Thursday, October 29, the Hall County Republican Party sponsored the final forum for Ward 2 and Ward 3 City Council candidates. Overall, it was a very good forum and lead moderator, Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard, did an exceptional job. Below are very quick observations from the forum taken down live during the event on some key questions and topics posed by the moderators. To get the full scope and importance of the discussion, you can visit You Tube to watch a video recording of the entire forum. These are notes and in no way should be judged as verbatim facts. Please watch the video or contact the candidates for the most accurate and complete information. Note: Even though the respective council seats are divided by Ward, the council is voted on At-Large and all City of Gainesville residents will vote in every contest.
Question on the candidate’s personal experience or familiarity with public assistance programs:
Ward 3 Candidates:
Smith – Once made $2 too much to qualify for assistance when she was in an auto accident.
Cheek – Supports public assistance and sees it as a step up
Betancourt – People are waiting for a step up not a hand out
Brooks – Ran out of time to address (the moderators asked another component as well which Brooks addressed)
Ward 2 Candidates are Emory Turner and Zack Thompson.
Turner – It is needed in some instances
Thompson – Has never been on any public assistance
Question: How much Reserve Balance is needed?
Currently there is less than $5 million in reserve or approximately two months worth of expenses.
Cheek – Need to work on increasing amount greater than 5 million.
Betancourt – Doubling the current amount probably wouldn’t be adequate.
Brooks – Concerned two months isn’t enough. Existing policies should probably call for more.
Holding opinion until research the day after the forum.
Turner – Can’t comment until he has had a chance to be more hands on
Thompson – Not comfortable with a larger reserve right now
Smith – The amount is news to her and she’ll have to look into it
Question: Is current collaboration working with the county, if not, what ideas do you have and what are your thoughts on consolidation of county / city services?
Betancourt – Existing cooperation is good.
Cheek – There is current collaboration on sewer. Housing and support services are areas ripe for more collaboration.
Smith – Everyone needs to work together. Small increases are needed so we can get better.
Thompson – Collaboration has to work for both governments. Promoting towns and county will prove useful in order to get help from outsiders in contributing to city expenses
Turner – Collaboration happens already but it is not a fast moving machine
Brooks – Fire and law enforcement are ripe for consolidation, especially where city / county boundary lines are drawn in a unique way
* Note – A moderator indicated that Turner missed acknowledgement Gainesville operates and owns a jail during the discussion about city / county collaboration.
Question: Is there a maximum tax rate for the city?
Turner – Taxes should be based on the services the citizens want. The people seem to be saying we are in a good place with services offered (therefore by default, the tax rate is acceptable).
Thompson – Would like to see a millage rate as low as possible but ultimately it’s up to the citizens.
Smith – We aren’t at the maximum rate. There is not enough balance between the incomes yet
Cheek – There are very good opportunities available because of the taxes currently levied
Betancourt – While campaigning, people will say we are already at the maximum. But then look at the two month reserve issue. Look at how people want to develop the city, at the things they want to see happen in the city. There is a conflict there.
Brooks – The level is ok but we can’t go higher. The city said this year there was a 1.7% difference in the millage. After checking her own property statement, there was almost a one percent savings from last year.
Ward 2 candidates had a brief discussion on the city’s environment for small business in which Turner addressed the anti Uber legislation and regulations that impede taxi cab drivers and Thompson discussed the incredibly ridiculous regulations and red tape imposed on growler businesses.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the forum came when the moderators asked the candidates about grants and in particular, how to handle projects that qualified for grants but required additional maintenance and other costs after the grant ran out or which the grant never covers.
Cheek – Grants are FREE MONEY. Supports grants entirely. Getting a grant helps obtain other grants. (Emphasis added by editor but the candidate did actually say the words)
Smith – Grants are the prefect way for small businesses to grow. However, you must always continue to look for other grants.
Ms Figueras enters the conversation to state the questions being asked assume a level of knowledge the candidates don’t yet have.
Thompson – Grants are easy money, low hanging fruit. You must look carefully at all costs, including maintenance, etc
Turner – Grant money is suppose to only be seed money.
Brooks – It’s hard to write a grant without taking into consideration the sustained costs.
Betancourt – At the moment, a grant was needed and someone took the cookie [a specific city grant referenced in the question]. Everything has a cost. Even salvation has a cost. Careful analysis is needed (for grants).
Question: Would you support the city adopting a process of zero based budgeting (ZBB)?
Editor’s Note: The moderators also asked a question about equipment surplus here and it seemed to confuse the candidates who have admitted being unfamiliar with a lot of the workings of city budgets and even local government policy.
Turner – Let’s meet with all departments and find out what’s there, then decide if ZBB should be used
Brooks – Depends on the assessment model. Unsure how you determine your projections.
Betancourt – Will have to look at projections for the next year
Cheek – Doesn’t see how the city can operate on ZBB.
Smith – Set priorities. You always have to have cash.
Thompson – Creates extreme transparency. Not sure if you could switch an entire government over to it quickly.
Editor’s Note: Our local elections are so critical in many fundamental ways. The issues decided, funds spent and laws passed by local city council and county commission leaders have a far greater impact on our day to day lives in most cases than anything we will hear or see in the ongoing Presidential election. Yet, the coverage and attention paid by almost anyone to local issues, city and county funding and the races that decide our local leadership is minuscule in comparison. Making the choice to vote local really can sometimes decide an entire election with turnout as dismal and, frankly, as disappointing, as it usually is. If you don’t think your vote matters, you have never truly understood the power you really have when you participate in local elections.