Boone County Northern District commissioner candidates talk fairgrounds, growth planning

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 | 11:43 p.m. CDT; updated 11:57 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMBIA – Boone County primary candidates for Northern District commissioner debated uses for the fairgrounds, funding for Public Safety Joint Communications and planning for growth at a forum Thursday evening at the Columbia Public Library.

Don Bormann and Lance Robbins, the Republican candidates, joined the four Democrats vying for their party’s nomination for Northern District commissioner, Brian Dollar, Darin Fugit, O.J. Stone and Janet Thompson.

The primary election will be held on Aug. 7.

KFRU radio host David Lile moderated the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The importance of the Boone County Fair and uses for the fairgrounds

All six candidates agreed that the Boone County Fair is an important tradition that needs to continue.

  • Fugit said that he wants to look at putting a professional stage in place at the fairgrounds and that the county should “do what we can to make a profit out there.” He also said there are maintenance issues that needed to be addressed.
  • Stone said the events that take place at the fairgrounds now bring in money and “are incredibly helpful to the community at large” even if the county itself isn’t making money on the events.
  • Thompson said the problem with the fairgrounds is that resources haven’t been put into them. She said the community would see “exponential returns” from the fairgrounds and they could help “make Boone County a destination.”
  • “Boone County is changing,” Dollar said. “I think the use of the fairgrounds is going to continue to evolve.”  He said the new management is making good progress toward that goal.

Bormann agreed that great strides have been made in understanding the financial affairs of the fairgrounds. He said the events have an economic impact outside of just the effect on the county government, particularly in terms of sales taxes generated by visitors.

  • He said that impact should be understood before any decisions are made on whether the fairgrounds should be sold or not.
  • Robbins said that more information is needed before the viability of the fairgrounds is understood. “Right now we just don’t know,” Robbins said. “I hope we can keep it.”

The commission approved a contract with TAG Events LLC to manage the fairgrounds for two years in January 2012. The Central Missouri Event Center, Home of the Boone County Fair, was approved as the new name of the fairgrounds in March.

Funding for Public Safety Joint Communications and the role of the county

The Public Safety Joint Communications Center handles emergency calls and coordinates emergency response teams. The candidates addressed whether they thought a board overseeing joint communications should be elected or appointed and how the services should be funded in light of the current funding problems.

  • “I think it’s very important for us to have a collaborative approach with all of the agencies that are involved,” Thompson said. She said a board should be elected because Boone County residents would want it to be “accountable to them.”

The other candidates thought the board should be appointed. Stone and Fugit said that board members should be appointed for now and should eventually be elected.

  • Dollar said the board should be appointed because the average voter would not be able to keep up with joint communications issues as well as people who are more involved with it.
  • “We’re all stakeholders,” Stone said, indicating that he wanted service users to be represented as well as the agencies that use Joint Communications.
  • Bormann said an appointed board would be best.
  • Robbins said the board should be appointed with members in each “specialty area.”

Presently, Joint Communications is funded by a tax on the phone bills of Boone County residents.

  • Thompson said there needs to be an “equitable approach” to any taxation to fund the service.
  • Dollar said he didn’t know enough to address the funding issue.
  • “We need to add another shift of people,” Fugit said. He said joint communications is taking on duties such as filling out accident reports that should not be its responsibility.
  • “We have had some major funding issues,” Stone said. “They’re doing an incredible job with very few people.”
  • Bormann said there needs to be a source of funding as there hasn’t been previously. “A sales tax may be that source,” Bormann said.
  • “I don’t like taxes,” Robbins said, but he added that a sales tax would be a way to “get into our pockets less” since money would also come from visitors.

Land use regulations and planning for growth in Boone County

Most of the candidates said the current planning and zoning process in place in Boone County could deal with continued growth and new development.

  • “Our current planning and zoning process works,” Fugit said. “I’m for planned zoning and for large developments to be developed closer to the cities where they can have those utilities.”
  • Stone agreed that the current process works and said it should provide a basis moving forward. He said that development would continue to outpace utilities and roads. “We have to understand that there is going to be a little catch-up,” he said.
  • Thompson said she wanted to protect the “various lifestyles” such as her own life on a farm in rural Boone County. “That’s what our planning and zoning allows us to do,” Thompson said. “People are concerned that the city of Columbia will become like the Pacman and consume the rest of Boone County.”
  • The question also asked about protecting the agricultural heritage of Boone County. Dollar said the county should not regulate farmers as much as they do and that farmland has to be preserved because “they’re not making any more of it.”

Robbins said the key to growth was communicating with stakeholders in the area.

  • “We do need to grow intelligently,” Robbins said. He said placing businesses in areas where they already are makes sense and that the county should protect areas in which growth is not wanted.
  • Bormann said the current system is messy but also gives people the most freedom with their land. “I really have no idea what smart planning is,” Bormann said. “It happens where there’s a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford

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