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Council candidates disagree on Iron EagleTell North Platte what you think
 
Photo by George Lauby
Mayoral candidate Jerry Stoll speaks as council candidates listen, from left, Brook Baker, Josh Catlett, Josh Welden and Dave Bertram (both obscured) and Barb Keller.
Photo by George Lauby
Mayoral candidate Dwight Livingston talks with former city councilwoman Rita Hernandez after the forum.
Photo by George Lauby
Marc Kaschke
Courtesy Photo­Image
Brook Baker
Photo by Bulletin file photo
Josh Catlett
Courtesy Photo­Image
Josh Welden
Photo by Bulletin file photo
Barb Keller
Photo by George Lauby
David Bertram
Courtesy Photo­Image
Glenn Petersen

Opinions were divided Monday night about what to do with the Iron Eagle golf course when the candidates squared off at a public forum.

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Three of the six council candidates said the recent decision to hire a private management company to run the course is a bad one.

The other three said the decision is made and they hope for the best.

Candidates in contested primary races answered questions from moderator Kent Winder of KNOP-TV downtown in the Patty Birge room of the Neville Center for Performing Arts. About 100 people attended and several had to stand because all the seats were taken.

Three candidates are battling for mayor. The situation is the same in ward 1 and ward 2 of the city council.

In each race, one candidate will be eliminated in the May 15 primary election. The top two will settle it in the November election.

The Iron Eagle golf course has never operated profitably, even though the land was given to the city in exchange for utility and paving development of surrounding land.

Last year, the golf course lost about $178,000 in operations, and city taxpayers paid another $220,000 on the construction debt.

For more than a year, Mayor Marc Kaschke pushed for a private management company to run the course, but he had to break a tie April 11 when the city council finally voted on a deal and split 4-4.


City candidates:

Mayor: Marc Kaschke, Jerry Stoll, Dwight Livingston.

Council ward 1: Brook Baker, Josh Welden, Josh Catlett.

Council ward 2: David Bertram, Barb Keller, Glenn E. Petersen.


Council candidates Josh Welden, Dave Bertram and Brook Baker said Monday they don’t like the idea of a private manager.

Welden said he’s not sure it’s in the city’s best interest, given that the construction loan will be paid in a couple years. Bertram said the company, Landscapes Group of Lincoln, recommended changes a couple years ago, but that didn’t work, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to him to bring Landscapes in now to run the course.

Baker said he would have voted no, but now that a deal is in the works, the city should tell Landscapes they have to generate enough to cover the city’s debt payment, and they can have the rest.

Josh Catlett, Barb Keller and Glenn Petersen were less opposed to private management, if not in favor.

“We have an agreement,” Keller said. “Let’s see how it works.”

Petersen said the course has increased property tax revenues 25-fold on the surrounding land since it was built. And, he said more development would occur out there but there is too much negativity about the course.

Catlett, whose family operates Runza fast food restaurants in North Platte, said he likes to look at the bottom line and figure out the most efficient ways to improve whatever he is involved in.


The mayoral candidates were less divided.

Former assistant police chief Dwight Livingston said he is not sure if hiring an outside manager was the right decision, but appreciates the fact that a decision has been made.

“I’m not saying more until I see the contract, (which is still under negotiation),” Livingston added.

Councilman Jerry Stoll, who voted against the management contract, said the solution now lies in promoting the course, “not tearing it down.”

And Kaschke said, “Iron Eagle has lost money since its inception. We gotta try something different. Hopefully in a couple of years it will break even.”


Cooperate

The candidates generally called for more cooperation for the city to progress.

“Working as a team would make a world of difference for all of us,” said Barb Keller, who is currently the administrative assistant for the mayor and the city administrator.

Petersen, who served one term on the council that ended in 2008, wants more focus on the positives of North Platte, “of which there are many.”

Bertram said he had a lot of experience working with others, as a chief deputy fire marshal who is nearing retirement and a volunteer fireman.


Cell phone tax

Stoll was the only candidate to express support for a new city tax on cell phones. He said he wants to look at alternate revenue streams as more people are abandon their land phone lines, which are taxed by the city.

Stoll said it would broaden the number of people paying taxes, because there are only about 3,000 people who pay city property taxes, but many more cell phone users.

He said a cell phone tax would ease the tax burden on property owners.

But his opponents were not impressed.

“I’ve said very publicly that I am not in favor of new taxes and I would veto a new cell phone tax,” Kaschke said.

“We don’t need added taxes and we don’t need a cell phone tax,” Livingston said.


Baker, an Army veteran who served 30 months in Iraq and the father of a 4-year-old, questioned how a city cell phone tax would be structured. He wonders if students at the college would have to pay it, or people living and working in North Platte who have phones with a Hershey, Sutherland or Wallace prefix.

Catlett didn’t advocate for the tax, but said telephones must be taxed enough to fund the Emergency 911 dispatch center.

Welden cited the old Beatles song, “Taxman,” about who everything is taxed, and he said he didn’t see the point of a new cell phone tax.

“I just don’t like it,” Bertram said.

“No thank you,” Keller said.

“I’m against it,” Petersen said.


Cut expenses

To cut city expenses, the candidates generally advocated more shared services with the county, such as combined law enforcement.

Livingston said he has experience in that, having worked with County Commissioner Joe Hewgley years ago to share the police and sheriff’s dispatch center.

“If we put our minds together, there’s got to be more we can do,” he said. “I know we can do it.”

Stoll again threw out some numbers. He said city police cost about $4.5 million a year, and the county sheriff’s office costs $2.5 million. City property owners pay taxes to both the city and the county.

Stoll said 20% of the costs could probably be cut if the police and sheriff offices are combined, and the injustice of the city tax burden would be addressed too.

Kaschke said the city is moving in the right direction under his leadership.

“We are spending well below the rate of inflation,” he said. “We’ve had a hiring freeze for several years. We have 20 fewer full time employees.”

And, Kaschke said the city will pay off significant long term debts in 2014, and more money will be available for tax relief, and “to grow our community.”


Council candidate Barb Keller said cutting taxes is not easy to do, but could involve fewer trash pickups or fewer potholes fixed.

“There are always ways to cut taxes,” she said. “We have to ask what do we want to give up in order to do that.”

Petersen also called for more togetherness with the sheriff and police. He cited the cost of electronic equipment and said both departments could save money by sharing.

Baker said the city has to stop taking on new debts and more loans.

Catlett, who said he has traveled extensively overseas, noted that some countries don’t have good road or enough police.

Taxes pay for those things, and in that sense, taxes are good, he said. He said he would go over the budget line by line to see what could be cut. That’s the way he works on the church budget as a member of its finance committee, he said.

Welden said he doesn’t like paying taxes but like most people, he likes good schools and streets.

When more city debts are paid in 2014, the city should take that money and pay off what it owes without buying anything new, Bertram said.


Growth

To attract new business, Kaschke said the city is well positioned, with good streets and utilities, new technology.

“We just have to get out and pound the pavement,” he said, looking for solid small businesses as well as large ones.

The candidates agreed that North Platte is a great place to live.

Livingston noted some of the excellent attractions, such as the recreation center, good parks, hike-bike trails and good people.

Stoll said North Platte compares very well with every other city in the state, even though the city is not at “the top of the list” of places with low real estate taxes.

Keller and Glenn Petersen credited the work of Dan Mauk, the executive director of the North Platte Chamber of Commerce and Development Office, for recruiting companies to come.

“These are the people who sell us,” Keller said.

Baker said North Platte is a great location because of it’s location, with U.S. highways running in all four directions and the world’s biggest railroad yard.

Catlett agreed.

“Everything’s here; we just have to find the businesses,” he said, noting that a national softball tournament will be played here this summer, thanks to the efforts of the convention and visitor's bureau.


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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 5/1/2012
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