COLUMBIA — Public safety and budget issues were at the forefront of the Columbia Professional Fire Fighter’s first ever mayoral forum Wednesday night.
“We’re very interested in public safety issues,” said Brad Fraizer, president of the Columbia Professional Fire Fighters said. “It’s not a secret that we’re losing revenue and the fire department is being affected.”
Five of the six mayoral candidates attended the forum held at Stoney Creek Inn. Sal Nuccio continues to skip candidate forums.
Fred Parry moderated the talk and first asked questions submitted through Facebook. He also took several questions from the audience at the end.
When mayoral candidate and incumbent Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade asked members of the firefighters’ group to stand-up, about a third of those in the room rose. Wade followed by making a “commitment” to back them when the City Council sets its annual goals in April and May.
“My highest priority is for the fire department to fill the positions it has lost,” he said.
Candidates were asked to address downtown cameras, TASERs and the tight city budget.
Bob McDavid asked members of the audience to raise their hands if they felt safe downtown, and said he “absolutely” would support cameras downtown. Both Wade and candidate Sean O’Day said they oppose them.
“Cameras are an ineffective tool for fighting crime,” O’Day said.
Sid Sullivan said that while he plans to campaign against the cameras, he will back them if the public approves them in the April 6 ballot initiative. Paul Love said he’d support them if Police Chief Ken Burton does.
Candidates discussed the role the mayor and the council play in hiring and firing department heads and the council’s relationship to the city manager. None said he wants a different form of city government. Sullivan and Love both said they want communication between the city manager and the council to remain open.
“Unless the City Council knows what the city does, it can’t set the policy,” Sullivan said.
O’Day said he’d like to see some tweaks and would like developers to work with the council more than with the city manager’s office. McDavid and Wade both said the current system is working and wouldn’t change it.
Audience member John Clark asked the candidates their thoughts about restructuring city revenue streams. Sullivan said the city needs to find a way to fund capital projects through a general obligation bond. Love said he supports the continual use of the sales tax as a revenue source because of the high number of students in the community. O’Day said that while he wants to explore the use of bonds, he still supports sales tax as a primary source of revenue.
McDavid also likes sales tax and is confident the city will recover from the poor economy. “We’re poised to really bounce back,” he said.
Wade agreed but said he’d like to explore different revenue alternatives.
Fraizer said he’s not a big supporter of using sales tax to support the fire department.
Joel Pauley, a member of the Columbia Professional Fire Fighters, said he was glad the forum looked at multiple city issues. He said he thinks funding is, and will continue to be, a major issue.
“The whole city is important, and I learned a lot about generally where they want to go with things,” he said.
Fraizer said he thought the candidates did a good job, but the firefighters plan to dig deeper during one-on-one meetings with the candidates.