Three of the four candidates for seats on the Edgerton City Council largely agreed on the issues facing their community during a forum Tuesday evening. Candidates Frances Cross, Ken Gillespie and Clay Longanecker answered a variety of questions during the Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce event at Edgerton Elementary School. Candidate Jody Brown did not attend.
Edgerton voters will elect three council members at-large from four candidates on April 5. The winners will serve four-year terms.
With an audience of approximately 20 people, the trio took questions from Chamber President
Steve Devore for one hour. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer.
Cross told voters she has lived in Edgerton for more than 30 years, and served on the council as mayor and as a member for 13 years. She did not seek re-election in 2009.
“I had some things I needed to take care of,” she told the crowd.
Gillespie is a lifelong resident of the area growing up on the outskirts of town. He was appointed by former Mayor Cross.
“I would like to continue to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us and grow in a responsible manner,” he said.
Longanecker also is a lifelong resident of the area and has served on the council for two terms.
“We’ve got a lot of things going right now,” he said. “It’s an exciting time, and I’d like to see it all come together.”
After a brief introductory statements, asked a series of questions – many from audience members.
What services should community members and businesses be entitled to receive in return for their tax dollars?
Gillespie said community members are entitled to quality infrastructure and city staff that performs diligently.
“Tax dollars should be spent on the best practices we can use,” he said.
Longanecker and Cross both agreed that quality public infrastructure is a necessity, and the pair both stressed their desire to not raise taxes.
“I’ve always been against more taxes,” Longanecker said. “We’re higher than others, and I’m not sure we get more for those dollars. But we have pretty good services.”
Cross said she is also not a fan of increasing taxes.
“We need to provide quality water, sewer, roads and try to keep things fixed up and not let them fall apart,” she said. “And I think the city should have knowledgeable staff that can answer questions for members of the community.”
Edgerton has highest tax level in Johnson County. USD 231 has proposed a new school bond. How would you offset a potential school increase?
Longanecker said although Edgerton’s taxes are high, the city is still running in the black. “If we lower the mill levy, the intermodal will pay lower and they’re paying for infrastructure. Hopefully in the next year or two, we will be able to cut the tax bill. But the school is always going to want more money, and I don’t know how you battle that.”
Cross said quality schools are important to the community.
“When I left as Mayor, we annexed the KCP&L substation,” she said. “We were going to use that to reduce the tax rate for our citizens. I was shocked when that didn’t happen.”
Gillespie said council members created a trash subsidy that lowered waste service bills rather than cut taxes. He said his numbers were off the cuff, but he recalls lowering the trash rate the equivalent of 6 mills.
“Had we lowered the mill levy, it would have been 2 mills,” he said. “The biggest thing we can do is use tax dollars wisely and efficiently, and make sure not to raise the mill levy.”
The intermodal site is the focus of economic development What are your thoughts on promoting other locations and which businesses would you target?
Cross said it’d be nice to attract conveniences like grocery stores and restaurants to the city.
“I think those will come with the intermodal,” she said. “… It would be nice if it’s well-rounded (growth) and some retail things and not just manufacturing.”
Gillespie said residents need to realize the intermodal will be the driving force in new growth in Edgerton.
“Anything that comes from this point forward will be because of the intermodal,” he said.
North of U.S. 56 Highway could see some enhancements, and he said the council discussed downtown revitalization.
Longanecker said he believes future growth will occur on Homestead. Typically, businesses target the areas they want.
“I imagine a lot of businesses we’re expecting are going to head towards Gardner,” he said. “It’d be nice to say we’d like a grocery store and things like that. We’ll have to see what comes along.”
The new city council will need to fill the vacant city administrator job. What do you see is the relationship between the city administrator and the city council?
Gillespie said the current council is pursuing policy governance.
“The council will set policies that the city administrator needs to follow,” he said. “It’s letting the council be visionaries and let the city administrator do day-to-day tasks.”
Longanecker said during the last eight years, the council has dealt with a lot of strange things.
“Dogs. Employees. I don’t know how to run a sewer plant or build roads, and I’m not going to tell them the right way,” he said.
The policy governance system will dictate what the council wants done, and the city administrator will implement it, Longanecker said.
When the council hired its first administrator a few years ago, they had no idea what an administrator was supposed to do, he explained.
“Now we know what we’re looking for and have a good chance of hiring the right administrator,” he said.
Cross said policy governance is a good idea.
“It all depends on the (city administrator) candidates themselves and where their specialties are,” she said. “We need to look at candidates and see if they have the potential to be a leader…
It’s important for the city administrator and council to understand policies and what we want them to do.”
If you could only enact one policy in the next four years, what would it be and how would you implement it?
Longanecker said he’s pleased with the trash service subsidy that the council adopted last year to lower residents’ bills.
“I would like to see the intermodal take off, and see it happen how we planned it out,” he said. “That’s going to take more than four years.” He said how that occurs will be reliant on the contract, but once the intermodal development is up and running, he’d also like to see a swimming pool and other amenities.
“But I’m not going to raise taxes to do it,” he said.
Cross said there are a lot of opportunities for the city right now, but ensuring the intermodal transpires as planned should be the council’s focus.
“I’d still like to see a community center, when we can afford to do that. It’s always been on the back burner in my mind,” she said.
Gillespie agreed that the intermodal will need to be front and center. He said he’d like to use his experience as a professional engineer to help set the policies to get the intermodal development functioning.
“If we can do that, the community center, the swimming pools, that will come without raising the mill levy,” he said.
Assessed valuations dropped an average of 3 percent. What will be the negative effects of that and what can be done to offset those?
“It’s not just the city of Edgerton where (property values) are dropping,” Cross said. “It’s everywhere.” She said city officials should focus on keeping the community looking nice.
“We need to remain attractive to invite people to our city,” Cross stated.
Gillespie agreed that the council needs to keep the city in top condition. However, he said the council won’t be able to do much in the face of declining property values.
“KCP&L was a saving grace to us,” he explained. “The money we receive from KCP&L and the intermodal will go down because of lower assessed values. We have a few areas that could be taken care of better.”
Longanecker said he’s concerned that lower property values also affect the school district.
“Which is going to make them want to raise taxes,” he said. “Keeping our town clean, that’s an important thing and to draw growth as much as possible.”
Edgerton offered intermodal warehouses 75 percent abatements. Do you support abatements? What criteria would you use to offer 50 percent abatements or more?
“I wish no one ever came up with the concept of abatements,” Gillespie said. However, because other cities are using them, Edgerton must also to remain competitive and attract businesses.
The 75 percent abatement was a unique situation, he explained.
How much of an abatement Gillespie would offer would be dependent on how much infrastructure would be required by a new development. He said 50 to 60 percent abatements are reasonable.
“Either they’re going to build infrastructure; the city needs to build it or (businesses) are not going to come,” he said.
Longanecker said if Edgerton doesn’t offer abatements to bigger businesses, Gardner is right there.
“I don’t want to give away all of our tax dollars,” he said. “But sometimes the money a business is going to bring in is worth giving them a little. If you tell them no abatement, you get no business.”
“I’m not the biggest fan of abatements, but to stay competitive, we’ve got to give them,” she said.
Edgerton currently employs six people. Do you see a need for more employees? If so, in what area?
Longanecker said the city has plenty of employees, however he said a new city administrator will give council members a better idea of whether more are needed.
“I can’t be at city hall,” he said. The city superintendent has been given the opportunity to hire more people and has yet to do it, Longanecker said. In the summer, they may need more people for mowing and park maintenance.
“At city hall, they’ve been handling it so far,” he said. “I don’t know that I’d be able to answer that question truthfully.”
Cross said the city is operating the best it can right now.
“We lost an employee that was very knowledgeable,” she said. “If (current employees) use their time wisely, we’ll be OK. The new city administrator should be the one to evaluate and see if they need to fix problems – if they’re having problems.”
Gillespie said the city is staffed pretty well.
“Some efficiencies may need to be worked out,” he said. For example, city officials have spoken to Water No. 7 to see about transferring services to them, and they’ve talked about transferring water billing to them as well.
“That alleviates the need for another office staff,” he said. “Some professional staff may be needed in the next several years with the intermodal.”
Edgerton is in a unique position with the intermodal. Should the city generate more revenue than expenses, how should the additional funds be used?
Cross said that kind of depends.
“The sewer needs to be updated. Maybe a community center or a swimming pool,” she said.
Gillespie said additional revenue attracts even more revenue.
“We’ve got existing infrastructure that’s needing a lot of help,” he said. “We need to get that into shape.”
Longanecker agreed that the city needs to reinvest in existing infrastructure.
“We have really old sewers,” he said. “When they break down in the middle of the night and half the town is without, that’s a problem.”
What is the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the city of Edgerton?
Gillespie said he commends the former city administrator David Dillner and the city’s staff for tackling the intermodal development.
As a weakness, he said the city has a knowledge problem.
“We need to have knowledge so staff can handle what we have now, and what we have coming to us,” he said.
Longanecker said the city’s weakness right now is the lack of a city administrator. “The interim city administrator, he worked for Johnson County, he’s got a way with people,” Longanecker said. “If we could find a younger him that wasn’t retired, I’d hire him.”
The community’s greatest strength, Longanecker said, is that Edgerton is a close-knit town.
“People seem to get along here a lot better than they do in other towns,” he said. “It almost makes you feel wanted.”
Cross said having a Mayor and council who care about the community is one of Edgerton’s greatest assets.
“That’s very inviting to someone looking for somewhere to raise kids,” she said. “They get a real welcoming feeling.”
However, she said there’s a communication problem within the city government itself.
“That really needs to be strengthened and a new city administrator can help us do that,” she said.
What options would you use to attract and maintain businesses in town?
Longanecker said there are a lot of things that attract businesses to Edgerton, but the small number of people who call Edgerton home is a challenge for businesses. He said businesses are attracted by traffic. For example, he said he helped build a convenience store and gas station on the south side of Gardner.
“They tried to get a fast food place in there,” he said. “No one was interested, because of the traffic counts. I think that will change once the economy starts opening up.”
Cross said she always hears something similar.
“Once the population gets there, it will come,” she said. Residents today can help, though, by frequenting smaller, mom-and-pop businesses in Edgerton.
“It comes down to the people of Edgerton supporting it,” she said. “We’ve got to be able to support them. I know it’s tough in this economy, but when we do have something, we need to support them.”
Gillespie said the city doesn’t have enough rooftops right now.
“I think we’ve all seen the signs at the convenience store that says, ‘we don’t have enough traffic to get a Redbox,’” he said. A city administrator with economic development experience will help, he added.
What are the benefits of policy governance?
Cross said the new standards will help citizens know what is to be expected.
“It’s giving everybody a guideline,” she said.
Gillespie said the real benefit will be that everything will be organized.
“People will know who they should contact,” he said. “We can go as detailed or as loose as we want to go, but I think it ought to be somewhere in the middle.”
Longanecker said over the past eight years, residents have come to him with a variety of complaints.
“I can’t really tell them anything or do anything,” Longanecker said. Under the new policy, the employees will have a boss, and the council will serve as the boss’s boss.
“The administrator will take care of problems instead of coming to city council,” he said. “We’re just regular people. For us to try to decide how to do these things, it doesn’t make sense.”
Right now there is a lot of discussion on property codes. How do you strike a balance between a safe and attractive environment versus personal property rights?
“Our existing codes are pretty adequate, if they’re enforced,” Gillespie said. “I don’t want to be peeking in people’s backyards.”
Longanecker and Cross both agreed that property codes are a touchy subject.
“On the one hand when you drive down the street and see trash stacked up on the side of a garage, it’s unappealing,” he said. The newly subsidized trash service, which required all residents to pay for waste removal, were unpopular at the time, Longanecker said. “But it turned out to be cheaper per household and didn’t give anyone a reason to let trash build up.”
For other property codes, he said he would hesitate to tell a homeowner they couldn’t have a project car.
“But some people will have two or three,” he said.
Cross said council members have to walk a fine line.
“The trash service helped a lot,” she said. “I think it’s important we keep up on codes. But it’s a real fine line where you don’t want to insult someone.”
Both Cross and Gillespie said that the council should monitor how other cities enforce their codes.
Intergovernmental relationships are important. How will you work with other governmental bodies?
“The city of Edgerton is the little guy,” Longanecker said. “They tell us what they want us to do.
Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t.” For example, he said the city council battled with the Kansas Department of Transportation for more access to the new interchange.
“The state gave us a choice. They let us put in some access on to those roads, but they’re paying for it,” he said.
Cross said sometimes entities are able to agree to disagree.
“You need to keep the lines of communication open and try not to step on any toes,” she said. “It helps when you have a citizen base that agrees with you… They’re more apt to look at your side of the plan.”
She said when the city of Edgerton wanted the Johnson County Library system to open an Edgerton branch, the residents rallied.
“We’re all taxpayers of the state, and that can help a lot,” she said.
Gillespie said even the little guy needs to hold the line sometimes.
“You can’t step on toes, but you can push back,” he said.
He said the city of Edgerton has to find a way to get along with the city of Gardner.
“We have to find a way to agree to get along,” he said. “We joined a whole new world with the intermodal recently.”
Change is inevitable. How do you define change and its impact on the community?
“Change is hard to accept, but it’s good for a community,” Cross said. “You’ve got to move forward.”
Cross said as she’s lived in Edgerton, she’s watched a rotation of families. The kids grow up and return home.
“The kids come back here so you know they enjoyed growing up here,” she said.
The important thing is to grow responsibly, she said.
Gillespie said, “Change is coming to Edgerton. We are unique in that we have two city parks separating our industrial base from our existing community.”
He said the council can control how big Edgerton grows.
“I personally would like to stay a small town,” he said. “Everything has to be done responsibly.”
Longanecker said he doesn’t think change in Edgerton is going to occur quickly.
“For the most part, I think the changes are going to be mostly positive,” he said. “Keeping that hometown feeling is partially the council’s responsibility. If we can keep that from disappearing, we’ll be far ahead when things do start changing.”
Edgerton council candidates sound off at forum