As the municipal elections approach Tuesday, candidates for each ward have discussed funding concerns and a desire to grow Jefferson City economically.
Each have slightly different opinions on how to do that, whether that's working with area schools on workforce development, growing tourism, keeping money local, attracting more businesses or addressing residents' needs.
For Ward 2 incumbent Laura Ward, the priority is public safety, which goes beyond police and fire. Rather, it includes the conditions of streets and housing as well as processes for inspections and code enforcement.
The city is looking into putting a public safety sales tax to the voters, which would be focused on police and fire. However, Ward said, if approved, it'll free up funds to address other issues such as stormwater and potholes.
"Things weren't addressed, and now, things have risen to the point where they can no longer not be," she said.
The issue with getting to these projects sooner, Ward said, comes down to funding.
While increasing taxes is an option to help address that, candidates have also discussed economic development.
Ward said one thing the city should do differently comes back to its relationship with Lincoln University and other educational institutions in the area.
"One idea is collaborating with schools, Lincoln, our industries through the Chamber of Commerce and coming up with training programs and apprenticeship programs so that we would have local education occurring that would perhaps keep people here," she said.
Her opponent, Edith Vogel, said the city should have "less bureaucracy" when it comes to developing businesses in Jefferson City. She'd also like to see an emphasis on businesses already within the city.
"If a company comes in and wants to do something, the City Council (could) create either new rules and regulations or take regulations off the book to make it easier for them, the private sector, to come in and do what they desire," she said.
The new candidates coming in need to have a "deep orientation" into the city's finances as a good starting point to look where funding can come from for projects, Vogel said.
She said much of that will come down to the voter's decision on sales tax H, which will be on the August ballot, and a potential public safety sales tax, which the council has not decided to put on a ballot yet but could be on in August or November.
"I cannot emphasize enough, it is up to the voters to decide yes or no on another sales tax," she said.
Ward 3 candidate Mary Schantz pointed out most of the city's budget goes toward personnel, salaries or benefits, which accounts for about 79.1 percent of expenditures. One thing the city's done well, she said, is be flexible with the budget when issues come up.
"I would say we need to continue to be flexible in our planning," she said. "The city needs to have a plan, and I think that we do but be flexible so that we can respond to issues that come up and fund programs in a way that they can function appropriately."
Looking into the future, Schantz said, one of the large revenue sources will be tourism. She also thinks the city will be attractive to small and mid-sized businesses through opportunities on the horizon such as redeveloping the Missouri State Penitentiary area and the conference center that's part of that plan.
Schantz also discussed workforce opportunities, which would also help Lincoln University and attract more businesses.
One of the main things she'd like to see from the city is strengthened partnerships with other organizations and promote more of the appealing things about Jefferson City.
"For example, recently, the fire department improved the city's rating for fire protection by one point," she said. "That doesn't sound like a big deal, except that when you're going out and trying to attract a new business to locate to our city, it is a big deal because their insurance rates are going to be much lower. That's just one example of things that we can put in our basket."
Her opponent, Scott Spencer, said the primary concerns he's heard relate to infrastructure and public safety including stormwater issues and roads.
Spencer said he'd like to encourage economic growth through focusing on the businesses already in Jefferson City.
He'd like to see an Economic Development Commission with representatives from the city, Cole County, the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to discuss what would be done to help everybody involved.
"Ask questions of the chamber, ask questions of other businesses in the community. Not all businesses in our community are chamber members, and I think they have something to offer and say as well that we need to hear," he said. "That's where I would start. Asking questions."
Businesses also need to step up, he said, and work with the school systems to address workforce development needs. The city's role would include taking part in the conversation and bringing in partners such as Cole County and the Chamber of Commerce.
"I think we need to look at it more in depth than we have in the past," he said. "A lot of people just look at it like, 'OK, that's the chamber's responsibility or other people's responsibility.' Let's bring all those resources into one room and really try to have a good discussion.
"That is a totally different approach. That's something we've not done before."
Ward 4 candidate Derrick Spicer said the city should prioritize infrastructure, stormwater, public safety and economic growth.
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The city needs to look into employee salaries, he said, and consider whether there are places to consolidate some positions or rework the pay scale.
"We have been talking about the same issues over and over and over, and it seems like it's the same issues that are not getting fixed," he said. "We need to find the money, whether it's people's salaries or different areas. We need to figure out how we can put some of that money into something that is important right now — whether it's the streets, whether it's stormwater, whether it's public safety."
In terms of economic development, Spicer said, one of the things that needs work is the permitting system and making it easier on potential business owners to get started.
"They shouldn't have to jump through so many hoops," he said. "If I was going to bring a business to Jeff City and I had to jump through a million hoops, I wouldn't bring a business to Jeff City. We have to be willing to help people grow."
Candidate Leonard Steinman said the priority should be keeping money local.
He also said Lincoln University should be left alone since it "has nothing to do with Jefferson City."
Candidate Ryan Estes said the city's goal is to address all needs without raising taxes, which means the focus should be on infrastructure and economic growth.
"A good way to do that would be to partner with school to promote programs for in demand jobs," he said. "That would increase attendance at school and provide a work base for the infrastructure to support that job market."
The city can develop a "more robust" tax base by creating an "ideal environment for businesses" to come to the city.
Part of the issue, he said, is the city relies too much on state positions and not enough on local business.
"We need to eliminate barriers to entry and grow the skilled workforce within the area," through partnerships with the schools he said.
The city could also partner with nonprofits that work to help people establish businesses.
"There's a lot you can do without spending money," he said.
Ward 5 candidate Mark Schreiber said he thinks tourism will play a major roll in the economic development of the city.
He's been involved in the MSP redevelopment project and considers it a good start to growing the industry.
"That brings people to Jefferson City that are willing to spend money in our restaurants; they're willing to take a tour of the old prison," he said. "They'll want to go to the Capitol later on; they'll want to go to Adrian's Island, which will be a great asset. They'll spend money shopping."
Another aspect of that, which is part of the MSP plan, is a conference center in Jefferson City, he said. State agencies and other groups would be able to host conferences there, which would also add to the tourists in the area.
One thing the city needs to do, Schreiber said, is promote itself more.
"I think we need to advertise the fact that we are a smaller city," he said. "We need to advertise the fact that we are a family-friendly city, we have great parks, great schools, great medical facilities, a relatively low crime rate and that this is a great place for people to live. It's a great place for people to retire."
Schreiber said the community needs more housing opportunities for people of retirement age such as smaller condos or complexes that are affordable.
One of the most important things, he said, is for the city to show it is a good steward of taxpayer money.
"Any kind of tax that you impose upon the citizens comes from the citizens," he said. "It doesn't make a difference whether it's a sales tax or whatever it is — it comes from the citizens. So, we have to show citizens that we're good stewards of their money and that it is going for something that we said it was going to."
His opponent, Alicia Edwards, said she wants to look at where money is going because things could be getting overlooked.
"Funding is always an issue to everyday citizens because that's what the city tells us," she said. "I can't speak to if it's actually an issue because I don't see what the funding is — I'm not councilwoman yet. I don't know if we really have a funding issue or not, but to the general public, it seems like there's always a funding issue when people want or ask for things."
Part of her concern is there isn't economic development where development is needed.
Yes, the city is working on projects like the MSP redevelopment, she said, but that "does not help the people at an economic disadvantage in Jefferson City."
Part of the focus should be making sure individual neighborhoods have what they need such as grocery stores within walking distance.
"My first priority would be economic development in your lifestyle, making things accessible to people and helping people become economically independent," she said. "Then, I would move to economic development as far as enterprises and businesses and things like that — because you can bring all the businesses here, but if no one can afford to shop there, then it's not developing, it's just another business."
Council members need to listen to what people say they need, address the issues in individual wards as well as look at the whole picture, Edwards added.
"You need to address your community," she said. "You need to take care of your community. Wards 1, 2 and 5 have been overlooked for years, and it's time to stop overlooking them. If we're going to unify our city, if we're going to develop our city, if we want economic independence for people, that's all across the board and not one side or the other."