Citizens heard from candidates who will be on the ballot in the spring election during a forum Monday evening.
Among the candidates were those running for mayor, Mike Fagg and John Grange.
Fagg opened the mayoral portion of the forum talking about his time in El Dorado, saying he lived his whole life here and has spent 40 years in banking, while his wife is a teacher. He graduated from El Dorado High School, Butler County Community College, Wichita State University and the Graduate School of Banking of Wisconsin. He also has served as president of the Chamber, United Way and Lions Club; chair of the Bluestem Chapter of the Red Cross; started the Walnut River Festival; was in the first class of Leadership Butler; chair of the Sales Tax Committee; and was a city commissioner. While Fagg served as commissioner, he took classes to better himself as a commissioner, including such topics as ethics, nuisance abatement, advanced municipal finance and guiding a municipality.
"I truly care about our community," he said. "I have no business ventures that would influence me, no axes to grind. This campaign is about moving our community forward."
Grange said he is 63 years old and a lifelong resident of El Dorado with the exception of nine years he spent in the Army. He is a graduate of EHS and Butler.
"In 1989 Butler anointed me outstanding alumnus, then 17 years later they designated me a distinguished alumnus," he said.
Grange owns Carlisle Heating and Air, a company in town since 1978, starting it with his father-in-law when he returned from the service.
"The reason I'm applying for the job of mayor is because I want to provide the citizens of El Dorado with an honest and open approach to leadership," Grange said. "I don't want to resort back to the secretive commission my opponent was a part of in 2008," Grange said. "He was part of a group that fired a city manager without cause."
The first question to the candidates was: What will be your priorities if you are elected mayor of El Dorado?
Grange said, "My first priority will be to engage the citizens and our leadership and find out what it is the city can do to better serve you."
He wants to address debt, review policies and hold the city manager responsible for day-to-day operations.
"We work to develop good policies and give him (the city manager) all the tools necessary to do the things he does," he said. "I also think we need to review our one-cent sales tax."
Fagg said there was a handbook out there on being a mayor and he had a copy of it.
Page 2 of 10 - "I don't know if the commissioners have actually read it," he said, "but I picked one up and it describes what the job is."
He said the job pays $100 a year, and they are responsible for hiring and firing the city manager, the budget and setting policy.
Fagg said he was concerned about the city government's spending, stating in 2008 the budget was around $20 million.
"In 2013, our projected budget is like $27 million," Fagg said. "This is a town of 12,000 people and you're talking about a lot of money here. I think that is something we need to keep open and be accountable for what we are doing."
In response, Grange said they have to look at policies to be sure they are following them and they make sense.
"The budget is not a function of the commission," he said. "The city manger and his staff put those numbers together. We review it and have the authority to override. The only way to know what is going on is to get in there on a daily basis and see how operations are conducted. I don't think the commission has time to look at in detail those micromanagement issues."
The next question asked was: With the effect of drought in our area of the country, what should the city do to preserve our water resources?
Fagg began by saying, "Thank God for our forefathers, who had enough foresight to have the lake out here and work very hard to get that. As of today we don't have a water problem."
But he said they need to be careful because they sell to seven water districts and other communities and they need to understand what their growth needs are as well as the city's.
"I would like to have a second opinion on whatever advice we get on this," he said. "It is too big of an issue for all of us not to make a good decision on this. The other thing we need to be careful of is debt. We could debate that issue all night long."
Grange said he was a small child in 1952 and remembers going out to Lake El Dorado and watching people pull in fish out of the muddy water that was left.
"As Mike mentioned, our forefathers decided that was not going to happen again," he said. "I don't see in Wichita's plan where they are going to buy water from El Dorado. Some in this town think it may be a good cash cow and they are right and some do not want to sell water for any reason and they're right. I think we have to do a lot of study and a lot of review and hold harmless those people who depend on our water today. We have to ensure we can turn the water off."
Page 3 of 10 - In response, Fagg said going back to December of 1995 there was a future water sales policy developed.
"I think it would be good to go back to review that," he said. "I think our forefathers in that area did a good job. If we don't perform right, do you think Wichita would come over and take this over? I think so."
He also pointed out the city had $4 million saved up in 2003 for the lake debt when he was on the commission and said it is his understanding now that money is gone.
The third question asked: The city sales tax is up for voter approval on April 2. What is your view on the use and effectiveness of that program?
Grange said they had already heard about this that evening.
"I think it's very important we renew that tax," he said. "That tax not only comes out of your pocket, but from folks who drive through town. I am 100 percent behind renewing it."
Fagg said he recalled the time he was sitting in the city manager's office and the sales tax vote had gone down twice. He said they kept tacking on economic development.
"I was on one of the first groups that went out door to door and a lot of people didn't trust the city," he said. "We passed that (the sales tax). I am worried we depend too much on that. We need to learn to try to not depend on that as much. There was a time not too long ago we didn't have that. The city is spending the money and we need to be careful in that area."
In response, Grange pointed out there is a citizens advisory group monitoring where that money goes and he feels there are good people on that commission who earmark the money for certain things.
The fourth question asked: What is your vision for the future growth of our community?
Fagg said if people look, the city has spent a lot of money.
"You and I as taxpayers have put a lot of money in economic development and we don't know it," he said. "When we look at the industrial park, and it is great and I am glad we have it, as we go forward we have to get into a different area now. Economic development isn't the pushing part now. We need to work on the housing part of it. As you look around town you see that need. The director of El Dorado Inc., Linda Jolly, lived in El Dorado and has moved out to the country now. If those type of people are getting out of town now, we need to understand why."
Page 4 of 10 - Grange believes economic development needs to be an ongoing commission effort, as well as having input from other entities such as the County Commission and college.
"We need to look at all of the things we can do to attract people into this community," Grange said. "Also don't overlook businesses we have here. We don't encourage businesses to expand and hire new employees. I employee 10 people and just hired a new employee. I see a lot of good things happening when I look at the industrial park or business park. All those things need to be blended together to bring us the good things we have in this community. We could drop 20 mills tomorrow but how would we do that, send police and the fire department home? That is probably not a good option. We have to find a balance between services we want to have and citizens want to have and how we go about paying for them."
In response, Fagg said, "I think it's pride. Being a lifetime resident of El Dorado, I love this community. I think it has a lot of good people. Volunteerism is high. It is not a bad word to say you are a bedroom community. When I look at economic development I think our growth will come. I don't think we have to push as hard as we have in the past. I think it is time to shift gears."
The final question asked: What motivates you to become mayor of El Dorado?
"I had a shoulder injury a while back," Grange said, "and I was doing some work in the back of my shop and fell and hit my head real hard. I got five stitches and the next day I went down and filed. That's what my wife thinks."
He said he spent 25 years in the public sector, serving on the Butler Trustees, USD 490 board, in the state legislature, on the city planning commission, on the city code review and was a member of Leadership Kansas.
Grange wants an open and fair government with no hidden agenda and he wants to engage the public to come forward with their ideas and suggestions.
Fagg said when he was a commissioner for four years he took the job seriously.
"I respectively disagree with John that your job is not the budget," he said. "That is an important job. Once a month I used to go down and look at the budget, look at expense items to understand how the city operates. How do you vote on the budget if you don't know what the parts are?"
He said for those who watch the city commission meetings, that is in the consent agenda.
Page 5 of 10 - "They spend more time on the Pledge of Allegiance than the budget," he said. "Look at policies, when was the last time they were reviewed and try to update them. This is an important job. If it pays $100 a year so be it. I'm here because I care."
In response, Grange said his opponent was involved in hiring the current city manager.
"If he is not happy with what's going on, he needs to bring that to his attention," Grange said. "I have no problem with reviewing policies and bringing in different department heads. I think we need people to come in and talk to us about where they are spending. We cannot at our level be there every day to see all of the money is properly spent. We have to have faith in the employees, city manager and rest of the commission that the money is being spent properly."
In closing, Fagg said, "I would work hard to represent all citizens of El Dorado. Know I will provide you a good check and balance with the current governing body. I appreciate the work of the current city employees. I promise to be positive, receptive to all, keep the city government open and accountable to all. I will do my best to help you feel pride in calling El Dorado your own. This campaign is about working together in the future, a future we can all afford. If there are any questions or suggestions, I'm in the phone book. I talk to people every night."
Grange thanked everyone for attending, as well as a former mayor and commissioner in attendance.
"I appreciate you coming out tonight," he said. "We are trying to accumulate the good efforts you put out. The most important job is to be on-call to represent the city. You need to be available during the day and you can't do that if you work out of town. I will be honest with you and listen to your concerns."
People also heard from the two commissioners running for position one for the City Commission, Shane Krause and Chase Locke.
"I just turned 25 years old and I'm very excited to be running for city commission," Locke said. "And to tell you why, for the past 25 years I have grown up here and feel very blessed to have done so. A lot of wonderful people have put a lot of time and care into my life and upbringing. I see this as an opportunity to give back to them."
He said when he got out of high school he was excited to get out and do something big and new. Then about a year ago when it was time to take the next step and move away and graduate to a "bigger kid job," he decided to stay here.
Page 6 of 10 - "I turned that job down so I could stay here," Locke said. "I look forward to meeting some of those of you who I have not met yet and I'm just very thankful to having grown up in this community. I just look at this as an exciting chance to build upon that (the previous work in the city)."
Krause opened by saying he was asking for their vote for re-election to his seat.
"Four years ago when I decided to run for this position, I wanted to become involved in a process for positive change for El Dorado," he said. "In those four years we've accomplished many things."
Some of which include new roads, better services, improved parks, water pressure enhancement programs and such unique projects as the BG Products Veterans Sports Complex, wind turbine and new fire department and training facility.
"I feel very privileged to have been involved, in a small way, in those things. And we've accomplished those great things without raising taxes over the last four years, but there is still more to do. El Dorado needs knowledgeable, honest leaders. We need to listen to citizens. I'm experienced and qualified to continue this work. I would appreciate your vote."
The first question asked: What do you view as the biggest issue facing El Dorado, and what would you do about it?
Krause said the big issue in the news and around town is the possibility of selling water to new customers.
"We currently sell about 10 million gallons a day," he said. "We are selling water to everyone who has ever asked for water. We don't know if our neighbors next door are going to ask for water, but we need to look at the issue. We need to protect the resource for El Dorado citizens and make sure we never run out. We need to protect our asset as a regional resource."
Locke said there were a few small concerns.
"Something we need to start addressing in the city is housing," he said, "but obviously one thing on everyone's mind is water. Coming from a ranching family, when everything is dry and we can't provide water for the cattle, we view things a little differently. We want to protect the water. I would be open to selling it if all the proper evidence was there and we were protected."
He said El Dorado would need to have the keys to turn that off if they got to a situation where they needed to do so. He said he would be willing to look at selling water if they all came to agreement selling water was safe and El Dorado had full control.
Page 7 of 10 - "I would propose we use a portion of that money to go toward the lake debt and a portion to some new housing initiatives," he said, "with other portions going to property tax reduction and other features that enhance the quality of life."
In response, Krause said the preliminary studies they have done show they have a lot of water.
"We need to make sure these are correct," he said. "There are possible profits to be made selling water to more customers. Another issue is economic development. We want to look at bringing more companies and new jobs to town, higher paying jobs, and we want companies here to expand. We need to make sure our amenities are protected and desirable. We've got a lot of nice things here people would like to have in their towns."
The second question asked: How will you balance the need for city services while keeping property taxes reasonable?
Locke answered first.
"I think that a big thing that I support and something that really takes care of a lot of that, or a portion, is the sales tax," he said. "I know over $17 million has went to reducing property taxes since 1989 and over $11 million to street rehab and close to $400,000 on economic development and job creation. I think supporting that sales tax is really going to be crucial to balancing those things. I stress this is not a new tax; it is the same one since 1989."
Krause also said sales tax is important.
"I agree with what Chase said," he said.
He said it supports property tax reduction, parks, roads and other things.
"The city property taxes have not been raised in five years," he said. "The trash fees have not been raised for seven years, despite gas prices going up and landfill tipping fees going up. The last time water rates changed they were lowered and the last time water and sewer rates increased was 2006. I think looking for other revenue sources than property tax is important now. One is possible profits from selling additional water. Maybe raising water rates to other customers, but we don't want to do that."
Locke replied by reemphasizing how important the one-cent sales tax is.
"You are going to see it in this election again and I want to stress this is not a new tax," Locke said.
The third question asked: The City of El Dorado currently supplies water to the City of Augusta, Potwin and seven rural water districts. What factors would you take into consideration for selling water to other prospective entities?
Krause responded first.
"The key is that we are able to shut off the water that we sell them when the lake gets to a certain level," he said. "That protects us from a drought situation. We also want to be able tot protect all of our current customers. We have current customers now in Augusta who buy our water raw and process it and sell it to other customers. We need to take a look at that situation also. That maybe doesn't benefit us the best it should, but we want to keep Augusta as a good customer."
Page 8 of 10 - Krause pointed out they have allowed Augusta to purchase more water the last couple of years without raising their take or pay rate.
"I think that's being a good neighbor," he said. "I think that is giving our neighbors some of what we have extra of."
Locke said what was important was how much control the city will have in the situation.
"As long as we hold the keys to it, I would be pretty open to it," he said. "I think this goes back to Wichita purchasing water. We are a community that has fluoride in our water and Wichita went through a deal for no fluoride."
He said that would mean El Dorado would have to build a new treatment plant or sell them raw water to meet their needs.
"I would be curious to know who was going to pay for that and how it was going to be handled," Locke said. "The big thing for me is we remain in control of our water and our assets."
Krause responded by saying, "If this drought continues, let's say it's the worst drought on record, Wichita just did a drought study they presented to their city commission. Lake Cheney will dry up this year or next, their aquifer is seriously compromised this year or next, so they are going to need water from some other source. This is a federally owned impound out here. If there was a disaster area drought and someone went to court and said we need your water, we would have to fight that. We would have to fight the federal government coming in and saying you have to sell water and this is what you have to sell for."
He said if they have a contract set they would have a better situation.
The fourth question was: Do you believe there is more that the City of El Dorado should do for roads and infrastructure? If so, what improvements would you make and how would you pay for them?
Locke said the first thing he would say about the roads, something he has seen from being on the sales tax committee, is when you really start talking about roads and paying attention to them, El Dorado has some of the nicest roads.
"Thee are some that really need attention," he added. "Obviously Towanda needs some attention. Not to keep going on about sales tax, but us getting that approved is a big way for us to get money to do those projects."
Krause said they have a program where they constantly go around and repave or resurface streets on a schedule.
"It is funded through a general fund and some sales tax money that goes into that," he said. "We want to keep that. The sales tax is very important for that. We have supported grants and federal money to do Sixth and Boyer, the bridges and intersections. The big topic is Towanda Street. The problem with Towanda is from the Tornado Memorial going west it is half in the county and half in the city. We need to work with the township and with the county and try to get something moving on that. That is going to be a key focus I think for the next four years to get that done."
Page 9 of 10 - The final question asked: El Dorado has a recent record of success in Economic Development and job creation. How do you see the City's involvement in continuing that effort?
Krause said the commission was very involved.
"We support groups like El Dorado, Inc., the Chamber, Main Street," he said. "The Chamber and Main Street help bring events to town and bring businesses to town to fill our vacant buildings downtown. We support Inc. with matching money. We support the CVB with bed tax money. Other than that I think we need to continue to develop our amenities. The nicer El Dorado looks, the more companies will want to relocate here. We've got the amenities with the pools and lake close by, the golf course, the stadium and sports facilities. We've got a great town and we need to continue to keep those facilities up."
Locke said, "I think we've done a lot of wonderful things, or they've done a lot of wonderful things. BG Products is a wonderful addition and the things Inc. is working toward with the industrial park. I think small business owners and entrepreneurs are a big piece of this community and I think we need to do everything possible between the Chamber, Main Street and Inc. to help them find the grants and marketing tools that help them flourish. I think we need to make a conscious effort to be part of the solution when we come into those roadblocks so we don't prevent any new business from happening. We need to be part of the solution to help people see their dreams and ideas and passions come to life."
Krause said, "We need to develop some housing so new employees who do come to town have the desirable housing they want. We have done some with plans to give rebates. This helps developers sell lots, this helps builders to build homes and it helps people who buy homes. We may need to look at increasing that to what Andover has. Andover goes up to $450,000. We need to keep incentives to employees who move into town."
They ended with closing comments.
"I just can't tell you all how excited I am to be a part of this, even right now," Locke said. "There's a lot for me to learn, but I am eager and excited to learn. I can guarantee you I will do my best to be as transparent as possible regarding all decisions. I will do my best to keep the city manager accountable, but give him the tools he needs to do his best job. I will work with citizens to help them achieve the highest quality of life."
Next was Krause.
"Over the last four years I've learned a lot being on the city commission," he said. "I've learned that I don't run things. My decisions don't run the city. It takes three of us to make a policy decision. That is what the job is, to set policy. We have a great staff, and they have done a great job informing us so we can make good decisions. I think the experience I have gotten in the last four years will help me do that. I want to thank Chase for running. It is good to see interest in city government."
Page 10 of 10 - The general election will be April 2. Early voting began today and will continue through noon on April 1.