By Sue Botos
As with almost any meeting between residents and city officials, the subjects of trash collection, budget and collaboration were some of the topics covered at the Oct. 24 League of Women Voters candidates night at the Don Umerley Civic Center.
Candidates for council at large, the only city administrative seat being contested, spoke on the familiar theme of cutting costs while maintaining a high level of city services. One of those services is trash collection, which has been a subject of debate for a few years.
Michael Harvey, appointed to council eight months ago after the departure of Anjanette Arabian Whitman, stated that not only cost needed to be considered, but the fact that an outside contractor would need to become familiar with the needs of the city. Harvey is a former chair of the city Planning Commission.
“We would very much like and want to keep the trash service,” stated incumbent Christopher Klym. He pointed out that the current use of scooters for backyard collection takes a $2.3 million chunk from the city budget each year, but only about $600,000 can be put aside annually for the program. Klym was appointed to council 21 months ago after the death of Jim Schieda shortly after his re-election.
Incumbent David Furry, seeking his fourth term, added, “We’re paying for a Cadillac when we can afford a Chevy.” He said the cost of new scooters runs about $36,000. “This is very near and dear to us, but it is a privilege,” he added.
Challenger Brian Sindelar commented that “the community has spoken” when it comes to support of the city-owned trash pickup. “We have to listen to what people want and look at other places to trim,” he stated.
All four candidates said they approved of collaboration as long as participating cities maintained their identities. Klym pointed out the difference between shared services, such as the wastewater treatment plant, and collaboration, like the Westshore joint dispatch center. “This doesn’t mean we will become a (single) Westshore government,” he stated.
The audience offered a few questions regarding the proposed income tax hike (from 1.5 to 2 percent), which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as Issue 58. “We hope the residents are well-informed. This is pivotal to the future of our community,” Mayor Pam Bobst said during her part of the program. Bobst will serve her fourth full term in office. She added that due to state and federal EPA mandates as well as state cuts, the city has trimmed its budget by more than $6 million since 2008.
As for the refuse issue, Bobst said that a community meeting is planned for January. She also refuted any claims that the majority of residents want to keep the current system, and would even be willing to pay for it. “The community did not tell us in one voice what they wanted. They are split,” she noted.
The importance of the income tax issue passage, which is to be used solely for capital improvement projects, was stressed by law Director Andrew Bemer, who has served for eight years. Pointing
out the elimination of the estate tax plus millions in mandated sewer work, he stated, “We have to make up the funds somehow. That’s what the income tax is for.”
That thought was echoed by Ward 4 Councilman John Shepherd. “There are a lot of ways we could use the money. It would be nice to pay more attention to the streets,” he stated. Shepherd will serve his fourth term and is unopposed as are Thomas Hunt (Ward 1), council President Jim Moran (Ward 2) and Michael O’Donnell (Ward 3).
Although many ordinances are unanimously approved by council, members pointed out that they do not always agree. “There isn’t a weak link on this council. We speak our minds and listen to each other,” Shepherd stated.
When questioned about council’s recently approved 20-percent raise for members, the councilmen pointed out that this was necessary to remain in the state retirement system. “The most important thing to remember is that this was not a vote for individual raises. This was a vote for appropriate compensation for the position,” Hunt explained.
Also present at the forum was municipal court clerk Deborah Comery, running for her second six-year term. She noted that her opponent, Jean Gallagher, was not present. In a statement, Gallagher said that her first act, if elected, would be an outside independent audit.
Comery listed her accomplishments, such as revamping of the court website, as well as the court’s self-sufficiency since 1997. She added that often, she receives calls for advice from other clerks. “I feel honored and I acknowledge this with sincere humility,” she stated.
Municipal Court Judge Brian Hagan, looking to his second six-year stint, said he was “excited to be unopposed” and looked upon his as a vote of confidence from his colleagues. He said that during his tenure, the court has put in place a “top-notch” community control program, which offers education and assistance to those suffering from addictions or mental issues.
Three school board members will also be unchallenged on the ballot, including Jon Fancher, Jay Milano and Kathleen Goepfert, who will all be serving their third terms. Goepfert, the only board member to attend the forum, said that she is committed to maintaining “the public-private partnerships” that have helped the district stay afloat in difficult times, as well as shared services.