ELKO — The four candidates in the running for the mayor’s seat sat in front of a packed room in the Elko Convention Center Thursday night to answer questions concerning the city’s future.
Diane Elmore, Royce Hackworth, Chris Johnson and Mike Kraus attended the mayoral forum hosted by the Elko Area Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee.
It didn’t take long for the discussion to turn to possible tax and fee increases should Elko face declining revenues.
Kraus said budgeting and business tools are necessary in the case of a shortfall. He said cities should know the details of the budget at all times.
Hackworth views taxes and fees as the same thing, the only difference is taxes go to the Elko County treasury and then to the city and fees go straight to the city.
“I want to be responsible for where the money goes,” Hackworth said. “Fees don’t help the business and don’t help resolve anything other than taking more money from citizens.”
He said if there is a revenue decline, cuts and efficiencies are necessary because the city can’t spend money it doesn’t have.
Johnson, a city councilman, said the current ratio of city fees and tax revenues works well and adjustments aren’t necessary. He said the city’s general fund is about $15 million, a small portion of which comes from fees.
However, should a revenue decline of significant magnitude ever occur, Johnson said prioritization is necessary and health and safety would come first. Items such as recreation and non-life and safety issues would go first, without raising taxes.
Elmore said she believes in “living within your means.”
“If you don’t have the sustainable tax base to support what you’re doing then you have to change what you’re doing,” she said.
Elmore said she will not raise taxes or fees and will make sure the city avoids situations where it would have to make cuts. Through sustainable business and supporting growth, Elmore said she would ensure a contingency plan is in place should a revenue decline occur.
Business development and city growth were topics for much of the meeting.
Although the candidates agreed infrastructure was important to promote growth within the city, they had different opinions on how to build it.
Johnson said over the last five years the city has increased water well capacity with growth in mind.
Although he said the city needs to keep the capital and visionary ideas in mind for future development, a balance between planning for overall infrastructure and putting rate-payers’ money at risk is necessary.
Hackworth said it is the city’s responsibility to be the “forerunner” in planning for growth. He said the city does have a methodology for growth planning through impact fees and building permits.
“Because the city is the only sewer and water supplier in the city limits, as areas grow the city has that responsibility to make sure those facilities are there,” Hackworth said.
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Elmore said she would support the building of infrastructure. Although infrastructure to support growth such as roads and schools are necessary, she said it is the people that are important to making the decisions to implement it.
As mayor, Elmore said she would make infrastructure projects a priority and provide quality services to businesses interested in coming to Elko.
Kraus said the city has to do what the citizens of Elko want. He said before building infrastructure he would have to look at the budget and see the best way to fund it.
In response to whether developers should pay connection fees up front or after a project is completed, Kraus said developers should be allowed to pay fees after project completion.
He said developers invest a lot in a project, so they would pay the fees.
Johnson disagreed. He said it is rate-payers’ money the city is dealing with and if developers do not pay up front, it is rate-payers’ money at risk. Johnson said the city has to use caution.
Elmore agreed that the city should provide some sort of incentives to developers so they build in the area. She said incentives do not have to mean waiving fees until a project is completed, but it’s more about being a business-friendly city.
Hackworth sad the issue is a double-edged sword. He said he has seen a situation where developers paid up front and the state said additional water hookups were not allowed. However, it is the rate-payers who will pay for it if the fees are not collected up front, he said.
The development debate continued with a question on how each candidate envisions diversification within the city.
Hackworth said a city cannot force a business to come to Elko. Chain stores do marketing studies and only build if they see a marketable community, he said.
Although the city cannot force a business into Elko, Hackworth said the city can make it easier for a business to come.
“We need to encourage business here in order to have a solid base for redevelopment,” Hackworth said. “We can try to make it easier for them to come in.”
Elmore said if the people want a business to come to the area, she will do everything in her power as mayor to try and recruit that business. As the only non-business owner running for mayor, Elmore said she does not have a business investment in the mayoral seat, but an emotional one.
Johnson said he believes in education, and both Great Basin College and the University of Nevada, Reno Fire Science Academy both help diversify business and the workforce.
In addition to a solid education system to teach residents a new trade or occupation, he said a solid infrastructure is also necessary to support business diversification and growth.
Kraus chose not to respond to the question.
A candidate forum for Elko City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 11 at the Elko Convention Center. Questions from the public are encouraged and will be accepted until 5 p.m. the day of the forum.