the location could be a great asset, depending on what can be attracted to settle there.

Graham said any development on the MSP site will have to go through some hurdles to become a reality.

“It is an issue with the state owning that land,” Graham said. “It would be hard, I think, for a developer to come in and build something on someone else’s property.”

Graham said the state seems unwilling to relinquish the property, but something has to be done soon or the buildings will continue to deteriorate. The CVB’s tours are a great attraction, he said, but they can’t be held if the buildings become unsafe.

Budget process

Luebbert said the $1.68 million budget shortfall the city has been dealing with was a very difficult situation. He said he was never very happy with the budget process used by the council and that estimates should have been built on an analysis of the revenues.

“We’re just going to have to tighten our belts,” Luebbert said. “There’s going to be some heartache.”

Graham said the budget shortfall creates uncertainty for city employees and for Jefferson City residents. What’s important now, he said, is to ensure the city fixes the problem and finds ways to avoid it being repeated.

“Let’s just make sure it does not happen again,” Graham said. “It’s an embarrassment.”

Annexation

Luebbert said the city needs an active annexation policy to enable controlled development in the area.

“It’s critically important that the city control that and establish some type of reasonable zoning,” Luebbert said. “We’re not trying to harm anyone with zoning.”

He said there is a lack of land to develop in the city and the only way to solve that is through growth.

Graham said annexation obviously is a part of growth, but it shouldn’t be forced or done through eminent domain. He said the citizens sent a message to the city in the last annexation attempt and said the proposal has to be thought out, done right and have no hidden agenda.

“Just be straight up with us,” Graham said. “Be up front, be honest.”

Council role

Luebbert said the council needs to be focused on the finances of the city and evaluate city programs to make sure they are right for the community. He said the council should make sure there are incentives provided for downtown and Old Town development, as well as for attracting new business into the city.

“I think we’re making some real progress,” Luebbert said.

Graham said the council needs to set goals for the city, and it’s up to the administration to use those goals to set the city priorities.

“The City Council sets the vision for our city and adopts goals the reflect that vision,” Graham said.

Infrastructure

Luebbert said he is pretty impressed with the city’s overall infrastructure. He said the streets and sewers are well taken care of and the city maintains a good relationship with the utility companies in the area. With the ongoing capital improvements sales tax, Luebbert said the city is able to devote more funds to the public infrastructure.

“I think the streets are in really nice shape,” Luebbert said.

Graham said the first priority needs to be upgrading the city’s aging sewer system, which is decaying every day. He said the second priority should be addressing roads with potholes, as it has a safety aspect for the community.

“There’s a danger to it,” Graham said.

Graham also said the capital improvements sales tax needs be moved forward to allow for continued investment in the city’s infrastructure.

Strengths and weaknesses of Jefferson City

Luebbert said the largest weakness for the city is that it needs to grow and attract more business.

“Growth is essential,” Luebbert said. “We need to develop.”

He said the area’s greatest strength is its central location. The city is attractive, he said, with a low crime rate, good infrastructure and a friendly population.

“It’s really got what it takes,” Luebbert said.

Graham said the largest weakness is economic development in the area and trying to attract younger people to stay in Jefferson City.

“Can it be done? Certainly it can,” Graham said. “But you have to have the right people in the right place.”

He said the area’s greatest strength is the quality of education, both public and private, as well as the quality of life and the cost of living.

“The people itself always find a way to embrace each other,” Graham said.

City/County relationship

Luebbert said the city’s relationship with the county has improved in recent years and major projects have been accomplished by the cooperative effort.

“It’s far better than it used to be,” Luebbert said.

Graham said the relationship is improving, but there is always room to grow.

“In order to progress, we need that joint structure,” Graham said.

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