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Opinions of city candidates similar at forum


When Hays City Commission candidates took the stage for Monday night's public forum, it seemed there was little they could disagree on as nods of agreement often met fellow candidates' responses.

City commission candidates split the night's billing with Hays USD 489 Board of Education candidates in a forum on the Fort Hays State University campus sponsored by Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, FHSU's American Democracy Project, Student Government Association and Department of Political Science.

Todd Gabel, Dominic Pianalto, Shaun Musil and incumbents Eber Phelps and Ron Mellick were quizzed on local issues from downtown business development and lawn-watering restrictions to a potential convention center and sidewalk repairs.

When asked if they would support city ownership and management of a convention center and a tax increment to finance or incentivize packages to encourage developers to build one, candidates differed somewhat in what course of action the city should be taking in regard to the project.

Since new convention centers have sprung up in Dodge City and other regional cities, Phelps said it's possible Hays is "too late to the ballgame" to be successful with a convention center project.

"I don't support the city owning that (convention center)," he said. "I think we can facilitate with infrastructure improvements and sort of partner up with any private entity that would be interested in putting up a convention center here in Hays."

Although they acknowledged a need for a local convention center, other commission candidates agreed the city should not take on ownership.

Pianalto said one problem with convention centers is they are not self-supporting.

"I do feel that we need one, and a tax may be the only way to do it," he said. "I think it's something that's necessary for Hays, but I don't feel that we need to put a tax just around the businesses around that convention center or pavilion.

"It needs to be a citywide tax for it."

When questioned about whether fixing sidewalks and adding additional lighting should be commission priorities, Mellick pointed out a city sidewalk replacement program is in place, and residents have the option to use it.

"If the city, itself, is going to replace all of the sidewalks that are bad with tax dollars, that means your taxes are going to have to go up to pay for those," he said. "And I would rather see individual property owners take care of their own property and not the city go in and take care of them as a citywide project."

City finances ranked high on Gabel's list of concerns for the city.

"I think the biggest issue facing Hays in the coming years is going to be fiscal issues," he said. "With the state of Kansas, with their budget problems, they're going to be pushing more and more things down to the local level.

"So the city is going to have to be diligent on how it spends its money."

The topic of water recurred throughout the evening's forum, with candidates in agreement the issue is not going away anytime soon.

"The people I talk to, their biggest concern is water and taxes," Musil said. "Water is an ongoing issue that we have to continue to conserve.

"Not only to conserve, but educate. And I think most citizens want to do it, but I think educating instead of mandating or telling them they have to do it will go a lot further."