Candidates for Seward County Commission Districts No. 2, 3 and 4 make final preparations before the forum at the Rock Island Depot. L&T photos/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The community got to know some of the views of the candidates for three seats on the Seward County Commission Thursday at Liberal’s Rock Island Depot.
Incumbents and challengers answered questions from the audience, both at the Depot and listening in to the broadcast, and pre-prepared questions.
One of the issues addressed was how the county should handle a situation in which the entity needed more budgetary funds. Candidates were asked if they would cut services or raise taxes.
Current commission chairman Ada Linenbroker, who serves in Seward’s District No. 2 seat, said she would rather do neither.
“We’ve got to have our ambulance services and our sheriff and our health department,” she said. “They’re a necessity, and we have to have them. I don’t want to have to raise taxes if we can keep from it. If we have to tighten our budget and cut back on some of the stuff like equipment, maybe make them last a little longer, that’s the way I would go, but I’m definitely not going to cut the services that we need for the community.”
Linenbroker’s challenger, Darrell Long, agreed, saying with careful planning, both service cuts and tax raises can be avoided.
“I think we ought to support the community and try not to raise taxes, but also keep the services in good shape,” he said.
The challenger for the District No. 3 seat, Gladys Gomez-Fornwalt, also said taking measures to keep the county’s budget in line would eliminate the need for both moves.
“We probably need to not cut services and hopefully not have to raise taxes and just try to work to be able to get stuff done without having to do that,” she said.
District 3 incumbent Randy Malin said making the choice would be a difficult one.
“Nobody likes to raise taxes, but we don’t want to cut our services either,” he said. “I think most of you in here, most of our listening audience would definitely like to have a fire department in case your house caught on fire. You’d like to have a sheriff’s department, EMS department in case something tragic happened to you.”
Nathan McCaffrey, who is running unopposed for the District No. 4 seat after current commissioner Doug LaFreniere announced he would not seek another term, took a holistic approach to the situation.
“Figure out why you don’t have enough money,” McCaffrey said. “Is it because you didn’t bring in enough taxes, or is it because some particular service had gotten excessive? As an informed citizen, that would allow you to not cut services and not raise taxes.”
The federal government recently announced the Lesser Prairie Chicken was being listed as an endangered species, and Seward County is now part of a coalition to help fight the listing. In a question later in Thursday’s forum, candidates were asked if the county should remain in the coalition.
Long said the county should continue to help fight the listing.
“If the federal government pushes it down at us, it’s going to ruin our oil and gas business, and there’s going to be a lot of big industry that’s going to look elsewhere to build the factories,” he said. “They don’t want to be in the process of being fined or saying they harmed the prairie chicken.”
Gomez-Fornwalt simply said the bird should not be on the list to begin with, while Malin agreed with Long, saying the listing is something that needs to be fought against.
“I understand that our wildlife needs protection, but it’s being overdone,” he said. “Pretty soon, if you let this go unchecked, the federal government is going to control all the land out here. You’re not going to be able to raise beef cattle. You’re not going to be able to raise pigs. You’re not going to have any crops, and what are you going to do when you go to the grocery store and there’s nothing on the shelf.”
McCaffrey said the fight is essential for Southwest Kansas.
“It is obviously important out here to manage our resources, protect our law, protect our water, manage our oil and gas in a way that allows future generations to continue to live here and enjoy this part of the state as we all have,” he said. “I think right now it’s in the county’s best interest to fight the lesser prairie chicken.”
Linenbroker said the listing is definitely something local officials need to continue to address.
“The prairie chicken has been one of our topics for quite a while at our meetings,” she said. “When we first started talking about it, we actually thought it was a joke because we couldn’t believe they were making such a big thing out of it. As it’s progressed, we’ve gotten to see how it’s affecting our oil companies, our farmers, people with the wind farms. People have been farming for years. They’ve been working the oil rigs for years. These prairie chickens are out around these areas, and they don’t seem to be bothered by those people being there.”
Linenbroker added she does not believe the feds have looked at the drought conditions the region has gone through recently.
“That may be the main cause for the demise of the prairie chicken,” she said. “The county commissioners are going to stay with the coalition to keep fighting to protect the citizens of Seward County.”
Later, candidates were asked their positions on the use of tax abatements to promote growth in Seward County.
Malin said while he believes it should not take an abatement to bring a business to town, some companies will not do so without an abatement.
“If that’s what it takes, that’s what we’ll do, but if we don’t go mainstream or join a group, we may never get anything in here if we don’t give them anything to get here,” he said.
McCaffrey said he believes abatements need to be used carefully.
“I think tax abatements are an important tool we need to keep in our arsenal to use to try to attract businesses here,” he said. “It’s a tool we need to keep, but it’s a tool we need to use on a case by case basis in an intelligent way.”
Linenbroker agreed that abatements are necessary for the growth of the county.
“I know if people in the community want our community to grow, we will have to offer tax abatements to get some of those big corporations and businesses to come here,” she said. “The benefits we’re going to see from those tax abatements and employees and housing and people moving in here, I think, will even out for the money that we had to give out.”
Both Long and Gomez-Fornwalt felt while abatements are a necessity, they do need to be made for shorter periods of time.
“Sometimes, it is necessary in order to bring businesses to our area, but I think they need to be for a short-term and not for 10 years,” Gomez-Fornwalt said. “That way, we can get more businesses here to help us grow.”