Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

Council candidates talk economic development at Chamber forum

March 15, 2007

Befitting a forum at last week's De Soto Chamber of Commerce meeting, there was an economic development theme to many of the remarks made by those running for De Soto City Council given at a candidate forum.

Five of the six candidates vying for the three seats to be contested April 3 took advantage of the Chamber's opportunity to introduce themselves to the electorate. Candidate Ron Crow did not make the meeting.

In the shortest speech of the forum, incumbent Betty Cannon quickly summed up why she was seeking another term.

"It seems like the first two years, you're just learning the ropes," she said. "And then the last two years pass so quickly, you can't get everything done you want to do."

Robert Freeman, who served on the council from 1995 to 1999, agreed with Cannon's assessment. Because of that previous experience, he wouldn't need a learning curve to make a contribution to the council, he said.

With important issues facing the city, such as attracting development to pay for the new sewer plant, that would be important, Freeman said.

"Development can happen to you, or you can make it happen with you," he said.

Defining himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate, Freeman, an environmental engineer, stressed his and wife, Debbie's, lifelong roots in the community.

Candidate Mike Drennon suggested the $9 million wastewater plant now in the West Bottoms proved one way for the council to take a pro-active role in its future.

"The sewer is a grand addition, but the only problem is how to pay for it," he said.

The council should consider extending sewer lines to growth areas to spur development, Drennon said. Taps fees on new homes would pay for the extension and the debt on the sewer plant, he said.

Quality development was needed with the prospect of the development of Sunflower looming.

"It is now time to differentiate De Soto or be that city north of Sunflower," he said. "We need council that is pro-business and understands development."

The council was taking steps to attract quality development, incumbent Councilwoman Mitra Templin. After quitting her job as a pharmaceutical sales representative to raise two children, she became aware of how much time her family looked outside of De Soto for shopping and recreational possibilities.

That was one of the reasons she worked for the construction of a new swimming pool as a member of the De Soto Parks and Recreation Commission and then on the council, Templin said. In addition to addressing the long overdue need for a new pool, its completion kept residents at home where they would spend money and add traffic to downtown, she said.

With residents spending more time in the city, there will be a growing need for retail development to serve them, Templin said. But she said the city needed to be cautious as it sought development to expand its tax base.

"We need to attract commercial and retail citizens who will invest in our town in more ways than simply building a new building and a parking lot," she said. "In order to offer incentives to businesses, development needs to provide good-paying jobs, employees who are willing to be a part of our community, and be more interested in making De Soto home than in making a quick buck at taxpayers' expense."

To ensure that goal through good communication, the council members and staff have started meeting informally with business developers before formal requests are made to the full council, Templin said. In addition, the council has adopted an incentive policy with protocols to evaluate the benefits of tax abatements and other incentives, she said.

Candidate Kurt Johnson said a recent five-year financial forecast De Soto City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle completed emphasized the need for commercial development if the city was to avoid higher mill levies. He pointed to the downtown revitalization as one initiative that could provide some of that development.

Johnson pitched the experience he gained in 40 years working in the hotel and restaurant business. In that time, he had worked with municipalities in the writing of codes and regulations and gained considerable experience in fiscal management.

"I'm very good at controlling costs," he said. "I've worked with a hotel that had a $7 million breakfast budget. The city budget is $4 million."

He also gained experience with balance sheets as the man responsible for helping Mr. Goodcents franchise owners make the most of their investments.

"What I do is listen, investigate and follow up," he said. "I promise I'll do the same for you on the De Soto City Council."

Johnson, the president-elect of the De Soto Rotary Club and vice president of the De Soto Economic Development Council, said he was knowledgeable of the city's current five-year capital improvement project, having participated in two February workshops to trim the project list as a member of the EDC.

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