About two dozen Riley County citizens gathered at the senior center Friday to hear district two and three county commission candidates deliver comments that often made it sound as if they agreed with one another.
They actually didn’t, as became clear at the end of the forum when one audience member asked the candidates to tell her what differentiated them from their opponent.
Second and third district Republicans Bob Boyd and Ron Wells cited their greater business experience. Both are retired, Boyd as a pilot and Wells from construction. Third district Democrat Rod Harms highlighted his management background and more collaborative approach. Second district Democrat Scott Seel, meanwhile, said he viewed himself as having a fundamentally different approach to government than Boyd.
Seel said he was willing to spend money today to keep from spending more in the future, something he suggested Boyd was less likely to do.
“A specific example is the sales tax on roads and bridges,” Seel said. “We have for 20 to 30 years neglected the repairs on roads and bridges — basic maintenance things that you have to do on your home to avoid bigger problems. I don’t want to do that any more. I am willing to spend a $1 today to save $5 tomorrow.”
Responding to an earlier question regarding county support for mass transportation, Boyd had identified the county’s role as being to support the existing system, but not necessarily fund it. He said that support could involve providing places to stop, signs or the ability to put up signs and a building to operate out of.
“If there is a demand, there will be a service,” Boyd said. “If there is no demand, there won’t be service.”
Seel went further than that, saying he thinks the county should pressure other local officials, notably Manhattan city commissioners, to provide more funding. He said the problem with the ATA bus system was that citizens don’t know a fixed system exists in Riley County. As more people became aware of it, he said, they would use it.
“If we go into Chili’s and ask the customers if they know if the ATA bus system exists, the answer will be overwhelmingly ‘no,’” Seel said. “But…it’s growing and we need to get on it now and not wait.”
Harms criticized those who hesitate to fund the system out of a fear that it won’t last.
Wells said he thought the mass transit was not functional in its current capacity and more efficient routes needed to be established, especially in the city. “The problem isn’t people getting to Manhattan; it’s right here in Manhattan,” he said.
Commissioners were also asked how they would handle the Wildcat Creek flooding issue.
Both Harms and Wells cited their experience in working on th issue over several years. Harms said he thought a watershed district would help. He said he has been working with people from the university and the county for three years on the problem. Wells said the county has installed water gauges on various bridges crossing the creek, but more needed to be done. He said that might be accomplished in any number of ways, and would seek out more advice from area experts on how to accomplish that task.
Candidates were asked about their thoughts on consolidation of city and county governments or services. Harms said consolidation would only occur through cooperation among city and county commissioners. Boyd said consolidation must be done with effective standards or not at all. Seel said he supported the concept of consolidation and a county manager in theory, but did not see it happening in application and said it was not an issue right now. Wells said the county has the best staff in the state, and thought it was also unnecessary to implement a county manager.