By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – A Riverton City Council candidates forum broadcast on radio Tuesday night drew a small handful of residents to city hall but answers to questions clearly defined differences between the five candidates. Jonathan Faubion is running unopposed for election in Ward 1, while incumbent Todd Smith and former council member Lee Martinez are seeking the single Ward 2 seat and incumbent John Lars Baker is facing off against former city worker Larry Bauman in Ward 3.
Moderator Leslie Stratmoen of KVOW/KTAK posed eight questions to the five candidates while the audience provided three others.
The five candidates were unanimous in support of the current city administrator form of government, where the Mayor and City Council set the direction and policies and the administrator carries out the day-to-day work. Likewise the candidates all agreed that the city should not sell off Riverton Regional Airport due to its importance to the local economy. The five all agreed the city should do what it can to seek other revenues to lessen the city’s subsidy up there, including increasing contributions for the airport’s operations from other entities in the county.
A third topic that the candidates could agree on was that the private sector should be the driver for any new convention center, and not the city, even though most could see benefits from having such a center. The candidates all agreed that the city could ill afford a drag on the city’s budget in future years for operation and maintenance of such a facility.
And those were the items the candidates could all agree on. There were some sharp differences exposed when the questions turned to support of the one cent optional sales tax for infrastructure, the city’s budgeting process and to what level the city should pay for amenities along Federal Boulevard when that major state highway is reconstructed in the coming years.
Speaking against the one cent issue were Bauman and Smith, while Baker, Martinez and Faubion all expressed support for the measure. Bauman said he opposed the tax because he said he wasn’t convinced the city would spend the money for the improvements spelled out in the measure. Smith said that even though he voted to support the measure being placed on the ballot, he won’t vote for it. He said it was up to the public to decide if they wanted to tax themselves. The other three candidates noted that the cities infrastructure, especially streets, were crumbling in many parts of town and without the additional revenues the tax would provide, the city did not have the resources to make all the repairs needed.
Four of the candidates said the city was doing a good job overseeing its $28 million budget but one, Bauman, said the budget is lacking in specific priorities and detail to let the taxpayers know if the budget is directing spending to where the dollars really need to go. It was somewhat ironic that given the topic of discussion, two displays in the council chambers featured the city’s strategic plan and a list of specific city council goals, including budget oversight. It was noted that both Smith and Martinez had served as chair of the council’s finance committee, which has direct oversight of the budget while Baker noted the city had done a good job in its obligation to provide city services while keeping the budget balanced. Faubion said he didn’t have any concerns about how the budget was handled, but he said that if elected he would exercise restraint and patience to avoid taking out loans and building up debt. He acknowledged the current council operated with a balanced budget.
The question that each candidate handled differently was the question of amenities for the upcoming construction projects on South and North Federal Boulevard. Speaking against any form of improvements was Bauman, Smith said he featured a bare bones approach, Martinez said the city should do what it could within reason to make the two major entrances to the city look better, Faubion said it was a matter of challenge and opportunity with a balance needed. He said that he doubted that after the next round of improvements, the boulevard would not be redone in his lifetime. He said the project needs to be cost effective, while looking at what would benefit the city in the long term. Baker said he was concerned that decorative lighting, for example, might be attractive but he was concerned over the long-term maintenance and power costs. He suggested the most effective way to light the boulevard is to allow the power company to install normal street lights that WYDOT would provide and that the power company would pay for the electricity.
The five were also split on the issue of the city retaining Central Wyoming College to administer the city’s recreation program. Baker said the agreement provides the city with the “greatest bang for the buck in the city budget,” speaking in favor of the current arrangement. Bauman said he wasn’t well versed on the issue, but he said he wanted to see the costs of the program. He noted the bike and walking path along North 8th West was falling apart and he didn’t see any program to fix that. Smith that issue was not on his priority list but he acknowledged the city is gaining more value with the arrangement that having to do the program on its own. Martinez, like Baker, called it one of the best bargains the city has and Faubion said he was absolutely in support of recreation programs, and the current arrangement, but he said he thought the city could be more aggressive in seeking matching funds for recreation improvements.
The entire forum will be rebroadcast on the city’s cable channel 11today (Wednesday) at 6 p.m. and Saturday at noon.