Four candidates for the Riley County Commission dealt with questions ranging from Wildcat Creek to sales tax policy at the Chamber of Commerce forum at the Manhattan Arts Center Monday night. Here’s a synopsis of candidate replies.
Sales tax initiative
All the candidates expressed support for the sales tax initiative on the November ballot. The real difference came in what to do if the initiative fails.
Scott Seel, the Democratic candidate for district two, said that tax is “not a want, but a need,” and added he would consider all options if the tax wasn’t passed. His Republican opponent, Robert Boyd, said there would be a “significant [financial] strain,” if that tax didn’t pass. But Boyd added that raising property tax wouldn’t be the immediate solution to fixing the sales tax problem, although he said it could be a long-term solution.
Ron Wells, the Republican candidate in district three, said that if the tax doesn’t pass he has a two-year plan that looks at using existing funds for road and bridge maintenance. After those two years are over, he would come to the public with a new quarter cent sales tax proposal.
Rod Harms, the Democratic candidate for district three, said his decision would be based on the cash flow into the county. He characterized Riley County as a growing community.
The candidates all were excited to see both the county and the city agree on the expanded 4a map for the metropolitan planning area, a map that includes parts of Fort Riley, Ogden and Junction City.
“The airport is a catchment area,” Harms said. “Its area reaches far beyond Manhattan and Junction City.”
Wells wanted to remind people that the MPO just isn’t about transportation. “It involves history, aviation and marine,” he said.
Boyd and Seel were both extremely happy to see cooperation within the region.
“We are sharing power and control,” Boyd said. “But that’s what Kansans do. We all have a stake in this and we all benefit.”
Seel, although supportive, gave a word of caution to the crowd. “We need to be able to hold our elected officials accountable,” Seel said about future members of the MPO board. “They need to leave their egos at the door and consider how does this benefits everyone.”
The candidates had their own opinions on the housing market and the taxes that go along with it.
Harms found the market to be doing well and didn’t view the ad valorem levy to be a problem at this point. Wells disagreed.
“I think there is a greater commercial property need,” Wells said. He said that because of the growth in the area he did not believe that the levy wouldn’t need to be raised any time soon. At the forum, Wells said that if at some time he did have to raise taxes, he would look at raising the commercial tax rate. He acknowledged after the forum, however, that state law would not allow him to do raise the levy only on one class of property.
Boyd reiterated his position of wanting to keep property taxes as low as possible. As far as new plots are concerned, he said “it’s better to have a need for plots than homes just sitting there.”
Seel said the levy will depend a lot on supply and demand and where the tax money is going. “Our housing market is higher than in any county in the state,” Seel said. “People focus a lot on the raw number but people just want their taxes to go somewhere. They want to see a return for their investment.”
All four candidates had a lot to say about the Wildcat Creek area, mostly in relation to flooding near the creek.
“I’ve been working on the flooding issue for 20 to 30 years,” Wells said. He said he would like to see the Wildcat Working Group become more consistent and would also like to be part of it if he was elected.
Harms said major work has been done to the creek to help reduce flooding.
“There have been three gauges added to warn in advance for flooding,” Harms said. He noted that the gauges are providing data to help learn about the creek and how to go forward on the flooding issue.
Boyd admitted that he had very little information about the creek but said he would want to employ experts to figure out how to solve the issue.
“We need to watch it and control it,” Boyd said.
Seel pushed to have cooperation between the city and the county on the flooding issue.
“It doesn’t matter what happened in the past,” Seel said. “We need to work with people and get an agreeable solution.” Seel said the two can decide where the problem started after they reached a solution.
The next county forum will be Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. at the Manhattan Seniors Center.