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Q&A with 4th Ward candidates for City Council

Q&A with 4th Ward candidates for City Council

Tergin, Costales discuss conference center, downtown, transparency

March 16th, 2014 in News

LEFT: Glen Costales addresses Fourth Ward residents at a recent breakfast meeting. Costales is running to unseat Jefferson City councilwoman Carrie Tergin. RIGHT: Tergin responds to a question as she straightens cards at her downtown store, Carrie's Hallmark. She is incumbent Fourth Ward councilwoman.

Photo by News Tribune

The April general election will feature one race for Jefferson City Council, pitting 4th Ward incumbent Carrie Tergin against challenger Glen Costales.

Tergin, who owns and operates Carrie's Hallmark on High Street, is seeking her final term on the City Council after serving six years as a representative of the 4th Ward. Costales is retired from the United States Air Force, where his positions ranged from pharmacy technician to financial operations supervisor.

The News Tribune compiled a list of questions concerning some of the most important city issues and sat down with each candidate to give voters the best information before heading to the polls April 8.

In two instances, the News Tribune added information below the candidate statements to ensure the most accurate information is presented in context. Those instances are denoted with parentheses.

Jefferson City is nearing a decision on which developer and location will be selected to build a new conference center and hotel. Which developer/site do you prefer? Why? Do you see any alternatives to the path the council has already begun to take?

Tergin: "Definitely the downtown site is the right site. The voters voted to approve the lodging tax and, along with that, they were told at the time of the election that downtown was the site we were looking at. So to stay true to the voters and, in addition, to stay true to what really is best for Jefferson City. We are the state capital, we should have our visitors and our conference center located in such a way that the visitors can see our landmark. We're so proud to be the state capital and not just the capital. We have lots of history and the Governor's Mansion and other landmarks in this area that are walkable ... it's what we're proud of, it's what we want people to see when they come to our community and it just really makes sense that we place the conference center where it's going to be most successful. It needs to be downtown, it needs to be in the core, and it needs to be near these landmarks."

Costales: "Personally, having looked at both of the proposals, going through them with a fine-toothed comb, the Ehrhardt proposal was really short on details, so it didn't give you much to really work with ... and that site is not on city owned property ... why the city picked that to start with is ridiculous to try to build something on property you don't own. The Farmers' proposal ... they have in their proposal that they plan to use the $9 million for the hotel and the convention center whereas in the (request for proposals) it says it's just for the convention center, or conference center ... I would toss it because of that."

"Neither of those proposals meet the criteria that was set out in the RFP to start with as far as (square) footage. If you're going to accept ones that are about two-thirds to three-quarters in scope, why not write a new RFP and go back on the street? There may be additional players with a smaller scope facility ... I think they just need to start all over."

The city has struggled with revenues in the past couple of years. What do you believe can be done to increase city revenues, if anything, or decrease city expenditures?

Tergin: "We've done a good job, at the city, of truly looking at everything, when it comes to the expenditures side, looking at all the departments and department heads to truly look at how they can operate more with less and they have. They've done a good job with that and they continue to, they know we have limited resources so a lot of departments haven't asked for things they need. But we have to find that balance of how do we keep the city running and maintaining at a level that we all expect, yet knowing the revenues that are coming in. Staff has done very well, given the situation. On the revenue side, we're always looking at ways to increase, which is difficult. We look at projects that are happening in our community and looking at the forecast of things that are coming in and trying to make Jefferson City the place to locate for expansions or for new development, and I think we're seeing that. Knowing that we have some big projects on the horizon with (Capital Region Medical Center and St. Mary's Health Center) expanding and possibly Lincoln University being a part of that and with the conference center soon to be a reality, I think we're going to draw visitors."

"We have (the old Missouri State Penitentiary), which I think could be the biggest economic development piece that could ever happen to our city ... we could be a destination from all over the country if we truly utilized that land and that history ... We have potential for economic development."

Costales: "I don't think we need to look at increasing revenue because people are taxed to death now. We need to look at reducing expenses, and you can start with looking all over ... a suggestion program - publicize it, set it up, get people out there. Anybody anywhere, they don't necessarily have to be a city resident, gives us an idea of how the city can save money through buying product A instead of product B, and product A is going to do the same job as product B, but you can save money in buying it, or a different way of doing business. Let that person who makes the suggestion receive up to 20 percent of what the city would save in the first year with a cap of $10,000 per idea. So it's a win-win. There's a lot of brilliant people in this town. Let's use that resource, let the city save money and let the residents make some money."

"Another one would be to look at street lights. The city has about 4,100 street lights, in addition to about 1,000 downtown that are on a different circuit. The city spends about $20 per month (per light) to operate those; talking about close to $1 million a year. Why not look at solar-powered lights? Start on like a 10-year plan, replace so many a year ... LED lights instead of regular lights, let's get ahead of the game. I'm sure there's people out there that would have great ideas on how to save the city money."

(Operations Division Director Britt Smith said the city maintains about 600 lights citywide and roughly 150 "historic" lights downtown. Costales said his understanding is the city pays Ameren for 4,100 street lights, but actually maintains 600.)

The issue of downtown parking has been raised in the past few years. Do you believe there is an issue with downtown parking? If so, what do you believe would be the best solution?

Tergin: "We need an additional garage in the downtown ... there's demand ... Do we have a problem? There is ample parking, but there is a huge demand. As we've studied, we know that the 100 block (of High Street) is the highest demand and people are on waiting lists to get parking there. As far as business owners and employees, we know there's a need ... What would be the solution would be an additional parking garage. There are ways it can be done, and it needs to be really studied and looked at, what are the ways it can be funded. We have the parking fund, and we have other ways to decide whether or not it should be built and how can it be funded and the cost."

Costales: "I don't go down there every day and have to deal with it like a lot of folks do, so I would not know that. I'd have to get input from other individuals, but I've heard, yes, there is a problem with it down there. I would like to take a look at the parking meters. Is the revenue generated from the parking meters sufficient to offset the expenses used to collect the money, repair the meters ... Charging somebody a nickel, or a dime, or a quarter to park, that's a nuisance fee. It adds up over time to the big dollar, but every time somebody goes down there it's a nuisance fee."

The downtown area is considering a community improvement district to cover costs of improvements to the area, such as snow removal, flower baskets and holiday lights. What do you think of the idea of creating a CID downtown? (The current proposal calls for a "special assessment" of $8 per linear foot of street frontage.)

Tergin: "What I really like about this idea is that it's fair across all of the downtown properties. Currently, there's a few downtown property owners and business owners that participate in paying, whether it's dues or paying assessments for snow removal. So there's a few of us trying to carry the weight of the entire downtown. By doing a special assessment, it's fair. Every property owner in the downtown gains the benefit of snow removal and other things that really beautify the downtown, such as the flower baskets. We should all contribute to that and a special assessment is truly a small amount when you look at the benefit that you get ... We all see the benefit, we all need to contribute."

Costales: "The snow removal and any beautification they want to do down there, they just need to absorb that into their cost of doing business ... The cost needs to be absorbed by the property owners and not by the people through an increased sales tax. Eventually, they're going to pass the cost onto the consumer ... I want to make sure it's not a tax that's going to hit the people."

In the past two years, funding for the public, educational and governmental access channel JCTV has been cut dramatically, though the station itself has been spared from total elimination. Do you see a future for JCTV that includes city funding? Why or why not?

Tergin: "I hope so. I do see a future with continued relationships and building relationships with Lincoln University, and I see JCTV as a part of that. I also see JCTV as communication to the public, and we need to get out there as much as we possibly can as a council and be open in government. In fact, I would like to see it expand. I think there are other meetings, other avenues, other governments ... maybe the county or other entities would want to partner with JCTV. I know there's a cost associated with that, but the benefit is real because you're getting out into the public in easier access ... Perhaps there are ways where we can use JCTV to our benefit ... It's a good partnership."

Costales: "Yes and no ... As long as there's funding available that does not impact on necessary items for the city: public safety, infrastructure, maintenance and repair."

The city and county often partner on large public works projects, among other issues. Do you think the city and county partnership works well as it is? Why or why not? If it could be improved, how so?

Tergin: "Yes, I think we've seen great improvements; we have a really good County Commission. The commissioners are open to working with the city. I think there's always going to be things we could do to increase our involvement together, but right now we have some very high-profile projects that we're working together on. When you look at the Lafayette interchange and when you look at the Frog Hollow area, those are projects that have been talked about for many years, and it's exciting to see the partnerships that are happening. I think our relationship is good, and we'll continue to build on it."

Costales: "From what I've read in the paper and talking to people, I have not heard a lot of complaints. You're always going to have complaints, but I would presume from an outside viewpoint that yes, it's working fine right now. It probably needs more transparency."

Do you believe the city operates as transparently as it could or should? Why or why not? How would you improve transparency?

Tergin: "Yes, I'd say we're very open. I think just letting the public know is a challenge, because if they go on our website, they can see a calendar of every meeting we have. So, we are open, we just want people to know they can access our calendar listing of all our meetings. They can go online and see our council meetings, they can access them on JCTV. Certainly there are times when we could do a better job of having more meetings open or perhaps having more of the public come to some of our meetings. I always enjoy when people reach out. Maybe they'll read an article in the paper, and they will call me and want to get a better understanding ... I think part of the openness is knowing we want people to reach out to their council person, I want to get phone calls. I want to get questions if people don't have an understanding and sometimes a conversation is the best way to be open."

Costales: "No. They have these pre-meetings before the City Council meeting, they have all kinds of meetings during the week, they're always across the hall in (the Boone-Bancroft room of City Hall). Why not have them in the main chambers and telecast them? Let the people see what's going on."

"The hiring of the city administrator - because somebody who wanted the job wanted it to be kept quiet, it was kept quiet and away from the public. Who calls the shots, the city or a potential hiree? ... The whole selection process was done by an advisory board. Why wasn't the City Council involved? Why weren't the people involved in all this?"

Do you believe a council member's role is to be more big-picture oriented, detail-oriented or both?

Tergin: "Absolutely both. You have to really see the big picture, and I think sometimes it's easy to lose sight of that. So you always have to be focused on the big picture, on the growth of Jefferson City. I'm very growth-oriented, I want things to move positively forward ... and the details on how you get there are very important. And being focused on your ward and the entire community."

Costales: "He or she needs to be big-picture oriented, you need to understand some of the nuts and bolts, but not get down into the day-to-day management of any part of the organization. You have managers that are responsible for that, directors that are responsible for that."^

What do you believe are essential services the city must provide?

Tergin: "Public safety is top, and we're very lucky because we have excellent police and fire protection ... We want to make sure that we're maintaining the level of service that we have ... And then, of course, the infrastructure is very important. Our roads, our sidewalks, maintaining the old infrastructure that we currently have and then being wise in our new infrastructure, which we are ... Of course, what's top of our mind now is our snow removal and our public works department. Also, I would say code enforcement ... we have a very good code enforcement department because they do a nice job of keeping the community nice."

Costales: "Public safety, fire and police, infrastructure, roads, sewers, ensure the water districts are providing safe water. Have to have a balanced budget, in fact, you should always be putting some aside into a reserve for a rainy day. Anything above that, if the city's competing with private business, the city needs to get out of it. The city operates a golf course (Oak Hills Golf Center) that (from 2008 to 2012) lost $1.3 million. Private business makes money. They fire golf course managers that don't make money. The skating rink (Washington Park Ice Arena) lost almost $1 million in that same time frame. I think there's a lot that can be done on that end by giving these people direction, hard lines and holding feet to the fire."

(Both the city's golf course and ice arena are under the umbrella of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, which operates almost entirely off of a half-cent dedicated sales tax, which has no sunset, and is overseen by the Parks and Recreation Commission. Because the department receives little general revenue funding, the City Council has little authority over the department's spending. Costales said he would like to put the parks sales tax back on the ballot and see if voters would like the department to move back into general revenue and under the direction of the City Council.)

What makes you the better candidate or choice for 4th Ward residents?

Tergin: "I truly have a forward vision, I have a passion for Jefferson City. I love this community, and I've served for six years. I truly enjoy it. I'm truly the best candidate because I'm in touch with the people. I really have a lot of interaction and feel that I truly reflect what the public wants in our community, they want to see things happen ... I truly listen to the public, and I think people want to see the progress happen in our community, and I'm really proud to bring that progress. I'm all about that."

Costales: "I have no agenda. As I'm telling people as I'm going door-to-door, I feel the job of a councilman is to listen to the people in the ward and vote the way they want it to go, the majority of them want it to go, which means sometimes a person will be happy and sometimes they won't be. But not to vote how I personally feel on something, if I can't convince them of my way of thinking then my job would be to vote their way. A councilman needs to be ready to step aside on any voting issue and recuse themselves if there's any hint of the vote (being able to) benefit them or their family."