Second Ward candidates debate public safety, park lands, city manager

Wednesday , March 14, 2018 - 7:56 AM

Yue Yu

Although they were in the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library, Second Ward City Council candidates didn’t hold back from criticizing each other during their third forum Tuesday night.

Second Ward candidates Mike Trapp and Paul Love debated over public safety, as usual, along with the city’s park development and the city manager’s performance. The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters.

The election is April 3.

Evaluation on city manager’s performance

Incumbent Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp said he thinks City Manager Mike Matthes has fared well in his job in keeping the city budget balanced.

Trapp said Matthes has taken care of the sales tax downturn “pretty gracefully” and has also brought about a pension reform in 2012 that helped “address...unfunded pension liabilities.” Trapp also cited the city’s strategic plan, which he said addressed social equity and cut the African-American unemployment rate in half.

“There’s been a lot of successes under Mike Matthes,” Trapp said. “I know it’s easy to criticize those at the top, but I think he’s done well.”

Love was much more critical.

“Most of the people in our public safety department are blaming the city manager and the council for (their) issues,” he said.

Love also thinks there should be a change in how the city manager and city council work together. He thinks the council should give Matthes more direction.

“(Matthes) basically runs the city,” he said. “If we had a city council that gave more direction to the city manager, we would have a more efficient government.”

New ideas on how to improve Ward 2

Trapp said the biggest complaint he has heard in the Second Ward was the lack of neighborhood-serving business.

“When you think about where all the new restaurants and the great places to shop are open,” Trapp said, “they’re not in the Second Ward.”

Trapp said the city should look into zoning issues to bring more businesses to the north.

Love said his idea is “not so much a new idea,” but he wants to focus on public safety.

“I’m tired of people telling me they’re afraid to walk at night in my neighborhood,” he said.

Two of the things he hopes to initially fix are low morale at the police department and understaffing at the fire department. One of the ways Love touched on Tuesday was to give raises to the police officers occasionally.

Trapp said 20 additional officers have been added during his two terms on the city council, and he thinks the city needs to find another funding resource in order to add new officers.

He said property tax would be a heavy lift but also the most stable form of revenue. Trapp also sees strengthened community policing as an option to solve this problem, and he said it would need a combined effort from the community, the city council, the police union and racial justice activists.

Trails and parks

Love was conflicted about whether the city should change the parks system. He often bikes on trails and thinks the parks help give Columbia its character but says the costs associated with them are high.

“The number of parks we have is starting to seriously burden our city budget,” he said.

As more land is being taken up for parks, it hurts any potential tax income from the area, Love said. He thinks that with the city’s projected decline in sales tax revenue, more taxable areas would have been beneficial.

Love doesn’t believe that the city should sell off its existing parks.

Love also wants to change the parks sales tax into a public safety tax. Because public safety funding is an issue, applying the tax revenue to public safety would help increase funding.

A property tax that would have funded public safety, including the hiring of police officers and firefighters, was rejected by voters in 2014.

Trapp also said he wouldn’t sell parks to save money for public safety. Parks are of great value to drive up the economy and increase people’s living quality, he said.

“The city in the future is going to be grateful that we had the forethought to lock as much land up into a green space,” Trapp said.

Many people donated parks to the city, Trapp said, because the lands were not suitable for development. He believes the vast majority of the voters stand in favor of parks.

Trapp also said park development and public safety don’t have to contradict each other, and he believes that the city can work on both in tandem.

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