(BEDFORD) - Bedford's mayoral candidates spoke about infrastructure, taxes, jobs and quality of life here in Bedford during Thursday night's mayoral candidate forum.
Mayor Shawna Girgis and Republican Rick Butterfield answered seven facilitator questions and then five questions from the audience. The answer to each had a similar tone - what they could do to enhance the quality of life for residents of Bedford.
More than 100 people showed up to listen to candidates face off in the political forum sponsored by the Bedford Chamber of Commerce, the Times-Mail and WBIW 1340 AM. The forum will air tonight on WBIW 1340 at 5 p.m. and on Nov. 7th at 7 p.m. It will also be shown on the Star Channel : Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 3 a.m., 7 a.m., 3p.m., 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each question.
1. What are the most critical issues that the city of Bedford is currently facing?
Both candidates believed it was jobs.
Butterfield said he would return the voice of the people back to them. He said residents are not being heard and that one person is running the show. He believes the community needs united and the voices of the people heard.
Girgis believes economic development will bring jobs to the city, but with jobs Bedford needed a trained and ready workforce. She believes businesses will be attracted to Bedford with improved infrastructure.
2. Municipalities across the state have been greatly affected by property tax caps. Knowing the city has made cuts to adjust, what other action will be required going forward?
Girgis said Bedford has seen lean economic times, but she has developed new practices that created savings and fiscal responsibility. One example was saving the city more than a $1 million in insurance. The city has implemented paying city utilities online and other efforts while has improved the credit rating by Standard and Poor's at a time when the federal government's credit rating is at its worst.
Butterfield said grants are a key in keeping Bedford going. He said that if he is elected that he would seek every grant possible. He said the city's infrastructure is so outdated that no new business would want to come to Bedford because the current infrastructure could not support its needs. He noted that small business owners need the city's support and that the current administration is not addressing those needs. Butterfield is also concerned about the city's budget. "You can't spend what you don't have to spend," he said.
3. How can you, as mayor, contribute to the retention and expansion of businesses within the city?
Butterfield said the key is infrastructure. He said that businesses can't come here because the current system does not support their needs. He believes the best way to attract new business is to target small businesses. Butterfield said that is the key to getting people back to work. He also believes in passing contract work around. He discussed not giving contract work the same business but rather scatter the jobs around and that will keep the small businesses going. Butterfield said that every penny counts to them; it's just common sense. He also noted that the money will stay here and be spent here in taxes and other ways.
Girgis said her team helps new business anyway they can like with tax abatements. She said that her office finds out their plans and develops ways to help. She also stated that new jobs have come to Bedford. General Motors announced $200 million in new investments and is adding 303 new jobs. Visteon, now the East Gate Business and Technology Center, employs 450 people including 119 new jobs that support NSWC Crane.
4. What can the city do to enhance the struggling downtown area?
Girgis said her office is in the process of developing a renovation plan and preservation plan to bring life to the downtown area. She said that the city is also seeking grant funding to help restore the downtown area. She pointed out that tourism activities are also a key. Girgis mentioned several of the activities that take place on the courthouse lawn and how great it is to see families gathering on the lawn.
Butterfield said no one has talked to the downtown businesses to see what the problems are that they face. He said that parking is a huge issue. He also stated that no one is addressing the two hour parking limits. He said businesses on the east side are facing flooding issues. Butterfield said that government officials can talk all they want, but that talk is cheap and actions are not being taken to correct the problems.
5. Which city departments, if any, are in most need of an overhaul?
Butterfield said each department needs looked at and issues need to be addressed. He also said multitasking needs to be used, making city employees more valuable. He noted that employees are currently stuck and can not make lateral moves because of pay. Butterfield is also concerned about the police department. He believes they need their own building away from City Hall. He spoke about the building falling apart and says that it wasn't good enough for a fire department and that it's not good enough for the police department either. "Something should have been done years ago," he says.
Girgis says she has looked at each department, taken them apart and re-assembled them, making them better. One example she used was the street department and how it is now better and smarter. She said everyone who has a CDL license is put to work cleaning city streets, reducing over-time hours during winter storms. She also addressed the police department and said that the city just doesn't have the money to move them to a new building. She did note that it is an ongoing concern at her office.
6. How would you collaborate with other local and regional businesses to help advance the interests of Bedford?
Girgis said she is working with the White River Port Authorities and has been working with Mitchell Mayor Dan Terrell and the Growth Council to bring life back to the railroad. "If businesses don't have access they won't come," she said. "And if that doesn't work then we scrap it for more then what we paid for the rails."
Butterfield said infrastructure is the key. Small businesses should be our target. Big business is good, but when they are granted tax abatements it needs to be checked regularly to see they are abiding by the agreement. The tax abatements are being handed out too freely, he said. "It needs to be checked every six months to a year," he said.
7. What are your priorities for enhancing the quality of life for residents of Bedford?
Butterfield said he will clean the city up and that the trash tax was not set up fair and is out of hand. "This will be the first thing I look at - to reduce or stop this tax." He said that the tax should have been set up by the bag to where it would be fair for all. He noted that this would also force recycling and would eliminate more than half of the trash going to the transfer station.
Girgis said the current trash pick up system is the best and safest. She has also planned for Bedford's future by developing the first comprehensive plan for the city. It was developed with a large cross-section of residents including BNL high school students. She said those students want to stay in Bedford but that they need the jobs to support their families. Girgis said that the city is working toward those results.
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