The race for the Riley County Commission District 1 seat is a contest of youth vs. experience between incumbent Dave Lewis and Ben Wilson, a Kansas State University student.
As incumbent Dave Lewis said, “I have lived in this county longer than he’s been alive.”
The two will face off in Tuesday’s Republican primary. There isn’t a Democratic or independent candidate.
Lewis said handling the county budget is a large task for someone who doesn’t have a lot of life experience.
“I don’t know if it’s right to trust that in the hands of someone who does not rent, own or pay property taxes,” Lewis said.
As a decision maker for the last four years, Lewis said the county has been more efficient and customer friendly.
“We have a very effective county government, and I’m proud to be a part of that,” he said.
Wilson pointed to fiscal policy as the area where he’s stronger than Lewis.
“The difference between us primarily is I’m going to be more fiscally conservative,” he said.
Wilson said Lewis has voted for property tax increases every year.
“I want to make sure our spending is careful and cost-effective in the long term,” he said.
County officials have discussed the ways county facilities — including the Riley County Courthouse, various county offices and parking — need expansion.
Lewis said county departments are out of space, and the courthouse will be too small once the expected addition of another district judge occurs.
“We don’t have any room in that courthouse,” he said.
Wilson said he knows county staff is asking for more space, but he’s concerned about a cost-effective long-term solution.
“I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion at this point we have to have a big new building that’s the fanciest in the county,” he said.
Something the county commission has considered to address the growth is the Public Building Commission. Wilson said Lewis supporting the Public Building Commission is a difference between the two candidates.
The county commission has discussed the building commission formation during the past year, which would allow county commissioners’ authorization to expand facilities without submitting matters to the public for a vote.
Wilson said he is concerned that the idea takes away checks and balances.
“I want to to keep as many safeguards in place as possible,” he said. “I’m a strong believer in having accountability in government.”
When dealing with future growth, Lewis said he wants to see development slowed in problem areas around Wildcat Creek.
“We have to stop building in those areas that can create problematic situations,” he said. “Rain water reacts differently to concrete than soil.” Overall, Lewis said dealing with flooding issues is important for the county’s future.
State legislators passed a bill that will begin the phasing out mortgage registration fees over a five-year period. Currently, counties can charge a fee based on the amount of the mortgage.
Lewis said he engaged with other county commissions across the state as well as the Legislature through testimony on mortgage registration fees.
“We have to continue to build our message that we are continually asked to do more with less,” he said. “That is a frustration felt statewide.”
Wilson said he has developed relationships with state legislators during his internship with Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby.
“One of the most important things moving forward is having a good relationship with legislators and making sure they know how legislation affects us,” he said.
The candidates pointed to government collaboration as a means for finding inefficiencies. Lewis said there aren’t a lot of areas in which collaboration between the county and city could work.
“The functions of the county and the city are quite a bit different,” he said. “There are really just a few departments where we can find inefficiencies.” Lewis said parks and recreation is an area where collaboration could be beneficial.
Wilson gave road crews as another example of how collaboration could work.
“We definitely need to be talking with other government agencies so we understand where they’re coming from,” he said.