The Belton Chamber of Commerce hosted the first candidate forum for Belton City Council and School Board candidates. Local attorney Chris Benjamin was the moderator and Fred Yonkers was the time keeper. A crowd of nearly 100 people came to listen to what the candidates had to say and to educated themselves to make an informed decision at the polls on April 3, 2018.
The School Board candidates were asked the following questions and allowed 2 minutes to respond on the first two questions and 3 minutes for the last question.
- What compelled you to run for a position on the Belton School District Board of Education?
James Armilio – Having been involved with the youth of this city for more than 20 years through various sports programs, he said he is very passionate about youth in the community.
Heather Shelton – She said that her daughters and her experience as the daughter of an educator formed an early belief in the value of education. She believes it is the job of the school board to create opportunities for students to be successful.
Linda Wilckens – She believes that schools are the most important thing for the youth of Belton. She believes in what the school district is doing. There is more that she wants to see accomplished in the school district and wants to be part of that specifically seeing the high school building project through.
Elaine Wilson – As a retired Belton school teacher she wants to use what she learned in the classroom and apply it to the issues the school board faces. She wants to continue to serve the children as a Board member.
- What level of priority do you assign to building security and what additional recommendations do you have for assuring the safety of staff and students?
James Armilio – He said that security is the number one priority now when just a few years ago it was education. He said that more focus needs to be given to providing more counselors and teaching students to be kind to one another. He said that resource officers were also very important to the security solution.
Heather Shelton – She said that security is a primary concern. She said that more time needs to be given to understanding the culture that the students are currently in. She feels that there is room for improvement for all staff to be trained to handle security issues.
Linda Wilckens – She said that a major concern is how to provide safety for the students without scaring them. She said that more could be done with the camera system to increase the safety at school buildings. She also would like to see a resource officer in every building. She understands that this issue will take money to adequately address. She thinks that the school district is currently doing a good job in this area.
Elaine Wilson – She said that as a teacher she would have put herself in the path of a bullet for her students and she believes that other teachers feel the same. She thinks that it is sad that teachers have to train kids on how to handle security risks in the classroom. She would like to see every building with a resource officer and that this is one of the main reasons she wants to be on the Board to find financial support for these solutions.
- Belton High School is in the planning stages for future implementation of academies with career pathways. With guidance from Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL) and their 5 stage roadmap (in which Belton is midway of Stage 3) curriculum, instructional methods and community/industry connections and involvement will be key elements of the transformation. The first class to experience implementation will be the freshmen class of 2019 – 2020 in conjunction with the completed construction of the high school and 2023 the first class will graduate with full Academy pathways. What do you believe the affect and outcome will be for students, staff and administration, and the business community?
James Armilio – He said that he visited several communities that have completed the NGL and he was impressed to learn that their dropout rates have diminished significantly. He believes this provides great opportunities for the kids. He said that he would like to continue working on this program.
Heather Shelton – She is very excited about this program. She wants to be part of ensuring that the district is following the program with fidelity knowing that it does work. She has children who will benefit from this program and believes in its value. She believes that this program will foster more unity among like minded and career path students, increase attendance, and create a more engaging learning environment. She said the relationship between the students and the business community is key to the program’s success.
Linda Wilckens – She is very excited about this program and the format it is utilizing. She thinks that it is important that local businesses look at their role in helping students succeed post high school. Because of the flexibility this program offers, she likes that students will be able to change career paths throughout the program to find the best fit for them.
Elaine Wilson – She is excited for the students who will have a vested interest in their education when they feel that what they are learning has real life application. She said that there is a shortage in trade/skilled workers and this program helps to fill that gap while at the same time giving students a skill set that can carry them through life.
The City Council candidates were asked the following questions and allowed 2 minutes to respond on the first two questions and 4 minutes for the last question.
- What compelled you to run for City Council?
Ryan Finn – Ward 1 – Said he always enjoyed serving his community and is very committed to the position. He said that he has always had a spirit of service evident at an early age when he joined the Marine Corps Reserves right out of high school. He said that he wants to continue championing this city.
Bobby Davidson – Ward 1 – Did not attend the forum
Dean VanWinkle – Ward 2 – Originally ran for the seat after Mayor Davis suggested it to him. Now he is glad he did and would like to continue serving his community in this capacity. He learned a lot in his 6 years on the Park Board before serving on the Council which he was able to apply to his time on the Council.
Jason Stephens – Ward 2 – After attending several events throughout the City, he decided he wanted to have a more active role in the community and feels this offers him that opportunity.
Bob Newell – Ward 3 – With a background in youth sports in Belton, he decided he wanted to know more about the operation of the City. He got to know his ward representative and became even more interested in the issues that affect the City. He wants to continue to make sure that the growth of the City is done in the right way.
Stephanie Davidson – Ward 3 – She said that she has always been drawn to community service and has served with the Belton Community Project group. She read a prepared statement about the woes of the financial and infrastructure status in the City and said that she believes she can do a better job in allocating tax dollars to address those issues.
Gary Lathrop – Ward 4 – Did not attend the forum
- During Budget Year 2018, the City fell short of projected revenues. That has affected planning and hiring for Budget Year 2019. As a member of the City Council, how would you ensure a balanced budget if this were to happen again?
Ryan Finn – Ward 1 – He said that he does not believe that the City should be a savings account and maintain high level reserves. He also mentioned that several TIFs from the past are falling off in the next few years which will increase the revenues for the City. He also asked for support for the Use Tax because those monies raised would go directly to the fire and police departments.
Dean VanWinkle – Ward 2 – He admitted it was a tough question and a tougher solution to find. He said that the Council did spend a lot of time on the budget and that the major area of funding in the budget was personnel. The solutions they used for this budget may not be effective for the next budget which could result in layoffs and pay freezes. He complimented the City Manager for restructuring her staff to save money but feels that is a short term solution. He also said that the City is required by law to maintain a certain level of reserves and feels that they will be able to balance the budget next year.
Jason Stephens – Ward 2 – He said he would treat it like his own household budget and if one area fell short he would have to pull from another area to try to maintain what the City has to do. He felt it was a group effort with all of the City Council, Mayor, and city administration.
Bob Newell – Ward 3 – He said that the current Council has combed through the budget looking for ways to save money. He also said that he believed that the tax revenue will increase because of new and coming businesses. He said that the City is not cutting positions but is saving money through attrition especially in the police and fire departments. He said that he believes the growth of the business district will only produce more growth which will increase tax revenues in the future.
Stephanie Davidson – Ward 3 – We haven’t done enough as a City Council to figure out what is driving that deficit. She talked about how the City had nearly $300,000 set aside in their four year plan to create hiking/biking trails in the City. She said that it was interesting that the City is floating the idea of the Use Tax when she said she just found the money that they hope to get from the tax by cutting out the funding for the Belton parks trails system. She said she thinks her duty as a Councilmember would be to find money to service what people are really needing.
- Of the following 3 challenges Belton faces, which would be your highest priority, why, and how would you address it? Housing, Crime including drugs and homelessness, Public Works.
Ryan Finn – Ward 1 – He said that his first issue was addressing crime in the community by making sure that the police and fire are properly funded. He felt that public works was also vital because of the aging infrastructure in Belton. He said that not maintaining what they already have in good working order will come at a much higher cost to replace in the future. Housing was also high on his list because of the rise in housing demands for people of all ages.
Dean VanWinkle – Ward 2 – He said that he did not feel that the homeless people should be lumped in with criminals but he acknowledged that crime was a high priority that the City must address. As far as public works goes he said it was not an easy problem to address when you have an aging city to maintain because it is an expensive solution. Housing he believes is tied into the issue of crime as well as the level of the school districts because those are two key factors when it comes to people choosing where to live.
Jason Stephens – Ward 2 – He said that crime is always a big issue and said that he was a member of a neighborhood watch program because it is important for people to look out for each other. He ranked housing second followed by public works.
Bob Newell – Ward 3 – He said that you cannot have a safe community without the first responders. He noted that it takes money to solve the issue with homelessness. He talked about the program that the City is currently utilizing that gives a warranty on sewer lines for 15 years and will save the taxpaying citizens money in the future. Housing is necessary for our city and our schools to grow. He said that just a short time ago there were no new building permits issued by the city but just this last year more than 100 were issued. He feels that the city is moving in the right direction.
Stephanie Davidson – Ward 3 – She said that Crime, Public Works, and Housing were how she would rank it. She said that the practice of subsidizing new developments by the City has kept the City from being able to support its police and public works departments. She does not believe that the deals that have been made have been in the best interest of the citizens of Belton. She said that she built a house in Belton five years ago in an area that is a Belton zip code, but in the Ray-Pec school district. She said that the city is limited in its building area and needs to look towards annexation at some point. She also stated that 40% of Belton residents are renters and says the city has fostered that environment through its artificial growth that has brought in only entry level jobs.
City Manager Alexa Barton also gave a brief description of the Use Tax and answered a couple of questions about it.
She explained that the Use Tax is an effort to reclaim some of the revenues lost due to an increase in online shopping. She pointed out that the state and the county collects use taxes on purchases made online and that Belton is one of the few cities in the state that does not have a use tax. It is the same as a city sales tax collected at the cash register at Target or Hy-Vee.
- Please give 2 scenarios (1) where there would be a Use Tax charged to a purchaser and (2) where there would not be a Use Tax charged to a purchaser.
She said that a purchase through Amazon would be subject to this tax. A purchase at Nebraska Furniture Mart at the Legends where you carry the item home with you or a purchase from a seller that does not have a nexus with the State of Missouri is not charged a use tax for purchases up to $2,000 annually.
- The projected income from the Use Tax is $200,000 – $300,000 per year. What is the anticipated use of revenues if the proposal passes and what happens if it doesn’t pass? She indicated that the projected income is an estimate based off of an extrapolated formula that the state ran based on the current sales tax revenue in the city. The anticipated revenues will be used for capital purchases or one time expenses such as police vehicles and maintenance of city buildings. If it does not pass the current vehicles and buildings will continue to deteriorate and cost more in the long run to repair.