The five candidates for two seats on the Gardner City Council took questions in separate mini-forums designed to allow more spontaneous answers on March 6. The Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.
Candidates Chris Benjamin and Tory Roberts were paired together and took questions first, while the remaining candidates – Randy Gregorcyk, Kristina Harrison, and Steve Shute – waited in a separate room. All candidates answered identical questions.
Benjamin and Roberts agreed that a top concern of residents is attracting new businesses.
“We need to get well-suited businesses into Gardner to help ease the tax burden,” Roberts said.
“You get new business in and they’re going to take the burden off of citizens,” he said.
When it was their turn, the other three candidates expressed similar concerns.
Gregorcyk said growth and jobs were important to him.
“Those are two issues I’m passionate about myself,” he told the audience of approximately 50 people.
Steve Shute said voters are telling him they want their taxes lowered, and that the best way to do that is by attracting big box retailers, small businesses and light-industrial to town.
Candidates were also asked what types of potential new businesses or industries would best compliment the community.
“I’m not going to exclude any business,” Roberts said.
Gregorcyk and Harrison said they’d like to see a second hotel in town. Harrison said the city’s ongoing vision process should answer some of those questions.
“Through the visioning process a lot of these decisions are going to occur,” she said.
Shute said he is an advocate for organic growth based on markets and not on a specific plan.
“What we need to do is be a cheerleader for our community,” Shute said. That means building bridges to entice companies to locate in Gardner. He said lowering existing tax rates would help.
Harrison added that there is a perception from the business community that it’s difficult to do business in Gardner. She said she’d like to make things like getting building permits easier.
“What internal processes do we have in place that make it difficult to go through?” she said.
All of the candidates talked about the importance of a thriving downtown.
“I’m one of the people who stay in Gardner all of the time,” Roberts said.
She said things like Festival on the Trails bring a lot of people downtown as well.
Gregorcyk said the community should find a niche.
“Whether it’s antiquing to encourage that hook,” he said of bringing people downtown. “we need to start from the inside out.”
Shute said high property taxes in Gardner, including those by the school district, make things difficult for downtown businesses. Business owners noticed higher tax rates even if citizens did not.
“It directly and devastatingly affected those businesses,” he said.
Citizens are largely pleased with parks and recreation services, the candidates agreed.
However, Harrison said when voters ask about building a community center, she asks what they’re willing to pay for it.
“Is it great enough for your taxes to go up $500 per year to pay for it?” she said. “I would support that if residents are willing to pay for it.”
Roberts and Shute both called Gardner’s recreation services a “crown jewel” of the community and said they utilize the services frequently.
Gardner voters will be asked to select two city council members on election day, April 2. Advance voting by mail begins March 13. Advance voting in person begins March 26. March 12 was the last day to register to vote.