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Columbia Missourian

Boone County presiding commissioner candidates face off in debate

By Will Guldin
October 13, 2010 | 10:21 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The two candidates for Boone County presiding commissioner offered some different ideas at a forum Wednesday night.

Democrat J. Scott Christianson and Republican Ed Robb spoke at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at Columbia Public Library. They addressed planning strategies, county budgeting practices and funding for social services and mental-health programs.

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The presiding commissioner is the top elected official in Boone County. She or he works alongside two associate commissioners and several other elected county officials to administer county government.

Christianson and Robb are competing to replace incumbent Ken Pearson, who is leaving office. The election is Nov. 2.

The first question Wednesday dealt with the Boone County Planning and Zoning Commission and building codes in relation to development. Robb said the process needs to be streamlined because regulations that slow it down cost developers more money and mean less economic growth.

Robb said he'd like to see a panel of landowners, developers and business owners sit down with the zoning commission to discuss changes.

"OK, you've been through the process," he said. "How could we as a county improve it?"

Christianson emphasized the importance of cooperation between city and county government. He cited the East Area Plan, which is intended to guide development east of Columbia, and the Northeast Columbia Area Plan, which does the same for land around the new high school site, as examples. He said that implementing these plans won't be a perfect process but that joint planning is a strategy that carries advantages. 

"It's one that allows folks to have input on the development that goes on in their area," he said.

The pair also talked about mental-health funding. Robb said social, health and economic programs are often low priorities because state statutes don't require that county governments fund them.

The county budgets for more money than it actually spends, he said. Auditor June Pitchford has said the county spends about 94 percent of what it actually budgets, according to a Missourian report.

If the county were to budget more accurately, Robb said, more money could go toward these programs.

Christianson said the county should look at a mill tax to help support mental-health programs because state money for them has declined.

"It's nice to say, 'Well I'm not going to do anything to raise taxes' ... but I think as leader of the community you have to be willing to put forward good, solid proposals to the citizens of Boone County," he said.

Christianson took a series of jabs at Robb during closing comments, calling him "doom and gloom," and he accused Robb of using fear tactics in the race.

Robb vehemently disagreed.

"I'm optimistic about Boone County's future, but I'm telling you, in the short term, that there are a series of issues that are going to tax us to the limit," Robb said.