Jefferson City councilmen meet with constituents

Public transportation, taxation among topics

Barbara Hellwege speaks to Ward 1 and Ward 2 councilmen as she gives her thoughts on the state of the JeffTran system during a combined community meeting at Jefferson City Hall on Saturday.

Barbara Hellwege speaks to Ward 1 and Ward 2 councilmen as she gives her thoughts on the state of the JeffTran system during a combined community meeting at Jefferson City Hall on Saturday. Photo by Kris Wilson.

One night, Miriam Fuller saw a lady rushing to get home, frequently looking over her shoulder. Another night, three more people were running in the rain.

“That told me how important it is to have a bus to pick her up,” Fuller said at a two-hour conversation Saturday between Ward 1 and Ward 2 city councilmen and about 50 constituents.

The event was sponsored by Downtown Jefferson City and well attended by Citizens for JeffTran members.

Many who attended reiterated the need to move forward with the formation of a commission for everyday residents to provide input to council decisions.

Tony Hammond, a faith-based volunteer with disabilities, uses the current system at least four days each week. He started that conversation, directly asking what councilmen thought of creating such a commission.

“Any time you can have community input, it can’t be a bad thing,” Rick Prather said.

Whereas, Shawn Schulte suggested the formation of the advisory entity should wait until the city concludes other projects, like the conference center.

Proponents of the transportation commission noted one was not dependent on another and the commission could move forward now.

The Rev. Jeanie McGowan, who lives and works in the downtown area, noted the Capital City should be an example for the state.

“The commission could work and do research on grants now,” McGowan said.

Like Hammond, she asked what others thought about forming the local transportation commission.

Rick Mihalevich noted that public transportation supports families and provides freedom for many riders.

“I can’t put enough emphasis that without it, people are stuck,” Mihalevich said. “I understand why it’s so important.”

Schulte again said public opinion is essential.

“There are opponents to public transportation; we need to come together to see what works here in Jefferson City and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Schulte said.

Resident Clayton Hill pointed out the accumulating debts of government and encouraged council scrutiny in this time of limited budgets.

McGowan noted an expansion of the city bus hours of operation could have a positive economic impact.

Kolbi Ward agreed. As a restaurant owner, her husband struggles creating employee schedules and often makes hiring choices based a lack of transportation.

A circulating misconception has been “nobody rides the buses,” Ward said.

“Maybe that’s because they aren’t going when and where they need to be?” she concluded.

Nonagenarian Barbara Hellwege lives in senior housing and has seen how imperative the buses are to her neighbors.

“They depend on them to get to their doctors appointments and to buy groceries,” Hellwege said.

Brian Wekamp, another regular bus rider, said he would be in a dilemma without the transportation.

“For the visually impaired community, it’s vitally important,” he said.

Other topics included the Capital Mall development, the conference center proposals, preserving the Missouri State Penitentiary, public transportation and government’s fiscal responsibilities.

Several in attendance voiced concerns about public funding for private development, as in the case of the Capital Mall. Would shoppers choose Columbia or the Lake of the Ozarks to avoid a higher tax rate? Is it a good idea for government funds to assist in projects that do not involve infrastructure?

Regarding the upcoming conference center proposal selection, many lobbied for the downtown location. And some encouraged further research for a better solution.

Former retailer Bob Herman pointed out how a previous city council was “pro-mall” and a decline in the downtown followed.

“Does this council want to be known as the council that killed the downtown?” Herman asked.

Mihalevich noted the downtown conference center choice would be more difficult to navigate. And Schulte suggested both the downtown and the mall area could thrive.

Anne Schneider reminded the councilmen of Jefferson City recently being chosen by Rand McNally as the 2013 “Most Beautiful” Small Town in America.

“On the video, there was no west end footage; it was all downtown,” Schneider said. “Why not highlight the jewel of Jefferson City?”

And downtown merchant Colleen Taylor encouraged the councilmen to review the previous conference center agreements. She also noted that in the city’s survey, 66 percent of meeting planners preferred the downtown conference center location.

East Side business owner Donna Deetz concurred. Local business associations from the South Side, East Side and Downtown all agree the downtown site is more beneficial to Jefferson City’s amenities.

“Conventions want to explore something different in the city, not the box stores,” Deetz said.

In regard to government fiscal responsibility, Tim Stallman suggested many of the economic development incentives are “welfare for the rich.”

“The city should stay out of private business and leave taxpayers alone,” Stallman said.

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