COLUMBIA — Public safety and strategies for boosting city revenue emerged as major issues during a debate between incumbent Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala and challenger Gary Kespohl, hosted by the Boone County Muleskinners Friday at Stephens College.
About 50 people attended the meeting, which marked the first candidate debate of the campaign season.
Kespohl and Skala agreed the city needs to increase development fees, but had very different ideas of how to increase revenue. The challenger emphasized the importance of increasing development in Columbia to create growth in property values. Skala said that while development is important, real estate tax revenue and economic growth are different things.
Kespohl is eager to tackle the city budget, but said revenue for Columbia must come from residents and from higher fees on development.
“At some point in time, we’ve got to realize that all of our city revenues come from people who are in this community," Kespohl said, "and we may have to raise property taxes. We may have to raise sales taxes.”
Skala said he wants to approach the revenue problem by taking a closer look at Columbia's tax base. Sales taxes and real estate taxes aren’t enough, he added.
“Past over-reliance on sales has taken the place of good planning. The City Council has often approved developments because it returned the largest amount of revenue, but they weren’t very well-planned.”
Public safety came up in several questions concerning Tasers, red-light cameras and the possible installation of cameras downtown.
Kespohl said he has been disappointed by Skala's voting record on issues regarding public safety, and by crime rates in Columbia during the past year. But he supports red-light cameras and favors security cameras downtown.
“If those cameras can save one life, I am for them,” Kespohl said.
Skala, who initially opposed security cameras downtown, said the council did the right thing when it put the issue on the April ballot after residents presented the council with an initiative petition. He said the lack of convincing data about the cameras' effectiveness doesn’t justify the cost of the cameras.
Both Kespohl and Skala favor equipping police with Tasers, and they agree that officers need more training on when to use them.