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Q&A with the Fifth Ward City Council candidates

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:26 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 30, 2011

With the April 5 election approaching, voters have submitted their questions to candidates, and we have the answers. In addition, election reporters Katrina Ball and Matt Beezley compiled a few more questions for the City Council hopefuls. Here are their responses.

The election is April 5. Submit additional questions here.  

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Q: Would you support the construction of the Short Street parking garage?

Helen Anthony: Well, first I would like to say that I think the design of the new, very large garage was not handled appropriately. I’m not sure City Council had a chance to review the final plans, and I think that the process failed in that regard. In terms of keeping downtown vibrant and parking being a necessary component of that, the council is going through the right process in terms of discussing the possibility of a new garage on Short Street.  There is going be a need for parking in that area. But the main question is: Can we afford it? I can’t say right now if I would support the construction of the Short Street garage. Just like the council, I don’t have enough information yet.

Glen Ehrhardt: I would support the Short Street garage if we had a plan for how it would pay for itself. I think it’s crucial that before we undertake a multimillion-dollar project there is a plan that will show how it will pay for itself. I think the current City Council is having to address problems of the past, primarily, with the tall parking garage that does not pay for itself.

Q: As the city faces an ever-tightening budget, where do your spending priorities lie? Are there areas of spending you deem unnecessary? If so, what, and how would you improve them? Similarly, are there areas you feel deserve more attention? What are they?

Anthony: I can't really speak to what I deem unnecessary because I haven’t seen this year’s budget and therefore can't point to specific areas without the facts, but there are areas that I believe deserve more attention. Inadequate funding of the streets is one of my main concerns. I recently received some figures in a planning and zoning meeting that were prepared by the Infrastructure Task Force Committee, and what they have discovered is that over the last 10 years the capital improvement projects, specifically streets and sidewalks, there has been an average annual need of $23.1 million and we have only spent $9.3 million. When you look at that gap, $13.8 million, that indicates what we all see. And that is that we haven’t been spending enough money on our infrastructure.

Ehrhardt: My priorities are public safety, adequate police and firefighter funding and making sure we are spending enough money on our infrastructure. We need to make sure we are fixing potholes and keeping up our road maintenance. In order to do these things, we need to have an economic climate in Columbia that attracts business. We need to become a shopping magnet for central Missouri. It’s that sales tax revenue that allows us to do additional funding. For example, the four firefighters that would fully staff (city fire) Station 2 could come from this additional funding.

Q: Only a fraction of the county’s population uses the public transit system — about 0.7 percent. What steps would you take to improve public transit and encourage people to find alternative methods of transportation?

Anthony: That number is woefully small. It is pretty obvious that our buses don’t extend as far as I would like them to. But it’s all a budget issue. If we are trying to move people away from cars and decrease parking issues and help the environment, we need to look at public transit. It’s going to be a prioritization of projects, but I am very supportive of an expansion of the bus system. If you look at any city our size that is vibrant, they have expansive bus systems. I’m a big proponent of balancing it with other issues, but I do think it should be one of our priorities.

Ehrhardt: I think the plans that have been implemented and the partnership between the university and some of the apartment complexes are a good model for us to go off of. If you look at areas of heavy student population, the ridership numbers have gone up tremendously. That wasn’t the case a few years ago. Most were driving and creating traffic issues. I would also like to work with employers around town. I think we should look into having a bus run north to south, from the university to the Broadway, Columbia College area with stops along the way.

Q: About 50 percent of Columbia holds a bachelor’s degree or higher. That leaves half of the population with less education. What are two specific examples of how you would create blue-collar jobs in Columbia?

Anthony: Specifically, I think we need to attract as much manufacturing business as we can. I think that can be done by promoting our shovel-ready sites. Shovel-ready sites are sites that already have infrastructure in place. They already have utilities and everything that makes a site ready to handle commercial development. I think we just have to promote Columbia and let people know that we have these sites. I would also support incentives that would bring these kinds of businesses here, and I think it is important to continue recruiting for these businesses.

Ehrhardt: There is a need for jobs of all types. We need to focus on attracting all types of businesses, and we can do that by working with Regional Economic Development Inc., Boone County, the university and the state. We need to help by increasing the tax base, and that will increase revenue to Columbia Public Schools and the career center, so we can teach the students skills they can use in the workforce.

Q: What is your take on public safety and crime in the First Ward? How would you assess the city’s response? Is there anything you would like to see done differently?

Anthony: I plan to uphold the Fifth Ward’s vote of the surveillance cameras (in the downtown area). I would be in support of them. We need to resolve the budget issues shortly if that hasn't already been done. Other issues I think we need to work on is the improvement and retention of police personnel. We need to recruit. We are short some officers, and I think we have a problem because they have been going out to other agencies and jobs. We need to look at their pay and pensions to ensure that they will be recruited and retained, and that goes for our firefighters, too.

Ehrhardt: We need to focus on public safety, our law enforcement and firefighters. The police and firefighters have endorsed us and you can tell from that, that crime and public safety are platforms of my campaign. The council needs to be supportive of our police throughout the city of Columbia. As far as the downtown area, I am a proponent and supporter of the safety cameras. I’m the only one running who voted for the cameras, and I have been a member and been involved in Keep Columbia Safe. I am the only one running who can say that. I support the department as far as their efforts to improve transparency and accountability.


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