COLUMBIA — The night ended with a handshake, but the two presiding commissioner candidates weren’t so cordial when discussing their different views on Boone County’s budget.
Republican Ed Robb and Democrat Scott Christianson participated in a debate Tuesday night sponsored by KSSZ/93.9 FM The Eagle. Missouri Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser took part in a separate debate at the same event. The debate was held in a conference room at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel off Lemone Industrial Boulevard.
The candidates fielded questions from three panelists, including Columbia Daily Tribune Managing Editor Jim Robertson, KOMU-8 news anchor Jim Riek and The Eagle's afternoon news anchor Abby Grimmett. The candidates then answered additional questions from the 20-person audience.
The two presiding commissioner candidates want to replace Ken Pearson, who plans to retire from the position after serving a single four-year term. The presiding commissioner represents all of Boone County. There are two other commissioners who serve the county's northern and southern halves.
Boone County's Budget
The dominant topic Tuesday was the county's budget. A large amount of the budget comes from sales tax revenue, which has been down since 2007, according to a Missourian report.
“My priorities are very simple: we need a balanced budget in the county," Robb said.
He said the county budgets for more money than it actually spends. According to the article, the county spends about 94 percent of what it normally budgets. Robb, a former MU economics professor, described this process as putting up a "pseudo budget" with a built-in surplus. He said that hurts the county.
Christianson took a different tack.
“One of the things we need to realize is the county has done well weathering this economic storm,” Christianson said.
Citing his experience as a business owner, Christianson said you have to budget for anticipated costs, even though they probably won't all materialize by the end of the year. He said a practical approach is needed.
"The path that Ed is talking about . . . is going to lead to a lot of volatility."
After the debate, Robb said Christianson doesn't understand how the budget process works.
Although the candidates argued over the budget, they both said they would be hesitant to raise property taxes.
"We haven't expended all our options yet in the budget process," Robb said. "It's up to the commission to make those hard choices."
Several people in attendance did not want to speak about the race, but insurance broker James Coyne, a Robb supporter, echoed the theme of the night.
“I think being fiscally responsible is probably the number one issue.”