SHERIDAN — Candidates for county and city offices made their pitches to voters Wednesday night at the third candidate forum hosted by the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center.
Four city council seats are open and only two current councilors are running for re-election. Council Vice President Erin Hanke, who was not in attendance Wednesday night is seeking another four-year term on council and Councilor Patrick Henderson is running for an unexpired two-year term.
Councilor Alex Lee will not seek re-election, and Kelly Gooch stepped down in June.
Five of the council candidates are running for the three four-year seats, Victoria Hernandez is running alongside Henderson for the two-year seat. Candidate David Lee announced his resignation from the race Wednesday morning, citing health problems.
Many of the candidates criticized the current council for not being more receptive to public demands and vowed to let public opinion guide their decisions.
All of the candidates, except Henderson, said they would put contentious issues like the continued fluoridation of the city’s water and whether the city should continue with a city administrator form of government to a public vote.
Vixie Miller said she opposed the city administrator form of government, as it makes city leadership unclear.
“Anyone will tell you a two-headed calf is a freak,” Miller said.
Henderson pushed back against the notion that the current council does not listen to the public, noting that councilors move in different circles in the city and hear from different people.
He said repeatedly, however, that he wants to see city council move past issues like the fluoridation of the city’s water and the city administrator and onto issues like affordable housing, business development and improving infrastructure.
Council candidates were also asked how they would address the shortage of affordable housing in the city.
Miller said she would like to see small developers looking at small parcels of land to build affordable housing. She also said it would be important to visit with neighbors near the construction of affordable housing options to get them on board and avoid pushback against the projects.
Henderson said there was no silver bullet the city could use to solve affordable housing and it would have to explore a number of options. He suggested the city could find ways to change zoning codes on some existing land, splitting some existing lots into smaller lots and looking to infill in some places around the city.
Clint Beaver said the issues with housing costs in Sheridan aren’t caused by tap fees or building permit fees but supply and demand.
Aaron Linden said he would explore ways to create more economic incentives for the construction of affordable housing, expedite processes related to the construction of affordable housing and also said he would push to re-assess zoning laws.
Jacob Martin said he would look to decrease taxes and fees associated with housing in order to ensure city residents had more money to spend on rent and housing.
Hernandez proposed attacking the problem from a similar angle, though she agreed with Henderson that there is not one answer, by arguing minimum wage in the city is too low and limits what residents can spend on housing.
Eleven candidates are running for three open county commission seats and 10 of those candidates will compete for three nominations in the Republican primary later this month.
Because Jay McGinnis is the only candidate running as a Democrat, and will therefore advance to the general election automatically, he only delivered opening and closing statements Wednesday. During his opening he posed the candidates with a question: If elected, would they be willing to consider reducing the size of the county commission from five members to three? He pointed out the move could save the county roughly $100,000 a year.
Sheridan County expanded its county commission from three seats to five in 2008.
The only candidate who answered McGinnis’ question was incumbent commissioner Terry Cram, who said while the five-member commission has proven effective, maintaining it might be a luxury the county cannot afford.
Contrasts between the candidates competing for Republican-primary nominations emerged over whether the county should continue to impose the Capital Facilities Tax, the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax, and whether the it should adopt a countywide lodging tax. Renewal of the Optional One-Cent Tax and the creation of the countywide lodging tax will be put to voters on November’s ballot.
Most of the candidates agreed the revenue generated by the two existing taxes is important for maintaining services throughout the county and the loss of that revenue, particularly from the one-cent tax, would likely lead to cuts elsewhere in the budget so the county could continue to fund needs like emergency services.
Dennis Fox and Antonio Pickering, however, said they support the continuation of the Capital Facilities Tax so long as the county only uses revenue from it to fund large, one-time projects.
Both candidates, however, said they were against the continuation of the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax.
Jason Szewc did not say he opposed the one-cent tax, but said he would like to see the county move away from using one-cent revenues to fund day-to-day operations. In addition, Fox said he did not want to see the county adopt a lodging tax.
The candidates were also asked how they would balance the growth of the county with the desire to preserve agricultural lands and viewsheds.
All of the candidates said establishing guidelines for maintaining that balance through the revision of the county’s Comprehensive Plan, which the current commissioners allocated funding for in the next fiscal year, would be crucial. Cram, former Clearmont Mayor Chris Schock and Carl Clements said ultimately the issue would be decided through the county commission’s zoning judgments, but the Comprehensive Plan would inform those judgments.
In addition to revising the Comprehensive Plan, Christi Haswell said the commission should look at addressing threats to some of the county’s agricultural lands and open spaces, such as noxious weeds.
For a more detailed look at the county commissioner candidates, The Sheridan Press submitted questionnaires to all of the them and their responses appeared in the July 28 edition of the paper, which is also available online.
The three candidates running for county treasurer have all filed as Republicans and the winner of the primary, therefore, will win the office.
Carol Grandahl is currently a deputy county treasurer and highlighted her 23 years working in the office.
She said the office is already effective and if she is elected it would provide a smooth transition of leadership in the office. In terms of improvements, she said she would increase the level of technology in the office and advocate for more teamwork among office employees.
Misti Dunkelberger, who is currently the deputy county clerk, said she would bring 21 years of accounting and bookkeeping experience to the office and would update the office’s operations through modern accounting practices and new technologies.
The third candidate, Chester Burton, was not in attendance Wednesday night.
Primary elections will be held Aug. 21.