Winfield commission candidates questioned

Candidates Greg Thompson, Brenda Butters, Kevin Coon, Mike Rozell and Mike Kelley, from left, during a public forum Thursday in Winfield.

Photo by REBECCA McCUTCHEON

The five candidates for Winfield City Commission answered questions about utilities, business development, housing and more at a public forum Thursday night at Baden Square Community Center. The event was sponsored by the legislative committee of the Winfield Area Chamber of Commerce.

The candidates are incumbent Greg Thompson, Brenda Butters, Kevin Coon, Mike Rozell and Mike Kelley.

Candidates made brief introductory comments to begin the forum.

Thompson said he wants to help Winfield move forward and keep working on ongoing projects, and that his work background in accounting helps with city finances.

 Butters, who previously served a term on the board, said Winfield is “a diamond in the rough” that just needs polishing, and she wants to help improve the community.

Coon said he wants to help Winfield out, and said his experience as a local business owner would help.

Rozell, who is also a current member of the USD 465 Board of Education, said it’s time to “think outside the box” when it comes to budgeting, and questioned why no reductions were made to the current city budget to help cover natural gas costs from the freeze earlier in the year.

Kelley said current leaders have forgotten that people have freedom, and her is running to tell people that they can live their lives free from government authority.

The first question was about Winfield’s industrial base and whether development incentives should be considered. Thompson said the city tries to use its resources for this purpose as best it can.

Butters said recruiting is difficult because of a lack of skilled labor, and businesses need to be confident that they can meet their staffing needs in order to come here.

Coon said the city may need to consider hiring an outside firm to recruit business to Winfield.

Rozell said that, in his opinion, the city never recovered from the closure of Binney & Smith, and nothing of its caliber has been recruited to fill the gap. He called for an audit of utility services used by large employers.

Kelley said there needs to be a vision to help with recruiting. “We need a vision of what Winfield is and can be, and sell businesses on that,” he said.

Candidates were asked about ways the city could improve its housing availability.

Coon said the planned apartment complex at 19th and Bliss is a good beginning, but it seems as though there is a lot of government assistance going on.

Rozell said housing development depends on economic growth. “Until we get more employers and better paying jobs, nothing will happen,” he said.

Kelley said a level playing field and more incentives could convince developers to build here.

Thompson said housing is a critical part of getting employees to move here, but developers need to see hard numbers before deciding to invest.

Butters said this is an issue Winfield has struggled with for a very long time, and that developers do not want to take a chance on building here.

When asked about goals for city-provided utilities and the future of these assets, Rozell said he is in favor of locally-owned utilities, but thinks the city could do better with its contracts.

Kelley said the city should look at what other communities are doing with how they provide utilities, and compare options against what they are currently doing.

Thompson said municipal utilities are an incredible benefit, and that providers such as Kansas Gas Service are also charging more for services after the February freeze, not just Winfield. “We were all affected, but Winfield was just more vocal about it,” he said.

Butters said that, even with recent increases, Winfield’s utilities are still less than those serving other area communities, and that the city handled recent events the best it could. “We are so fortunate that our forefathers had the foresight to do this,” she said of the city-owned utilities.

Coon said the city should keep its own utilities, but that building more natural gas storage would be good and the city should try to maintain prices as much as possible.

Asked about property tax rates, Kelley said he is opposed to a significant increase in the mill levy and doesn’t think citizens can bear to pay much more in property taxes.

Thompson said it’s important to look at the mill levy, and that for at least the past few years the city has kept property tax collections below the rate of inflation.

Butters said that an increase in appraised property values would hopefully help property taxes decrease.

Coon said the city should be run like a business and he would not like to see property taxes go up. “I think we can cut a lot and still build,” he said.

Rozell said residents have four taxing authorities — the city, the county, USD 465 and Cowley College — but that the college taxes in particular need to be brought under control.

Asked about plans for improved sidewalks and roadways, Thompson said he rejected a potential 2022 city budged that included funds for these projects because the thought it was not specific enough.

Butters said a task force is needed to decide on the best plan for these repairs.

Coon said he would like to see the city add more bike lanes, which would be a cheap addition that would increase safety.

Rozell said sidewalks used to get more repair money but have not fallen under deferred maintenance, and said the city has a “spending mentality.”

Kelley suggested that the city find a long-term program in partnership with homeowners to repair sidewalks.

Around 40 people attended the forum in person, which was also streamed on the Winfield Area Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.

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