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Mayoral candidates talk Jefferson City's strengths, weaknesses

Mayoral candidates talk Jefferson City's strengths, weaknesses

March 31st, 2019 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

While the residents are the Capital City's top strength, the Jefferson City mayoral candidates said, the community currently faces several challenges.

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Mayoral candidates Carrie Tergin and Tiwan Lewis said Jefferson City's top strengths are the people in the community, noting residents and organizations are willing to offer a helping hand to those in need. Tergin added residents regularly volunteer with organizations and on city commissions to better the community.

While the close-knit feel is a strength, Lewis said, it can also be the city's top weakness, as some people feel they are not part of the community. This is because many residents do not venture into the community for activities since the city lacks several entertainment venues and attractions for different cultures and religions, she added.

Until the city addresses this, Lewis said, Jefferson City will lose out on community dollars since residents will continue to leave for entertainment in other towns.

"When people get their paychecks, the first thing they want to do is (get on) a train or rent a car because there's nothing here to do," she said. "All of our dollars are going to St. Louis or Columbia or Lake of the Ozark or Kansas City or if they get on a flight real quick. All of that money is leaving our city until they come back to work."

She suggested holding forums or conducting social media surveys to see what residents want to add to Jefferson City.

While some residents may travel out of town to find entertainment, Lewis said, others are staying home due to a lack of accessible public transportation. While JeffTran does offer transportation services on the weekdays, it does not have evening or weekend hours.

"With Lincoln University students being here, they come from Chicago, Los Angeles, bigger cities, and when they get here, they're kind of stuck and they go into culture shock because our buses don't run in the evening times or on the weekends," Lewis said. "There are activities in the mall, and lots of times on the weekends, there's shows but people can't get there."

JeffTran reconfigured its routes in December to better serve residents after a consultant conducted a transit study of the public bus system. The study also suggested adding weekend and evening services, but city officials have previously said there are budget restraints.

If elected, Lewis said, she would work with the Jefferson City Transit Division to add more public transportation services. If the budget does not allow extended services, she added, she suggested creating partnerships with churches to provide taxi-like services for a discounted rate or nearby transit systems.

Jefferson City must also address deteriorating houses, said Tergin, the current Jefferson City mayor.

Over the last couple of years, the Jefferson City Housing Authority, city officials and community members have been working toward revitalizing the East Capitol Avenue area. The Jefferson City Housing Authority took possession of a few homes earlier this year following a 2017 civil lawsuit. It also filed a civil suit in 2018 for more properties in the East Capitol Avenue area.

While the focus has been on East Capitol Avenue over the last several years, vacant and blighted homes are not limited to that one area. Tergin said one of the community's top weaknesses is property owners not maintaining their buildings, adding she receives numerous calls from residents regarding vacant and disrepaired properties in all of the wards.

The city is limited by laws that govern property ownership and the number of code enforcers it has, Tergin said, making it "difficult for the city to really sometimes overcome that and force compliance among property owners."

She said she would like to continue supporting the Housing Authority as it works toward condemning some of the homes along East Capitol Avenue that have not been maintained, as well as work with the property owners who purchase the homes.

Last November, the Housing Authority sold 608 E. State St. to Dustin Long of Long Last Remodeling. The Housing Authority has also selected a developer for 103 Jackson St., but Housing Authority Executive Director Cynthia Quetsch said last week she could not reveal who the developer is until both parties sign a contract in mid-April.

Aging infrastructure is another issue Jefferson City faces, Tergin said. While Tergin added she thinks the city was doing a "great job" addressing infrastructure with a limited budget, it is still a growing challenge.

Prioritization is key when addressing this issue since the city has to "make sure what little resources we have, we are utilizing them in the best way we can."

"If we had more (funding) though, it would be nice to allocate that toward our infrastructure because with our aging infrastructure, it is starting to catch up to us and we don't want to constantly be worrying about what's going to break," she said. "We would like to be more proactive but we have the budget limitations and resources."