Ward 2 voters will make a choice in the April 7 general election between incumbent Shawn Schulte and challenger Blake Markus.
The two men are competing for a seat on the Jefferson City Council, a seat Schulte currently holds.
The News Tribune has compiled a list of city issues and asked each candidate to weigh in with their thoughts.
Schulte said Jefferson City residents have made it clear the city is to "live within our means." But Schulte declined to provide specific thoughts on the conference center as the council currently is going through the process of selecting a developer.
"In fairness to each of the proposers, the process itself and the citizens; and since the proposers have yet to make a formal in-person presentation to the council, it is inappropriate to comment on specific components or potential locations," Schulte said.
He did specify the funds for a conference center solely should come from the lodging tax and not from the city's general fund or any other city fund.
Markus said he believes it's necessary for Jefferson City to have a conference center and said having a dedicated source of funding for the project is good.
"Given the right management and given the right company coming in and doing it, I think it's something that's necessary for the community, and something that's going to be beneficial to bring in business to Missouri and bring in revenue," Markus said. "Hopefully something like that can help tackle the budget issues."
Markus said he would like to see the facility be placed close to the downtown where there are plenty of adjacent hotels. He said he is not sure he likes the idea of having to transport people to the downtown area, as would be necessary with a site like the Capital Mall, though the development company proposing that site has a good track record of management, he said.
Schulte said the proposed multipurpose building would allow the Parks and Recreation Department to continue current programs in a quality facility with an opportunity to expand existing programs.
"This facility will only enhance the current offerings, both public and private, to our citizens," Schulte said. "The economic impact may be realized by hosting various tournaments which will bring out-of-town teams to our city."
Markus said he thinks the facility is beneficial as long as it helps to bring business into the area.
"Given the recent economic climate over the last few years, you worry about taking on these big projects," Markus said.
He said he is more comfortable with the project if it's aim is to attract business from other areas, such as Osage Beach and Columbia.
Schulte said the city needs to continue working with the state to keep the tours run by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau running.
"The CVB does a great job of promoting our city by way of MSP tours," Schulte said. "These tours aid in making Jefferson City a destination location for visitors."
On the issue of ownership, Schulte said it's difficult to get an answer from the state.
"We all wish we knew what the answer to that was," Schulte said. "We'd like to know but the powers-that-be at the state haven't made any commitments."
Markus said the prison obviously is important to the area and attracts people to the city, but without owning the property, the city shouldn't be spending money on it.
"It's part of the draw to Jefferson City," Markus said. "We do need to nurture that and that means providing funds to it. But on the flip side, because we don't own it, we can't go in and spend millions of dollars to revamp it just to have the state take it from us."
The tours, plus filming taking place at the site, have helped bring revenue into the city, he said, and that is important to remember.
Schulte said revisions to the budget process are being implements and detailed financial reporting to the council has begun on a monthly basis. He said the council was not happy with the format or type of information provided in the most recent budget process, which led him to request changes.
"As finance committee chair and as a council, it is our responsibility, along with the mayor, to oversee the financial affairs of the city," Schulte said. "In order for us to accomplish that, we must rely on and be given accurate numbers and realistic projects based on historical data factored by current economic trends."
Schulte said every department must be fully engaged in the process. He said revenues have to be continually evaluated and budgets adjusted when needed to ensure expenses do not exceed revenues. The city also needs to work on its grant and accounting processes, he said.
Markus said the city's current budget situation is a bit of a mess, and the council is responsible for overseeing that budget. Accountability has to be central for the council members and mayor, he said, especially when facing a tough financial situation like the city is now.
"You can't take that lightly," Markus said. "I think that there has to be ... a revamping of the process, a much more public process."
Markus said he also would like to know if there's a way to get more information online available to the public.
"I don't know if you've ever tried to look at the budget online, it is incomprehensible," Markus said. "I just think that if it was a more public process ... then we'd have a better handle on our finances now."
Schulte said annexation is necessary for continued growth, but it must be targeted with a specific purpose and goal in mind. Schulte said residents affected by any annexation proposal should have input and be involved in the process so when the city puts the issue on the ballot, there won't be a need for a second vote.
Markus said Jefferson City always runs the risk of being landlocked, which needs to be kept in mind. As long as the city can promise resources to be delivered to the annexed area in a reasonable amount of time, there should be no problem, he said, though there is a decent amount of land within the city that remains undeveloped.
Schulte said the council is responsible for overseeing the performance of all duties and obligations imposed on the city, as well as the fiscal affairs of the city. He said the council also provides for an independent audit of all city accounts on an annual basis.
"As elected officials and staff, our responsibility as public servants is to provide a vision and motivation for why we must continue the important work we do together in pursuit of this unending mission for future generations," Schulte said.
Markus said the role of a council member is to listen to people and engage in creative problem solving.
"You have to respect (your constituents') wishes, but at the same time all of the wards have to harmonize with one another to create a more prosperous city," Markus said.
Schulte said the city's existing infrastructure is in pretty decent shape, but funding must be provided for ongoing maintenance and upgrades on a consistent basis.
"These projects often go unnoticed until something fails," Schulte said. "Without our half-cent capital improvements sales tax, we would not be able to upgrade and provide new infrastructure improvement projects as required."
Markus said he believes the city's existing infrastructure is pretty good, but he sees downtown parking as a major concern. Downtown living has great potential, he said, but he's not sure the infrastructure is there to support it.
"That's going to grow downtown in general," Markus said. "The heart of Jefferson City is the downtown."
Schulte said Jefferson City's strength is the city employees, who work hard performing various tasks required by the city. Schulte also pointed out the "first class" fire and police departments as strengths of the city.
"After serving as councilman for almost two years now, the men and women who keep the moving parts and pieces of city government up and running is a strength that often goes unnoticed," Schulte said.
Schulte said he didn't see a weakness, but an opportunity: to encourage business growth and continue to attract young professionals.
Markus said the biggest challenge to Jefferson City is getting a city-wide consensus to move forward. It's difficult to keep the roots of the city and still move forward, he said, but it can be done.
"I have a lot of faith it will keep moving forward and growing," Markus said.
The city's strength, he said, is its people. Jefferson City residents are the reason Markus wanted to live in the city, he said.
"It was just easy to fall into the community," Markus said.
Schulte said the cooperative projects between the city and Cole County are increasing, but the relationship needs to continue to be strengthened as the city moves forward.
"As evidenced by recent cooperative projects, we can achieve so much more for the benefit of the citizenry when our efforts are combined," Schulte said.
Markus said Jefferson City residents do make up the majority of Cole County residents and the two entities have to work together to move forward.
"As long as we're working together and we keep a good symbiotic relationship, then we can accomplish more," Markus said.