Editor’s Note: Candidates were asked to respond in 50 words or less. Responses only a few words over the limit were edited. Responses with more than 10 words over the limit were cut at 50 words. We encourage readers to seek out candidate websites, fan pages on Facebook, and contact the candidates to learn more.
One candidate, Dustin Martin, was unable to complete the questionnaire due to the death of his father. Because of the extraordinary circumstances, we will run his questionnaire if we receive it prior to the April 5 election.
During that election, Gardner voters will be asked to choose three at-large candidates for the city council from eight on the ballot. The top three finishers will replace current council members Steve Hale, Dan Newburg and Todd Winters. No incumbents are seeking re-election.

1. In view of the city’s approximate $75,000 budget shortfall, what specific plan do you have to balance the budget, and how would you implement it?

Jeff Barber
The first thing that I’ll look at will be the City’s budget of positions hired versus total funded positions.  If I’m reading the budget correctly, it’s over by 14 positions.  The council would need the input from the City’s department leaders as to where those positions would come from.

Larry Fotovich
The city’s healthcare plan costs taxpayers as much as $810 per month per employee.  In contrast, USD 231’s healthcare subsidy is only $302 per teacher or administrator.  Requiring the use of Health Savings Accounts would save taxpayers $296,064 and employees between $2,100 and $3,600 per year.  See www.votefoto.org for details.

Chris Morrow
The city is also projecting a $200,000 budget shortfall for 2013. Therefore I would have the governing body direct the city administrator and all department heads to work with their staff to identify spending cuts in their budgets equaling 1 percent of their 2012 budget and 2 percent for the 2013 budget.

Dennis Pugh
The number was identified during the 2011 budgeting process last summer. It is very difficult to precisely identify revenue and expense required in 18 months. Like any budgeting process they are based on very broad assumptions. I expect staff to have identified spending needs with recommendations by the time budget…

Tory Roberts
Gardner is facing financial struggles, I think that there may need to be more interaction between the governing body and staff to tighten the purse strings and come in under budget.  We are spending tax money from Gardner residents, we have the responsibility to spend wisely and tackle the debt.

Bill Sutton
We need to look at a number of things to deal with the projected budget shortfall. I recommend using a ZBB (zero based budgeting) for all departments first, to determine what we really need to operate.  This would help to squeeze out any non-essential funding, if any exists.  Building was…

Jared Taylor
In the short term we need to cut expenses and contract out services that save the city money. I would also be in favor of raising the electric franchise fee in the short term. Long term we need grow our commercial base by growing sustainably and responsibly.

2.  The city recently increased property taxes by 6.5 mills. Officials said they intend to roll that back in the next few years. Would you support plans to roll back the increase? Why or why not?

Jeff Barber
I would not roll this back. I would use it to pay off the existing debt.  According to the City’s website, Gardner has an outstanding indebtedness of $91,032,768 in 2010.

Larry Fotovich
Yes.  Property taxes affect a homebuyer’s monthly mortgage payment and maximum loan eligibility.  High property tax rates—especially when combined with high gas prices—can dramatically lower home prices in outlying towns like Gardner.  Lower appraised values require even greater tax hikes resulting in a self-sustaining deflationary price spiral.

Chris Morrow
I support plans to roll back the increase. Gardner has gone many years with a mill levy that is roughly 2/3 of the one which we currently face. Our current increase exists primarily due to loss of revenue from now defunct developers. Roll back the increase as soon as possible.

Dennis Pugh
The increase was to the bond and interest fund. I anticipate rolling back the increase as financial stability allows.

Tory Roberts
I would support the rollback of the property tax increase.

Bill Sutton
YES!  I’m always in favor of tax reduction, particularly property taxes, which serve to stifle economic activity.

Jared Taylor
I commit to rolling back the 6.5 mill increase we received. I believe we can find additional budget savings to save the tax payers hard earned money.

3. Gardner has abated $17.1 million in taxes; an additional $37 million has been abated at New Century; and Walmart’s sales taxes and property taxes are used to finance its infrastructure. The city’s current abatement policy makes 60 percent abatements standard. As a steward of taxpayer’s money, what incentives do you support?

Jeff Barber
I certainly do not support 60 percent.  I do think if large firms would like to come to Gardner, all negotiations should be “on the table” and open to the public.  I do not feel giving a 60 percent tax abatement “diversifies” our tax base.

Larry Fotovich
Economic development incentives transfer wealth from residential property owners and small businesses to large out-of-town corporations and developers.  Recent research indicates there is no correlation between incentives and job creation or retention.  Any incentive should have verifiable financial benefits to residents with “claw-back” provisions if those benchmarks aren’t met.

Chris Morrow
One of the core principles of my campaign is reasonable, responsible, and sustainable growth. Financing options may include TIF’s, as well as the establishment of Benefit Districts, and also Tax Abatements, however,  what matters most is that these projects benefit all of Gardner’s citizens, and not just the project’s stakeholders.

Dennis Pugh
I support incentives that keep Gardner competitive and allow Gardner the opportunity to grow its commercial base. Each project must be viewed on its own merit for its benefit to Gardner and it must meet all elements of state statute.

Tory Roberts
If Gardner wants to compete with surrounding cities, fix our tarnished reputation in the business and development communities and decrease the city mil levy, the 60 percent abatement policy is needed.

Bill Sutton
Abatements are tough.  On the one hand, everyone offers them, so it’s necessary to compete.  On the other hand, there’s no reason some businesses would need to stay in Gardner once their abatement is expired.  I think we need to look at abatements on a case by case basis, rather…

Jared Taylor
I support closely debated and studied abatements that bring sustainable and responsible growth to our community.  I think we need to be more creative in how we court business into our city like using our electric utility as an incentive to encourage new business growth.

4. Some residents have complained the city dissuades the free flow of information through an ordinance that unfairly bills them for overhead costs, which are already paid by taxes. What do you believe a fair record copy cost is?

Jeff Barber
I understand the cost is $1 for the first page and $.50 for each page, after.  Depending on the amount of research involved, an hourly rate for the staffer may be added.  This information is communicated up front. I think that is a fair charge.

Larry Fotovich
The real question should be, “Why did the city begin charging copy fees of $1.00 per page?”   Were hundreds of man-hours and thousands of copies being given away each year?  If the law was created before a significant problem was documented, then I too would question its real motive.

Chris Morrow
The city certainly has an accurate cost of a photocopy, and that cost should be the price of obtaining a copy of a record. While the time and effort of city staff shouldn’t be abused, costs established in section 2.45 of the Gardner Municipal Code are overly burdensome.

Dennis Pugh
The city has always been open and responsive with information. I assume this question takes exception to the allowance by state statute to charge for time and copying costs for record requests. Based on my discussions with city staff, it is very rare that any charges are assessed for requests.

Tory Roberts
All record request transactions that are electronically should be no charge.  If hard copies are needed, then a minimal fee per copy should be charged.  Staff time shouldn’t be charged if the information requested is onsite. If information is offsite, then a minimal fee for staff time should be charged.

Bill Sutton
In an ideal world copy costs should be next to zero.  Unfortunately, we live in a world in which a very few people can keep several employees from ever performing their work through repeated FOIA or record research requests.For the sake of those few, copy costs have to be set…

Jared Taylor
All fees should only recuperate “real” costs. The fees dissuade frivolous requests that have a cost associated with the researching it takes to answer the request. If a citizen cannot afford the fee the city should, on a case by case basis, help the citizen with the required fee.

5. As this questionnaire was drafted, city officials are considering updates to city property codes. Should the proposed codes be adopted. If so, why? If not, what, if anything should be changed or updated in the property code?

Jeff Barber
I feel that none should be adopted.  I think the existing code is fine as it is, without the additions.

Larry Fotovich
The new rules give public officials the license to terrorize residents and business owners who disagree with their policies.  The cost of the judge and city attorney will likely exceed the expected revenue from the fine.  This a perfect plan for bigger and more expensive government.

Chris Morrow
The proposed code as currently written should not be adopted, at least not by the current council, but, our property codes require updating. Perhaps it could be revised and adopted by the new council instead. My opinion is that changes should begin by making it much easier to understand.

Dennis Pugh
The city has not had comprehensive property maintenance codes. My review of the codes proposed did not show any that were particularly onerous or unreasonable.

Tory Roberts
I support the updates to the city property codes.  I think they are a good guide for the residents.  To keep Gardner a great place to live, work and play we need these updates to allow for continued pride in our city.

Bill Sutton
Overall, the property code changes are fine.  There’s nothing there that’s greatly different from any other decent sized town.  I was a little alarmed at the thought of code enforcers demanding entry to my house.  I’d never be in support of such a law and the judicial system has my…

Jared Taylor
I like the language changes that limit the authority of the City to enter onto personal property. My motto is “does it make common sense.” Most of the changes make sense. The updated codes don’t seem unduly restrictive on personal freedoms and will help bring our code up to date.

6. Kansas House Bill 2294, which passed out of committee but is unlikely to be debated on the floor, restricts a cities’ ability to unilaterally annex rural, private property. Do you support this bill? Why or why not?

Jeff Barber
This bill removes the rights of private land owners.  This would allow a city and its voters to have a say over a smaller group or private land owner, to annex that land into a City.  I would not support this due to the removal of personal right.

Larry Fotovich
I’m not in favor of opportunistic land grabs by cities wanting to expand their tax base, but I also don’t believe individual property owners should be able to escape legitimate annexation when the county faces a financial burden that could be better served with city services.

Chris Morrow
I’ve discussed this issue with many people including State Representative Steve Huebert whose committee sponsored this bill, County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert, County Commissioner Calvin Hayden, Mayor Drovetta, and others. I’ve also read the Bill, and I support it, and the rights of the property owners it’s meant to protect.

Dennis Pugh
The city’s legislative agenda stated that annexation statutes are sufficient to protect city residents and county residents. They already restrict a city’s ability to unilaterally annex property. As a councilmember I have to represent the interest of city residents and therefore support leaving the statutes as written.

Tory Roberts
No, I do not support Bill 2294 as it is too restrictive and is not needed.

Bill Sutton
I support HB2294.  I think we can all agree that unilateral annexation/de-annexation has been less than kind to our town.  Also, the bill permits the residents of land under the jurisdiction of the county to vote to decide annexation status.  Giving people a say is something that I always support.

Jared Taylor
I am in favor of more citizen control over the intrusion of government. This bill in my estimation allows citizens to put a check on unilateral annexations and allows affected citizens to vote on the matter and therefore I would be in favor of it.

7. What steps should Gardner elected officials take in reaching annexation agreements with the city of Edgerton?

Jeff Barber
As far as I’m concerned, Edgerton and BNSF should be fully responsible for the funding and construction of any municipalities.

Larry Fotovich
We should seek annexation agreements that maximize our western boundary and minimize Edgerton’s eastern expansion.  However, I don’t know how we can do this when the mayor of Edgerton is the water plant supervisor for the city of Gardner and may be privy to confidential information which could compromise negotiations.

Chris Morrow
Gardner and Edgerton must work together and treat each other fairly in deciding annexation boundaries and this will require a fresh group of faces representing each side when talks resume. Together we must begin again with a realization that cooperative coexistence is in the best interest of both entities.

Dennis Pugh
Annexation agreements allow for orderly growth and provide developers with guidance regarding their annexation requests. Based on what I have seen, Gardner has made a reasonable proposal to Edgerton.

Tory Roberts
I support amicable talks between Gardner and Edgerton to come up with suitable boundaries.  I think Gardner would have to proceed very cautiously with taking on more debt.

Bill Sutton
Tough call.  We need to work together on this project, because I’m not sure either community has the resources necessary for the infrastructure required.  Together, maybe we can figure this out to an end that will be beneficial for both our communities.

Jared Taylor
We must protect our ability to grow and expand while also playing good neighbor. I look forward to a healthy and cooperative partnership with Edgerton as our two cities manage this growth stage.

8. Stewart Fairburn, who served as city administrator for 10 years, tendered his resignation. What qualities do you believe are important for the new administrator to have?

Jeff Barber
I would like him/her to act upon the taxpayer’s best interest in financing projects, whether it is improving upon, or adding new projects.  I’d like him/her to have experience and to show what their past performance has been in their previous city’s budget.

Larry Fotovich
I am looking for honesty, competence and a past record of resident-focused success in another city.

Chris Morrow
A proven track record of easily verifiable results. Experience building, maintaining, and managing the ongoing processes of a growing city. Demonstrated excellence in budget management and innovative planning across all departments. Proven leadership and management of community growth including previous success attracting and maintaining sustainable development.

Dennis Pugh
The new administrator should have experience managing a city that has had growth, preferably a city larger than Gardner since we anticipate continued growth. In addition to a keen understanding of municipal management, the administrator should be a person skilled at working with all levels in and outside the organization.

Tory Roberts
I would look for past experience, forward thinking, conversant on issues that will impact Gardner presently and in the future.  Gardner needs someone who can address the growing pains and gains that face a city the size of Gardner, now and beyond.

Bill Sutton
Most important job qualification:  Never blown a budget!

Jared Taylor
Our new administrator must have experience managing a growth community and have a strong public financial background to deal with our budget constraints. Hiring a competent City Administrator in a city of our size is a vital and important decision.

9. Charter ordinances that give the mayor sole authority over appointments and putting things on the agenda. Do you believe the system should be changed? How?

Jeff Barber
According Charter Ordinance #7, Sections 2 and 3, and Charter Ordinance #19, Section 3, and 5, the Mayor by, and with the advice and consent of the remaining Council members may establish rules of procedures for the appointment, removal and other conditions of employment for as many officers and employees.

Larry Fotovich
Charter ordinances exempt the city from following Kansas statutes.  The only reason they are enacted is to give the mayor and council special powers that undermine the democratic process established by the state to protect residents.  Most of these should be repealed.

Chris Morrow
The mayor should make appointments; however, the appointment process should be amended. A mayoral appointee deserves a simple up or down vote of approval. This would require a charter ordinance exemption be made for KS Statute 12-16-168.
I believe council members should be able to add items to the agenda.

Dennis Pugh
The mayor does not have sole authority over appointments, had that been the case then I would have been appointed to fill the remaining term of Mayor Drovetta’s council seat. The current ordinance follows state statute in that the Mayor appoints with council approval

Tory Roberts
The open position should be posted for all interested to apply.  The applications should be reviewed by the governing body and interviews to be done by the Governing body.  The entire process should be open and communicated to the residents and their input should also be considered in the selection.

Bill Sutton
I think it’s a good idea for appointments to be approved by the Council, if for no other reason than to maintain a transparent process.  This would also protect the mayor from the inevitable backlash caused by unilateral appointments.

Jared Taylor
The appointment process should be a simple up and down vote that give transparency to the voters. No appointed term should last longer than the next general municipal election so as to allow the voters elected representation as soon as possible.

12. What other changes, if any, should be made to the way Gardner is governed?

Jeff Barber
I do support the idea of changing our Council Seats from an “At Large” election to drawing district lines.  I feel that it is worth looking into, as each area of our city thinks differently on areas of concern as they are relevant to the area that they live in.

Larry Fotovich
The city should require three sealed bids for all city contracts and full disclosure by any organization that receives economic development money.  During council meetings, citizens should be allowed to comment on every new business item that requires a vote before the vote is taken.

Chris Morrow
Begin recording city council meetings and work sessions and make them available on the city website. Establish more citizen boards and committees to ensure more of city hall’s decisions are motivated by citizen’s opinions. Combine city water/wastewater operations with Gardner Electric operations and form a new Board of Public Utility.