Two candidates for City Council in the Third Ward discussed their position on various issues Thursday night in the gymnasium of Benton Elementary School with members of the Benton-Stephens Community Association.
After brief introductions, they discussed their plans for Columbia if elected.
Gary Kespohl said his goal would be to keep Columbia the great community that it is. Karl Skala said that his three main issues are safer neighborhoods, maintenance and additions to city roads and quality city planning.
Kespohl and Skala went on to answer questions from residents of the ward. The candidates were asked about many issues, but the residents’ main concern appeared to be Columbia’s growth, and who should have a part in it.
Michael Ugarte, a resident of the Third Ward since 1992, said he feels tension in the community between the city’s growth and the need to keep Columbia “as vibrant a city with a livable downtown as it is.”
“I might be considered anti-growth,” he said. “I think there is much too much support of projects like Wal-Mart and bigger conglomerates going in and destroying the infrastructure of Columbia.”
While he understands the need for a stronger tax base, he said, he thinks people from Columbia need to be in charge of growth to maintain control of how their city develops.
“I don’t want big conglomerates to come in and dictate where Columbia should go as a city,” Ugarte said.
Skala said that he is not anti-growth.
“I am pro-responsible, well-planned growth oriented toward the next 10 to 12 years in the city,” he said. “Sales tax is how we get revenues to run this city. We need other alternatives.”
Skala said that to develop responsible growth, all stakeholders involved meet to discuss plans for the city.
Kespohl said he had a different opinion.
“We’re a community, which means we are people helping one another,” he said. “We need to change our attitudes to help Columbia’s people grow, and everyone benefits.”
Jean Crowson, a member of the Third Ward since 1958, saw a problem with the growth of the city, but did not think the issue would decide the election.
“I think it’s growing too fast and too much,” she said. “We’ve overbuilt ourselves and it is destroying the neighborhoods around Columbia.”
Crowson also cited Wal-Mart as a major player in the city’s growth.
“Wal-Mart is overdoing things,” she said. “There are too many stores in too small of a space, and they don’t seem to stop.”
Jay Hasheider, president of the Benton-Stephens Community Association, said that growth was a problem, but for different reasons.
“We’re looking at a neighborhood going through growing pains,” he said. “The older neighborhoods are getting neglected, which is typical. We’d be very interested in getting attention paid to existing neighborhoods instead of developing branches.”