Gardner voters will select two city council members on April 2. Recently, The Gardner News sent questionnaires to the five candidates in the race. They were given a 100-word count limit per question. The five candidates include Chris Benjamin, Randy Gregorcyk, Kristina Harrison, Tory Roberts, and Steve Shute.
Candidates were also offered the opportunity to submit opinion column. Those columns were published in the order in which we received them. The city council races are at-large, bipartisan races, so all registered voters residing within the city limits are eligible to cast ballots on April 2.
Why are you running for city council?
Chris Benjamin:
I want the future of our city secured for the livelihood of all citizens, especially for our children. I spoke to the city council, and addressed a letter to the school board and superintendent concerning the safety of our schools after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Effective government communication is paramount for our success. That situation is what sparked me to shoulder the responsibility of leading our city into the future. The Bible says faith without action is dead (James 2:17). I will work to make our city the very best Johnson County has to offer residents and businesses alike.
Randy Gregorcyk:
To support citizen safety, community growth and commercial growth through a strategic visioning process.
Kristina Harrison:
I was appointed to the council in 2010.  The past three years have been filled with turnover both on the council and in some key staff positions.  We have been working the last three years in a pattern of continued learning/re-learning, focusing on the past, and really just working to get by. I look forward to developing and implementing a vision for this community; a vision that is defined by members of this community.
Tory Roberts:
Gardner has given me a great place to live, work and play and I am eager, energetic and dedicated to give back to Gardner.  I am currently the chairman of the Gardner Planning Commission and member of the Board of Zoning Appeals.  I have attended all of the City Council meetings for more than four years. I am a member and officer in the Gardner Lions Club, Board member and officer for the Gardner Festival on the Trails, Charter member of the Gardner Chapter of PEO, Member of the American Legion Auxiliary at Gardner Post 19 and Member of the DAR.
Steve Shute:
I am running to restore normalcy to the City Council and city government in Gardner.   The last four years have seen incredible turmoil and acrimony, with recalls, resignations, appointments, re-appointments, and even fisticuffs between Council members.  Meanwhile, Gardner has stagnated; our tax base is shrinking, businesses are leaving town or failing, and our residents are being forced to pay an ever greater share of taxes.  We need to stabilize the Council, unite to work on behalf of all of the citizens of our City, and move forward with a positive vision that will lead to a brighter future for Gardner.
What are the three most important issues facing Gardner in the next four years?
New business development concerned with attracting businesses well suited for our community. I want to shape the direction of land
Public Safety – Continue to support Gardner police initiatives, enabling them to protect and serve our community.
Developing a vision formulated with community and Council support representing a “big picture” direction. With an engaged community & business leadersGardner can communicate the cities core strengths and a “we are open for business” message.
Jobs & Capital Investment – Commercial growth follows residential growth.
We must insure undeveloped areas are positioned through pro-growth city policies that support needed infrastructure development.
As a pro-intermodal leader, I believe we should provide development incentives that will support community and city with local opportunity and provide ancillary infusion to local established businesses.
1. Developing a vision for the community is critical. At the completion of this process, we will be able to shift from a reactive mode of operation to a proactive mode of operation.
2. Ensuring that the city has the adequate funds set aside each year dedicated to maintenance of the city’s assets.  These maintenance funds should cover the cost to adequately maintain the investments already made in water, waste water, electric, parks, streets and personnel.
3. Diversifying the tax base to reduce the property tax burden on Gardner residents and small businesses.
• Budget- Paying off Debt and Funding new projects.
• Traffic Flow
• Storm water issues.
• Sound Financial Management – We need to focus on the core priorities of city government – public safety, public works, and utilities.  We also need to look for imaginative ways for city government to do more with less.
• Responsible Economic Development – We cannot continue to rely on residents to shoulder more than 85 percent of the tax burden.  We must attract commercial business as a matter of community survival – and we can do it without giving abatements, by implementing smart tax policies.
• Restoring Trust – Gardner residents deserve to know that their Council is there to serve them, not the other way around.
How would you address the top issue?
The most important ingredients for success are effective communication, hard work, and a sincere heart to make something great happen. We as leaders need to be in tune with those we support concerning business practices and opportunities. The best way to empower new businesses to move here is by providing fertile ground for everyone’s prosperity. I will forge those relationships with all citizens and businesses. I am not afraid to speak passionately about standing up for the rights of others. I have been doing so for the last 15 years in the military, and I will continue to do so.
Through citizen involvement and support, communicate Gardner’s core strengths and continue to attract and lobby commercial opportunity.
Without a strategic vision, we will continue to operate in a reactive fashion both in budgeting and dealing with issues that come before council. Outlining and adopting a vision is critical to being able to facilitate future growth and utilize our revenues and resources effectively. The key to a successful vision for a community is diverse representation from Gardner businesses and residents. I will continue to support this visioning process and work to implement the plans that support the vision as defined by residents, businesses and city staff.
Currently the homeowners are footing approximately 85 percent of the tax burden to pay off debt and fund new projects. I would actively support well suited developments to allow Gardner to grow and prosper while maintaining our small town charm and values.    I see more people working and living here, not leaving Gardner during the day for their jobs.
It is well known that higher taxes drive away residents and stifle private investment, and lead to commercial decay.  I would repeal the 5-mill increase that was passed in 2011, and re-allocate current city funds to ensure that the three core functions – public safety, public works, and utilities – are well taken care of.  As overall tax revenues increase as a result of greater economic development, I will work to ensure that those additional revenues are invested in needs, not wants – and that any extra money is returned to our residents in the form of tax rebates & cuts if warranted.
If you were to raise tax rates or fees, what specific taxes or fees would you raise and why?
RONALD REAGAN, State of the Union address, Feb. 6, 1985:
“Simple fairness dictates that government must not raise taxes on families struggling to pay their bills.”
I was fortunate enough to have been furloughed at the same time my wife gave birth to our twin sons. It also gave me a chance to grow in my faith. The financial burden hit hard, but we persevered with the good Lord’s help. Local government exists to protect the livelihood of the citizens. I would like to see how we as a city can save money before I decide to increase taxes.
At this stage and based on current tax structure, I see no need for an increase with that said, community driven initiatives may need such support i.e. Community Center.
At this point in time I see no need to raise any taxes. There are stated future mill increases associated with the infrastructure to support the new school as well as the new waste water plant.  I believe the focus in the next few years needs to be to minimize, if not eliminate the need for those stated future increases.  I believe that fees should be assessed on an ongoing basis and that we should work to ensure that any fees that are charged by the city to residents or businesses are fees that cover the cost of providing the service.
Gardner is facing financial struggles and debt, 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.
I pledge not to vote to raise any taxes or fees during my term; in fact, I will work to lower the overall tax burden on all of Gardner’s residents and business, and roll back onerous and burdensome regulations and barriers to access for businesses.  In this way, we can encourage economic development without resorting to abatements to “entice” specific businesses to come here.