Jobs, taxes on minds of commission candidates

Springfield attorney seeks to unseat one of three incumbent commissioners.

One challenger is trying to unseat one of three incumbents Nov. 5 on the non-partisan city commission.

Incumbents Dan Martin, Karen Duncan and Joyce Chilton are up for re-election. The lone challenger is local attorney Dan Harkins.

The four talked about issues ranging from jobs and taxes to redevelopment of the old hospital sites and city subsidies for the airport tower and golf operations.

While commission is officially non-partisan, Martin and Harkins are Republicans. Chilton and Duncan are Democrats.

Martin, 45, is an environmental law attorney who is seeking his fifth term after first being elected in 1997.

Duncan, 67, whose work included serving as a field representative for the Ohio Secretary of State, is seeking her third term. She first was elected in 2005 and re-elected in 2009.

Chilton, 55, a freelance paralegal who retired from the Clark County Public Library, is seeking her second term. She currently serves as the city’s vice mayor.

Harkins, 53, is an attorney and local civic and political leader who has previously served as the chairman of the Clark County Board of Elections.

Biggest challenges

Duncan said the city’s challenges for next year include creating more jobs, enhancing neighborhoods and maintaining safety services.

The opening of Champion City Business Park and the future Prime Ohio II will create jobs that pay a living wage in Springfield, Duncan said.

“It’s an opportunity to provide good jobs and companies which will be paying property taxes, just now coming to fruition,” Duncan said.

She believes efforts similar to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program can take place in other neighborhoods to help fight blight and strengthen the area. She’s also in favor of a vacant property registration to help residents who live nearby.

“It would allow the city to have a place to keep an eye on,” Duncan said.

Chilton said the biggest challenge the city faces next year is creating more jobs in the face of the city’s declining budget.

“We need additional revenue to continue the services we provide,” Chilton said. “Everything is centered around jobs. Our challenge is maintaining the services we have and continuing to build on that.”

Harkins believes the biggest city’s challenges include declining population, a stagnant economy and blight.

Harkins said there’s a long-term benefit in increasing the city’s population. He believes the city should focus on nurturing small business owners who will make substantial investments in their own businesses and throughout the community.

“The city needs to promote the local economy and realize every employer can have a dramatic impact on the local community,” Harkins said.

He’s in favor of creating a land bank, similar to the one in Flint, Mich. A land bank is a non-profit corporation created by a municipality that acquires and develops foreclosed or abandoned properties. These properties can be turned into urban parks or green spaces or be re-purposed for economic development.

Martin believes the city’s biggest challenges next year include maintaining budget stability, redevelopment of the former hospital sites and continuing to deal with the foreclosure crisis in neighborhoods.

The city’s budget, Martin said, must be maintained to ensure basic public services, such as police and fire, especially considering recent reductions in state and federal funding. The city must also deal with the possible expiration of a half-percent income tax.

“We’ll need to go back to the voters to ask if they’re willing to continue that,” Martin said.

He also believes the city should take a proactive role in the redevelopment of the former hospital sites, asking nearby stakeholders for their opinions.

“We need to have a strategic vision for the sites,” Martin said.

First priority

Chilton said her first priority is bringing more jobs to the city. She also mentioned the new industrial parks as ways jobs will soon come to the area.

“Those are positive things here in Springfield,” Chilton said.

Harkins said his first priority in 2014 would be tax reform. He believes the city income tax rate should be reduced to as low as the city can sustain itself. He also wants to make it easier for commuters who face a “double tax” for working inside the city but living outside of it. A lower tax rate will make the city more attractive to businesses and increase the population, which will help the city realize higher tax revenues in the future.

“The lower the tax rate, the greater the economic development will occur,” Harkins said.

Martin believes the city’s top priority heading into 2014 should be job development and creation. After the recent investments in Champion City Business Park and AirPark Ohio, the city must begin finding potential tenants for these sites.

“We need to be aggressive in marketing ourselves,” Martin said.

Duncan said her first priority in 2014 would be to help the city stay within its budget in order to provide essential services for citizens, including supporting the renewal of the half-percent income tax. She said Springfield’s tax rate is similar to other nearby cities with similar populations.

“I believe people are willing to pay for the services they get,” Duncan said.

Subsidy issues

All four candidates gave their views on subsidies the city pays for the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport’s air traffic control tower and the National Trail Parks and Recreation District’s golf operations.

Harkins said both the airport and the golf courses are business enterprises. If the city expects to maintain those, they need to operate in a way that’s economically self-sustaining.

He believes the city needs to determine if those subsidies make sense when the could the money could be used in other areas of need, like neighborhood streets and decreasing blight.

Harkins said, “$750,000 per year can have a tremendous impact on improving the roads of the city. The operation of a land bank would be less than $100,000 per year.”

Martin believes an economic feasibility study is necessary at the airport to see what potential jobs can become reality if the city were to continue to support the air traffic control tower. Without an operational tower, it would be tough to market the airport as part of the unmanned aerial vehicles industry and would be costly to bring it back if an opportunity does arise.

“I think we need to study it, but I see an upside (in the project),” Martin said.

He said he’s discouraged by the numbers at the golf courses and believes commissioners will have to take a hard look at the issue.

“I just don’t think that subsidy is sustainable,” Martin said.

Duncan said the potential is great at the airport, but understands it needs to materialize quickly because of budget concerns.

“It’s worth it to maintain the investment in the case that it does materialize into jobs,” Duncan said.

Duncan said she doesn’t believe subsidizing golf is a good use of the money if it doesn’t work, especially if the money can be used for other alternatives.

“I think it’s unfair to expect the community to subsidize golf when it’s a relatively small number of people playing,” Duncan said.

Chilton said the city is unsure of how long it can continue with the airport subsidy money, but it’s part of the regional agreement to help bring UAV jobs to the community.

“We do have a strategy here,” Chilton said. “We look at it as you have to spend money to make money. We’re hoping that we’re one of those (six Federal Aviation Administration sites for UAV testing). We’re looking at it positively and not negatively, so we’re maintaining those services because we’re trying to draw new businesses.”

Chilton said, if the golf courses aren’t breaking even, the city will have to make some “tough decisions” moving forward.

“It’s just like your household: if you’re not able to continue to pay for those services, then something usually has to be reduced,” Chilton said.

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