Candidates include incumbents Scott Frost and Scott Shakespeare, former councilman Jeremy Hoggard, and three new faces to city politics: Tom Wigginton, Monte Wells and Tim Young.
Questions from the audience were presented to each of the candidates by the Chamber Executive Director Bailey Rogers.
The biggest issue on the minds of voters seems to be the budget and financial situation of the City of Monticello. Candidates were asked how they would balance the budget, their feelings on the current financial standing of the city, and their feelings regarding borrowing depreciation funds from PTIF accounts for funding various city projects.
Monte Wells told the audience candidly that he did not know how to balance the budget. He reported having requested the current budget in July and going through it line by line.
Wells said there are a few areas where changes can be made, including garbage collection which he says should now, be done by a private entity, and city employee benefits, specifically retirement, which Wells stated are being paid at 25 percent, on average, per employee.
Wells praised changes that have been made in the budget and said they have the potential to do good things if the money being saved is left alone and not spent on various projects.
Jeremy Hoggard agreed that moving sanitation to the private sector is a good idea and expressed concern over the practice of raising fees to cover city expenses.
He said that in private business, if costs are too high then you have to make cuts, and the city should do the same. Hoggard says the financial situation is better than it has been in the past several years, but they are not where they need to be. He said that the City is not to a self-sustaining point and there isn’t enough money in the bank, but they are on the right track.
Scott Shakespeare said that the city has been developing a plan to change the financial situation and that while they need to continue to look for areas to save money, they need to continue with the plan and allow it time to work.
Shakespeare is concerned about cutting services, since that is what citizens pay taxes for. He says the city is in pretty good shape, “Not great, but not terrible,” said Shakespeare. He pointed out that things are better than they were four years ago, with money going into PTIF’s and savings.
Tom Wigginton feels it is necessary for the council and citizens to communicate and prioritize and cut things that no one really wants.
He said volunteer efforts can and have saved the city a great deal of money. Wigginton said that the plan that has been developed by City Manager Kelly Pehrson is a very good plan and will help the city by eliminating debt and interest payments.
Wigginton said that his attendance at budget planning meetings in previous years left him frustrated, but when he attended the recent meetings, he felt that the city is moving in the right direction and making plans on a more long-term basis.
Scott Frost said that a budget needs to be a long term plan, and they need to look down the road on how the decisions they make now will affect the city in the future.
Frost expressed concern over cutting back any further on employees and felt that losing employees due to benefit and pay cuts would not serve the city in the long run. Frost also said that things are getting better in the city financial picture, and they are doing extremely well compared to four years ago.
Tim Young said that the financial situation of the city is dire, as it is around the country. He suggested that the city find ways to increase revenues through sales tax rather than raising fees or property taxes. Young suggested that by shopping at home, residents can help improve the situation by keeping their money and the sales tax in the community.
Young praised the current council for making a great improvement on the budget in hard times, but said the city would need to find way to bring in more money in the future.
Regarding the practice of borrowing money from PTIF funds for various projects, each of the candidates said they did not think it is a good idea and did not want to see it continue.
Incumbents Frost and Shakespeare each saidit has been necessary in troubled financial times for the city, but each said the council has worked to end the dependence on borrowing from the funds and has a plan in place to stop the practice.
The candidates were also questioned on the role of government, what services are necessary for the city to provide residents, and what services could be bid out to other entities.
Candidates Hoggard, Young and Shakespeare each mentioned providing essential services such as water, sewer, sanitation and law enforcement as a role of government.
Shakespeare said they should provide the most services possible in the most economical way and should maintain order in the city so each citizen’s rights are protected.
Shakespeare and Young also added recreation to the list of necessary items, stating these types of activities are needed to keep people visiting and living in Monticello.
Candidate Frost said government should provide safety and security of property owners, and define regulations to protect rights of property owners, as well as their neighbors.
Wigginton pointed out that the majority of rules that impact citizens daily are local rules and citizens have the choice to make changes to those rules.
Wells felt that protecting the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and property are the responsibility of government.
Each of the candidates agreed that basic utility and safety services need to be provided to residents, but differed in how they should be provided.
Hoggard said he does not feel the city needs to actually be the provider as long as they are in place.
Shakespeare said that the city should not bid law enforcement to another agency, but should maintain control of their own police and fire departments.
Young said he did not see an outside agency coming to Monticello to provide many of the items, but that if they could bid out things such as sanitation, parks and law enforcement for a competitive price and the same level of service, it should be done.
Wigginton said the city should give the opportunity to bid services, but it should be kept local as much as possible as money spent in the community will benefit the community. He also said there would need to be a set standard of service that would have to be met.
Wells said the city did not need to pass more restrictions and laws and hire people to enforce them. Wells specifically mentioned zoning items and suggested that the community could deal with such issues without city council regulations.
Wells also talked about sanitation service and said it should be provided by the private sector now that there are agencies who are willing and able to do so.
Frost said that many factors would need to be considered before bidding any city services, as the private sector needs to make money and therefore it may not always be a savings for the city.
Frost said that if the city were to bid out a service, such as sanitation, they would need to have money set aside in the event they had to take back over the service at a future date.
He also questioned turning over services to a single bidder who had a monopoly on that area and what that would cost customers if there is no competing agency.
Regarding bidding products and services, each candidate said it is important and fiscally responsible with taxpayer money to get the best price.
Hoggard suggested local vendors should be used as much as possible and suggested giving a percent advantage to local vendors in the bid process.
Shakespeare and Frost each said that at times the bidding process costs more than any savings it will net and should be done so only when it makes sense.
In other issues, the candidates were asked what they will do about the local resident deer herd if elected.
Councilmen Frost and Shakespeare said that they have asked the Division of Wildlife Services to deal with the problem but acknowledged there has been little to no impact of their request. Both said the council needs to make strong and continual requests of the Division in order to try to get results.
Candidates Young, Wigginton and Hoggard agreed that it is a significant problem and the council would need to pressure the Division of Wildlife in order to be taken seriously.
Candidate Wells said residents have a right to protect their own property, and if the state won’t take care of the problem, the city may need to harvest some deer and feed some people in Monticello.
Candidates will continue to present their position on issues until November 11, when voters will make their decision at the polls and select the three who will serve as councilmen.