Tracy Martinez and Larry Campbell disagreed if the city council's ward 4 encompasses the downtown business district, and Josh Welden had an off-the-wall quip for his voters, as candidates squared off Monday. Candidates for mayor and city council fielded questions for more than an hour, hosted by Dan Mauk of the Chamber of Commerce.
There were no rebuttals in the forum that Mauk put together and moderated. Each candidate had a minute or two to answer questions.
The Martinez-Campbell disagreement came when asked what priority they would put on renovating downtown. Campbell said downtown needs attention, including some tax increment financing money.
Martinez said his priority would be to improve the rest of Ward 4 – the northwest side of the city. He said the downtown business district is not in Ward 4 and started to show a map, but Mauk cut him off because he was intruding in Campbell’s allotted time.
The downtown district north of Fifth St. is in Ward 4, according to the Lincoln County Election Clerk’s office.
In closing remarks, Welden, a candidate for the Ward 1 seat, imitated former President Richard Nixon to say he “is not a Brook,” referring to opponent Brook Baker, which brought a laugh. Welden said that he was joking.
During the forum, candidates answered several questions about economic development from Mauk, who is the economic development director of North Platte.
Why are you running?
Mayor Marc Kaschke: I want to continue to apply a practical approach to spending while growing North Platte.
Challenger Dwight Livingston: I’ve spent my adult life serving North Platte (on the police force). I accept responsibility for my mistakes and offer accolades to the achievements of others.
Brook Baker: I have a five-year-old son and want to help create a good North Platte for him.
Josh Welden: I will offer new ideas with simple solutions.
Barb Keller: I’ve worked for the city for 33 years. I’ve wanted to work on the council for a long time and now that I’m retired, I have the time.
Glenn Petersen: I’ve served four years on the council in the past. I have things to offer.
Dan McGuire: North Platte has been good to me. I have more things to give to North Platte
Andrew Lee: North Platte has stagnant business growth and a deteriorating downtown. My goal is to attract young people back to North Platte where they can open businesses.
Larry Campbell said he grew up in the area and loves North Platte. He took over in 2006 for Don McFarland, who retired before his term was over and was elected in 2008. He said he has really enjoyed his time on the council.
Tracy Martinez said he has lived in North Platte a long time – all his life. He loves the community and has raised three children here.
How would you help foster economic development?
Livingston said the first thing is to take care of existing businesses, that the city should take care of “what we have the rest will take care of itself.”
Kaschke said city officials must provide three things – 1) a business friendly tax atmosphere, with the use of tax increment financing when appropriate; 2) good infrastructure, and 3) a knowledge of “what we need in North Platte.”
Welden agreed with Kaschke about infrastructure, then lost his thought and passed the question to his opponent Brook Baker.
Baker said the city has 120 acres in a new industrial park near the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, and said the city should build a speculative building there to show prospective businesses. He said the city also must promote its transportation assets, including I-80, UP railroad and trucking companies such as Brown Transport.
Petersen expanded on Baker’s statement, adding the regional airport and good water to the list of assets, as well as a ready and willing workforce and the North Platte Community College, “a great asset.” Petersen also said the city should use TIF where it fits.
Keller agreed with Kaschke’s three points, and added that all the right city officials should sit down in the same room with a prospective business – planning and zoning, water, utilities and building, to make it more convenient for a new business to learn about building here.
Lee said North Platte loses $4 million in retail sales each month to other towns, which equates to nearly $50 million a year, so the city needs to show businesses “we can grow in North Platte." Lee said he wouldn’t have voted against awarding quality growth funds for Rue 21, a new clothing store at the Mall that came anyway.
McGuire said the city has lots of good things to offer. He likes Keller’s idea of getting city staff to meet together with a prospective business and he said anyone considering building a business in North Platte should spend some time with City Administrator Jim Hawks.
Martinez said one of his proudest moments came when he made a commercial supporting TIF for Wal-Mart, because he knew friends and acquaintances who could get good paying jobs there. He said TIF should be used to bring in new businesses, emphasizing “new.”
Campbell said as someone who has served on the boards of the Chamber and Development Corporation, North Platte is doing everything possible to bring new businesses to town.
Wal-Mart just retired TIF bonds early. Do you support the use of tax increment financing in economic development?
Kaschke said the use of TIF is not overly active. He recalled only a couple TIF projects in last eight years. He said North Platte needs to focus the use of TIF downtown.
Livingston said no one will dispute that TIF is good, but “we need to use it appropriately.” He said the TIF process is somewhat confusing and he hasn’t looked it from a decision-maker’s view, but regardless, it needs to be used appropriately.
Baker agreed with Kaschke, that TIF is a good thing if used properly, and it needs to be used downtown.
Welden said TIF can be good, but must be used appropriately, in a blighted area. How was a cornfield blighted? He asked. He said he didn’t get that, referring to the Industrial Park along E. State Farm Road.
Keller said TIF needs to be used as long as the city follows the laws, which the city does.
Peterson said he does care how TIF is used and he pays attention to each company. He referred to previous uses, including Holiday Inn and Suites and Perkins, and said the TIF projects worked out.
McGuire said he is in favor of it. He noted that companies have to go through lots of steps just to use TIF. He said at some point there was a fuss about blighted and substandard designations, so they backed off a little bit.
Lee said yes, TIF is good as long as it is needed to get a biz here.
Campbell said yes, it’s a good thing -- an amazing tool.
Martinez said TIF is not complicated. All anyone has to do is call Dan Mauk or the Attorney General’s office if there are questions. He said it is needed in Ward 4, where blight and substandard is definitely the situation.
What is your vision for downtown and what priority do you put on it?
Baker said Hirschfeld’s were prepared to spend $20,000 to renovate the second floor of the building but when it became apparent all the utility lines would need to be renovated and new fire sprinklers installed, the project became price prohibitive. Restoring downtown will mean that property owners need some help, he said.
Petersen said he once owned property downtown, and he had a $1,400 gas bill in one month.
“It’s just not cost effective for business to revitalize the buildings there on their own, he said. “They are going to need help.”
Kaschke said downtown areas set cities apart. He referred to the Haymarket and Old Market sections of Lincoln and Omaha.
Martinez said he’s not so worried about downtown as he is Ward 4. He said Ward 4 residents want markets, drug stores, etc on the north side. But in the course of his answer he mentioned the possibility of an extensive metal awning that would allow pedestrian access to second floor from Fourth to Sixth streets.
During closing remarks, feature Welden said, in his best Richard Nixon impression, “I am not a Brook.”
“Nothing against Brook,” Welden added. “He’s a great guy.”
Nate Christopher of KODY and Mugs in the Morning contributed to this report.