COLUMBIA — The four Boone County Commission candidates offered different ideas for economic development in front of an audience of 50 at a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday night at the Columbia Public Library.
Northern District Democratic candidate Janet Thompson said that she decided to run for Northern District County Commission to improve the county fairgrounds and to promote a style of economic development that would protect rural and small communities.
Northern District Republican candidate Don Bormann said that his experience as a land surveyor has given him an engineering background that would prove useful in the road and zoning issues commissioners deal with. The time he has spent as a Centralia alderman would help him make tough budget decisions, he said.
Southern District Republican candidate James Pounds said he decided to run for office because his property taxes increased 34 percent from 1996 to 2011. Pounds said he's skeptical when commissioners say there's not enough tax revenue in the county.
Southern District Democratic incumbent Karen Miller said her attention to detail would help her serve another successful term.
Candidates faced four questions from a moderator and the audience:
What is the most important challenge facing Boone County, and how would you address it?
Thompson said the county needs to negotiate better before making decisions in order to make sure every voice is heard.
Bormann said the most important issue for Boone County was the 911 system. He supports appointing a board to control the system.
Miller said a pressing issue for the county has been deciding how to spend discretionary funds.
Pounds said taxes, roads and infrastructure are all important. On Scott Boulevard, where the county takes care of the road, he said it looks like a "two-lane goat path."
Has the County Commission been pro- or anti-business?
Bormann said that the County Commission has been neutral toward business on most issues. Instead of being anti-business, he said, it has given "no consideration to what the impacts of legislation would be" on business. He called for rules that "are fair and uniform and cheapest for business to comply with."
Thompson said that the commission's support of Chapter 100 bonds and EEZs has made it pro-business. She said incentives are appropriate in some instances but that the county must balance the interests of all people affected by the decision before deciding to use them. Sometimes, she said, the county gives away too much when it offers those incentives to businesses.
Pounds said the commission is anti-business because planning and zoning requirements have become more stringent. "I don't think we have a history of treating businesses fairly," he said. "The community has gained a reputation."
Miller said the county has become active in economic development efforts in the past five years. Because the commission works with low discretionary revenue, it cannot put much money into projects, she said.
What has been the most educational moment of your campaign experience?
Thompson described a conversation she had with a junior high basketball coach while knocking on doors. The coach, she said, complained that his neighborhood developed so fast that there was not yet any shopping in the area.
Bormann said that he has learned that most people are unaware of what county government does. "It really opens your eyes when you realize how little people know about how the county works," he said.
Miller said the prevalence of social media has been a challenge.
What is your experience in economic development and your vision for job growth?
Thompson said that the county must not impose "cookie-cutter" economic development plans on different areas of Boone County. "What's appropriate development for one part of Boone County might not be right for another," she said.
Bormann cited his experience as a business owner and as a member of Centralia Regional Economic Development Inc. He emphasized the importance of buying locally-made products. "Why would anyone come to me to buy services when I don't buy their services?" he said.
Pounds said he would create an environment conducive to job creation. The current climate "does not create an environment where jobs are welcome," he said. "I'd like to change that."
Miller said current regulations are helpful to businesses because they know what to expect. "I think we have found that balance," she said.
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