By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. —
Ten candidates for four City Council seats and the mayor’s seat squared off on several issues Monday night during a public forum at the Baxter Springs Community Center.
Candidates were asked questions by some of the approximately 75 residents in attendance.
Questions centered around how to attract business to the downtown; what the candidates would do about unsightly properties in violation of the city code; and issues with the city-owned Internet system.
In the 1st Ward, Laurie Alquist is challenging incumbent Robert St. Clair, who has been on the council for about 20 years. He said he believes the Chamber of Commerce needs to get more involved with the development of the town, especially with the downtown business district.
He said the trash issue should improve because a large bin is now available at the city’s burn site at no charge. He also encouraged residents to recycle and said the city is considering having two cleanup days per year.
Alquist said she has seen the city deteriorate and wants to try a team effort at bringing it back.
“I have an open mind and am ready to dig in and do what is necessary to make it a good community,” she said, noting that she wants to beautify the downtown.
“I can’t really comment on the Internet other than it’s very slow,” she said. “I didn’t realize we had fiber optics.”
In the 2nd Ward, Cathy Skaggs Bolek is challenging incumbent Edwin Allen McAfee, who has served for seven years.
McAfee said he believes attracting businesses is not the role of the council, but should be done by the economic development committee.
He said he would like to keep the cable and Internet system. “That way we can keep it a low price for our elderly,” he said.
Bolek said the city has declined. She said she and her husband have invested in their downtown business, and she has specific ideas for how to welcome new business owners to Baxter Springs.
She said she’s frustrated with the amount of time it takes to get responses from current city officials, and she is skeptical about whether the city should be involved in the Internet and cable business.
In the 3rd Ward, Sherri K. Howey is challenging incumbent Gary W. Allen.
Allen said the age of the buildings downtown limits their attractiveness to prospective buyers, and he believes the economic development committee should be responsible for attracting tenants.
Howey said she has new visions and new ideas, including ways to make the downtown more attractive.
“Everybody’s talking about Galena,” she said. “We need some incentives; we need people to make sure contacts are made, to make sure emails are answered.”
In the 4th Ward, Sherry L. Brown is challenging incumbent Donnie Wade, who is completing his first term. He said he has done a lot of volunteer work and has a lot to offer. Wade said incentives or tax breaks might attract businesses and homebuyers or builders.
Brown said she is in favor of a full-blown forensic audit of the city so that the divide can heal and “we can move on. I think we kind of need to come together and do away with the dissension we have.”
In the race for mayor, Councilman Randall Trease is challenging interim Mayor Mike Kaufmann, who was appointed last fall to fill Jenifer Bingham’s unexpired term.
“Myself personally, I do not have an exact thing to tell you what is going to make businesses go into Baxter Springs,” Kaufmann said. “Our chamber can help assist in letting people know what our town has. My feelings are the City Council, that’s the business side of our town. Look for the economic development committee to take their expertise and search out and let people know what we have available.”
Trease said he believes the city owns too many properties.
“The last count I had was 62 or 66 properties,” he said. “We have 40 acres north of town, and we’re waiting for a business that needs a large tract of land. We’ve waited 23 years, and they haven’t shown up yet. How long are we going to hold on? The city’s got to turn loose of some of this property on the tax rolls; we’re not getting a dime off of it.”