EDITOR'S NOTE: The Journal questioned candidates for three open Salina City Commission seats about various issues, resulting in a series of five stories. This is the first of those stories. Others will be run throughout the week.
With voter approval of an increase in Salina’s special sales tax, millions of dollars became available for capital improvements. A large portion of that is being spent on roads.
The seven candidates seeking election to the Salina City Commission were asked if they had a favorite project they'd like to see funded.
Current Commissioner Melissa Hodges and former Salina mayor Aaron Householter agreed the city needs to fix up rather than build up.
“I’m a big 'fix what we got' kind of guy,” Householter said.
He said he'd like to see projects funded with private money as opposed to public money.
“I would like to see the United Building lit back up,” he said. “Most people don’t know that it used to be lit up.”
Householter had touted a “Your opportunity” sign gateway project paid for with private funds.
“We didn’t want the city to pay for it but thought maybe the city could waive the fees,” he said. “It’s a stronger point when the community comes together and buys it together.”
Householter said there was talk of county employees helping to tear down the old swimming pool in Kenwood Park.
“That’s the kind of workability that I like,” he said. “We don’t have to hire some huge contractor to come in for $300,000 to clear it out. The county says, ‘We’ve got an afternoon.’ ”
“My pet project overall is any project that has to do with repairing our existing resources,” Hodges said. “That has to be the emphasis; taking care of what we already have.
“The project that excites me the most is the Smoky Hill River renewal. I think that has real transformative potential for a large part of Salina and a real positive impact on our park facilities,” she said.
Streets a priority
Joe Hay Jr. said he is passionate about repairing streets.
“We still have streets in town that haven’t been touched in years,” he said.
He said some of the streets aren’t being fixed correctly.
“To me, an overlay is not fixing the street. All it is, is like putting lipstick on a pig. All you are doing is covering it up. It won’t take much longer and they will be fixing the same places.”
He said he would like curbs and gutters to be repaired.
“I really like the idea of the cleanup of the river,” he said. “Salina is never, at least in our lifetime, never going to be a San Antonio, it’s never going to be Oklahoma City, but we can make it to where that water is flowing and looks nice, and get rid of the trash and the smell,” he said.
Owen Freiburger said he would like to see the completion of a project initiated by the Salina Planning Commission, which he has served on for the last three years..
“We are heavily involved in creating study sessions and public engagement on the Broadway corridor, for example. We are looking at the complete redevelopment of the median, the zoning in the area. I have been a proponent of down-zoning along the corridor so we had a more attractive approach into the city, we had more density covered,” he said.
He said the planning commission has reviewed many projects that the public is not aware of.
“We have created a variety of programs that will come to the city commission in the near future,” he said. “I don’t think people understand the background, the amount of work, planning and dialogue on so many levels before it gets to a funding issue.”
Need public input
Mike Hoppock said each project should stand on its own merits.
“I do agree we need to continue to put money into our streets. Some of those taxing dollars are already spoken for. I have no agenda for any specific projects at this time. There are a lot of positive things going on,” he said.
Both Tracy Wiegert and Frank Hampton said they would like to hear input from the public.
“The city is expanding in almost every direction. I would have to do a survey for information,” Wiegert said.
“I don’t have all the answers but I think I am certainly willing to listen to priorities the individuals in the community have,” Hampton said.