Candidates for the Leavenworth City Commission had the chance to answer questions about multiple topics Wednesday night during a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Leavenworth County and the Leavenworth Times.
All six of the candidates running for the commission were on hand ― incumbents Mark Preisinger, Davis Moulden and Phil Urban as well as former Commissioner Lisa Weakley, home health care operations supervisor Keith Melick and semi-retired security worker Charles Raney.
Three commission seats are up for election this year. The election will be April 2.
The candidates were asked about the No. 1 issue on their agendas and their long-range visions of the community.
Preisinger said his No. 1 issue is economic development, which he said can help with a lot of issues in the community.
"Economic development takes care of a lot of ills," he said.
Melick said he wants to be a spokesperson for the citizens of Leavenworth but also pointed to economic development and infrastructure as important issues.
Raney said he has no real agenda but the economy is the No. 1 issue for him. He said the city needs to do more to bring in dollars.
Weakley said maintaining quality service and a safe community is an important issue. She also included economic development as an important issue.
Urban said economic development and infrastructure are his top issues.
Moulden said an important issue for him is deciding what quality of life people want in Leavenworth.
The candidates were asked what can be done to spur economic growth and job creation in Leavenworth.
Melick said larger businesses, such as outlet stores, need to come to Leavenworth. He suggested the business growth could start in the downtown area and expand to other areas of the city.
Raney said the city needs to lure more industry. He also recommended working to help business growth in the downtown area.
"The downtown is a great place," he said.
Weakley said the Stove Factory Lofts project at the former Tire Town complex in downtown Leavenworth will be a good economic boost for that area of the city. She also said a planned hotel in north Leavenworth will attract tourism.
She said the city is lacking in incentives for retail businesses. She also offered suggestions such as the use of historic tax credits for development in large buildings.
Urban said some goals have been met in the area of economic development but the work is never finished. He noted that Leavenworth is next in line in terms of construction of new federal prisons. He said there also is a lot of potential with growth at Fort Leavenworth.
He argued in favor of a new four-lane road leading from the Centennial Bridge to I-29 in Missouri.
Page 2 of 2 - Moulden said Leavenworth has advantages such as being centrally located in the United States and being near two major interstates. He said in order to develop industry, land first has to be found for the businesses.
Preisinger said the primary economic driver in Leavenworth is federal institutions. He also noted the possibility of an additional federal prison. And he noted the importance of improved access to I-29.
Candidates also were asked about what can be done to lessen the property tax burden in Leavenworth.
Weakley noted that a lot of properties, such as federal institutions, in the city are exempt from property taxes. She said this has to be offset by increasing the tax base.
She also recommended working with other government officials to keep taxes in check.
Urban said "they only thing we can do is expand our tax base." He said Leavenworth is at a disadvantage because it has to provide some of the same services that are offered in larger communities.
Moulden said there are a lot of ways that taxes can be cut. He said it depends on what people are willing to give up. He said taxes can be cut if people are willing to cut services.
Preisinger said the city has a very high property tax rate and a low sales tax rate. He said increasing the sales tax would be up to a vote of the people.
He said Leavenworth is going to have to annex area to the west of the city to expand the property tax base.
Melick said economic growth will help. He said if businesses are brought in without being awarded tax breaks, they will provide tax revenue. He also suggested expansion to the west to bring in industry.
Raney said growing industry and increasing jobs will help expand the tax base.