Second and Sixth Ward candidates discuss Columbia’s economy

Five candidates pursuing a seat on the Columbia City Council in the Second and Sixth wards met Thursday afternoon at the Chamber of Commerce to introduce themselves and assess the current economic climate of the city. Questions fired at the candidates focused specifically on the Columbia Regional Airport, public transit and other major issues ahead of the April 3 municipal election.

Mike Atkinson, co-owner of The Candy Factory and a member of the chamber; Bill Pauls, a self-described farm boy from Iowa who has lived in Columbia for a quarter century; and Michael Trapp, a substance abuse counselor with Phoenix Programs, are all in the hunt for Jason Thornhill’s Second Ward Council seat. An audience member at Thursday’s forum asked the candidates about plans to balance the budget.

Given the current budget issues, would you focus on raising revenue or redirecting funds that we have from other expenditures? 

Atkinson said he would not look to raise revenues.

“We don’t need to put any more stress on our economy,” he said. “I’m a big believer in the free market; we don’t need too much government interference.”

Pauls said he would take a more balanced approach.

“We need to address both sides of the issue, that’s our job,” he said.

Pauls said the city should consider adjustments to all sources of revenue as is needed.

Trapp said taxes shouldn’t be raised right now.

“We don’t want to tax out of the real economy and bring it into the government economy in down economic times,” he said.

The chamber posed to Sixth Ward candidates Barbara Hoppe, a tw0-term incumbent, and Bill Tillotson, an independent insurance agent, the question of what was the most important issue facing Columbia.

In your opinion, what is the greatest issue Columbia is facing, and what would your potential solution/solutions be?

Hoppe said that while the budget was under control and sales tax revenue was increasing, improvements at the airport were important to attract businesses to the community.

“I know specifically of some events and some employers that looked at Columbia — we were on the short list — and because of our airport, we fell off that list,” Hoppe said.

She said the demand for increased airport services underscored the importance of improving infrastructure as the city continues to grow. Tillotson echoed Hoppe, saying infrastructure was the key issue for Columbia voters. He cited the condition of roads, specifically, as a major concern.

“Obviously it’s important to the citizens of the city, and I think it’s important for visitors to our community as well,” Tillotson said.

A member of the audience questioned the candidates on the current state of public transit in the city.

In light of recent reductions in federal funds for public transit, can you comment on its future in Columbia?

Tillotson suggested looking at other countries as a model for assessing the transit systems and their environmental impact.

“If you pull up in a bus in Amsterdam, that bus is turned off as it sits at a bus stop or a red light,” Tillotson said. He suggested bringing a lot of different interests in the city together to improve routes and provide continued funding for the bus system.

Hoppe said that the transit issue was one that was particularly important in the Sixth Ward, where a lot of bus riders are students. She said that increased services during her tenure on the council averted potential traffic problems.

“If we had all those students driving, instead of on buses, no one would be going anywhere in the Sixth Ward,” Hoppe said. “It would be gridlock.”

For more on the candidate forum, read our coverage in The Missourian.

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