Gardner voters will select new city council and school board members next week.
The Gardner News sent questionnaires to the seven candidates vying for three seats on the Gardner City Council. They were given a 50-word count limit per question. Not all candidates responded.
 
1. In the next several years, Gardner will become a city of the first class, requiring electoral wards. Currently, all council members are elected at-large. Should the city move to a ward system prior to it being mandatory? Why or why not?
Heath Freeman
No. Ward Systems create more costly elections, and can often limit the pool of candidates. I believe that every citizen of Gardner deserves the right to vote for each member of the governing body. They represent us all, and should serve the City as a whole.
Brett Limer
We should start planning now for an eventual transition to a city of the first class. Waiting until the population reaches the mandatory minimum of 25,000 residents may put Gardner into a reactive position. A current population of 20,473 allows for time to create electoral wards properly using thoughtful analysis.
Tory Roberts
I favor the current at-large configuration, it allows for a more equal representation for the entire city.  The at-large option also allows citizens to provide feedback, etc… to all city council members.  When the city reaches the first class level, we can vote to opt out of the ward system.
Todd Winters
It is my understanding it is not required for cities of the first class or we could charter out. Theoretically, a ward system provides more evenly distributed representation.  However you may not get the five best candidates and there can be less cooperation as each ward fights for their share.
2. A half-cent sales tax for the pool and Celebration Park is set to expire soon. When it expires, would you vote to extend it? Why or why not? And if so, for what purpose(s)?
Heath Freeman
Consideration should be made to extend the existing half-cent sales tax to fund necessary capital expenses, perhaps the proposed Justice Center. As with the existing tax, the decision should be made by the voters of Gardner through a ballot initiative. I would support placing the measure on the ballot.
Brett Limer
I support extending the half-cent sales tax and would primarily use it to help fund construction of a desperately needed new justice center. Our current public safety building is undersized relative to our population, just as our pool and ballparks were before voters acted to fund expansion.
Tory Roberts
I would vote to extend the half-cent sales tax for projects like a new campus for the Police Department, Parks & Rec and Public Works, a community center and renovation/addition to our parks and trails system. Investment in the quality of life for current and future residents is key.
Todd Winters
Yes.  I am on record as supporting the extension of the half-cent tax to pay for improvements to current infrastructure and extend utilities across I-35.  This will help to keep utility rates down and open development.  And, sales tax dollars spread the cost over a greater number of people.
3. What incentives, if any, should Gardner use to lure new businesses to town? Why types of business should be eligible for such incentives?
Heath Freeman
We must use every available incentive tool to help diversify our existing tax base through Economic Development in Gardner.  Special consideration should be given to those businesses that can provide a large number of jobs, and/or meet specific income thresholds. Our efforts must be aggressive, and proactive.
Brett Limer
Incentives for economic development and business attraction to Gardner include: TIF (Tax Increment Financing) used to finance land acquisition, site improvements, and public infrastructure. CIDs (Community Improvement Districts) used for development and operations costs, building improvements, infrastructure, marketing, security, etc. IRBs (Industrial Revenue Bonds) payable by the business entity.
Tory Roberts
Homeowners are paying most of the taxes.  We need to expand our tax base to well suited projects, new and existing.   Not every project needs the same incentive, we need to creatively find the best for each project.  In addition to traditional incentives, we need to investigate using utility incentives.
Todd Winters
Any incentive should be used provided the business will bring a positive impact to Gardner.  I would also look to incent existing business to expand/improve.  Additionally, we own all three utilities and should find creative options to utilize that advantage.
4. How long to you plan to reside in Gardner? What other commitments might limit your time at council and other city meetings?
Heath Freeman
Our commitment to Gardner is life-long. Our son was born in Gardner, will graduate from Gardner, and will always have a home in Gardner. As a councilmember, I have proven a commitment to the position and its time requirements.  I will continue with that same level of dedication.
Brett Limer
Our family has lived in Gardner for 12 years, we have two kids in school, and plan to continue living here for the foreseeable future. I am a member of the city planning commission and have not missed a single regularly scheduled meeting, thus demonstrating my priorities and commitment.
Tory Roberts
I Love Gardner, I have always said that Gardner is a great place to live, work and play.  I plan to stay here and continue to make this a great community in every way I can.   Being on city council is my top commitment, I take it very seriously.
Todd Winters
I have a house and business in Gardner and have no plans to move.  My schedule is typically flexible so I rarely have scheduling conflicts.  During my previous 4-year term, I believe I only missed one council meeting and one work session.