Growth, planning for the future and ensuring fairness for all residents are the most important issues facing the city, 13 city commission candidates said Monday.
In a debate sponsored by the North Lawrence Improvement Assn., candidates responded to questions on topics ranging from floodplain regulations in North Lawrence to whether the sister city program was a good idea.
David Gramly was the lone candidate not in attendance; he also missed a Feb. 11 candidates forum.
Nearly all candidates in attendance agreed that the most important issue was how Lawrence would grow during the next 25 years, but some candidates disagreed.
"To me, it's just fairness," said Dee Weismiller. She drew murmurs of approval as she called for fairness in enforcement of zoning and other city regulations and a redirection of city funds from expansion of new subdivisions and other areas to maintenance of older neighborhoods.
PAUL HORVATH said he was most concerned about recent increases in Lawrence's crime rate.
David Penny, one of two incumbents running, said he was concerned about taxes.
"My interest in city government has doubled while I've been a commissioner," he said, because his residential property taxes have doubled during that period.
John Nalbandian said he supported growth that also would enhance the sense of community. He used the Riverfront Plaza as an example, saying that although its economic viability still was being tested, it was bringing residents together to enjoy the riverfront, one of Lawrence's great natural resources.
Penny responded that the city had invested nearly $9 million for the shopping center and that money would have been better spent on other improvements needed in the city.
ROBERT JOHN and Fred Markham responded to a question about the proposed Eastern Parkway by saying the city has failed to devise a plan for the roadway.
"The city commission didn't follow through so now a decision has been made and the citizens will have to live with it," Markham said.
Nalbandian called "very premature" Mark Bernstein's proposal to build a new bridge across the Kansas River to connect the parkway to North Lawrence.
"A lot of this discussion seems to be from people who really don't understand," he said. A bridge is in the long-range plans for the parkway, he said, and, "There was considerable deliberation and concern that has gone into that, and we need to respect that."
Some candidates seemed to be caught off guard by a question regarding floodplain regulations in North Lawrence, but Bob Schumm, the other incumbent running to retain his seat, told residents Lawrence is governed by federal floodplain regulations and the city must comply.
NALBANDIAN said the city had a choice in the matter.
"We have to conform to federal regulations or you can't buy flood insurance," he said.
Penny and Markham said the city should try to force a change in the federal regulations.
Paul Justus used the question as an example of his thoughts on how growth should be governed. He said such areas as floodplains would not be developed in an ecologically-sustainable growth pattern.
John said North Lawrence simply had a drainage problem that the city should address with capital improvements.
Bernstein responded to a question about using tax abatements to attract new business, and said Lawrence had one of the highest mill rate levies in the state. He added that many of the jobs brought to Lawrence with tax abatements would have come anyway.
Schumm questioned the assertion with a shake of his head.
IN RESPONSE to the question about the sister cities program, Nalbandian said the expense seemed small as a part of the entire budget when compared with the potential benefits.
Schulte, Bernstein, Heckler and Justus said if the program was found to deliver adequate benefits, its expense would be justified.
Schumm and Penny supported the program, and Schumm said he had taken part in the trips at his own expense.
"To some people, that may not sound like much, but to somebody like me, that is three months' wages," Weismiller said of the estimated $5,000 the program has cost the city.
Horvath recommended that one of the companies awarded a tax abatement should pay for the trips and allow other residents outside city government to go.
John said, "I am going to take a trip to Germany or Japan at the public expense only when everybody else in Lawrence does. Until then, I will be right here."