Karen Abowd and Lisa Helget are women seeking Carson City’s Ward 1 supervisor seat. Common ground all but disappears after that.
Abowd, the incumbent, seeks a second term touting a downtown remake. She speaks with pride of her backing for the one-eighth of a penny sales tax increase to fund that downtown revitalization effort and other capital projects. Helget, the challenger, lays that out as a catalyst for her to run. The candidates were asked who, other than a family member, inspired them to enter public life.
Without hesitating, Abowd said it was Janice Ayres, a former city supervisor and the late leader of RSVP Nevada, a social services program for seniors. Helget pondered the question for several seconds, then replied:
Helget’s contention is Abowd was out pushing the city core project to attract pedestrian activity and cut the number of Carson Street traffic lanes downtown without seeking input from citizens. Helget views Abowd as having a vested interest in the outcome and turning a deaf ear to residents’ wishes.
“I do not accept, respect or agree with her voting record,” said Helget.
Abowd, meanwhile, said she has a vision for “forward momentum” that includes “people filling the street,” promoting economic vibrancy and even residents living downtown. She said the city’s decision to remake downtown and other business corridors is already stirring the economic pot as the city, state and nation emerge from the last recession.
“I think we’re seeing that now,” she said, citing business and property owners’ movement toward matching the board majority’s vision for a lively city. She mentioned Hop & Mae Adams Foundation investments in downtown properties, prospects for a hotel and even glimmers of moves toward downtown housing.
The sales tax hike from 7.45 percent to 7.6 percent took effect on Wednesday. City staff say it will cost a consumer an additional $12.50 for every $10,000 spent for taxable goods in the city. It should raise about $1 million annually, according to staff.
Helget and Abowd differ as well on cutting Carson City’s property tax rate by two cents, from $3.56 to $3.54, which the board did earlier this year.
“I want to ease the burden on residents as much as possible,” said Abowd, noting the decrease was done collectively by the current board. She said the board did so with knowledge there were un-met needs, yet it was part of a return on the dime increase that was to cope with the recession and retain services. She also said sales tax partly comes from visitors who buy goods, but the property tax drop just goes to people with property here.
Helget, meanwhile, called the small property tax drop “a political stunt” that was done in an election year.
Staff say the property tax decrease accounts for about a $100,000 drop in that revenue stream and on a new $200,000 home assessed at $70,000 would return about $14 to the homeowner.
Another bone of contention the race is contracting out the city services workload in two agreements reached recently.
Helget opposed farming out animal services and control work to the Nevada Humane Society, as well as using a private sector firm to handle building codes and services. She said she wasn’t against all such contracts. She cited the older pact with Waste Management to handle garbage collection and recycling.
“There’s a contract that I do support,” she said.
Abowd, however, said the question of using city employees or contractual arrangements to handle such matters turns on cost and delivery of services. Using the building codes and services matter as an example, she said the firm proposed by City Manager Nick Marano can handle the task efficiently and in a user-friendly fashion.
“We should be service first,” she said. The pertinent questions for her: “How can we help; how can we make this better?”
Helget, in opposing the animal services pact, said the animal control part is lost and that violates state law. She also was wary about what it may mean for the future. A supporter of building a new animal shelter, she voiced apprehension construction of the shelter will be dropped after the election.
Though Helget has criticized some aspects of the capital program financed by the city sales tax hike, even before announcing her candidacy favored a new shelter in Carson City.
She said her priorities aren’t to block the downtown project or cut programs, but to make downtown changes that provide “a genuine, community project without narrowing Carson Street” from four lanes to three. She said the city can’t reverse course, but the plan can be altered. In fact, she even raised the possibility of scaling down plans to save money or use it on something else.
“There’s always the option of not spending it,” she said. “I am all for enhancing downtown,” she added, but focused her remarks more on Curry Street rather than Carson Street.
Abowd, on the other hand, looks at the downtown and other corridor projects as part of a package for capital construction that is desirable and overdue to revitalize the community. She said her major goal in a second term would be implementing the capital projects with sales tax-backed bonds, obtaining grants to leverage that work, and building on business buy-in so even more gets accomplished.
Among the board-backed projects are Carson Street upgrades along business corridors to the north, south and downtown, as well as east on William Street. The others are the animal shelter, a multi-purpose athletic center and culturally-oriented upgrades for the Carson City Community Center. Another Abowd goal is spurring manufacturing in part via work with the Northern Nevada Development Authority aimed at both existing and relocating industries.
“That’s about job creation,” she said.
In addition, her government service-orientation prompts a new goal.
“I think we have to tackle the issue of mental health,” Abowd said. She noted federal money was yanked for a teen screen program at Carson High School and mentioned veterans, as well as those hampered due substance abuse problems that impact mental health issues. “I intend to pursue that.”
Helget, asked about new goals if she wins, said redirecting the downtown project and making sure an animal shelter is built are top priorities but those are just the top two.
“There are a lot more things that need to be done,” she said, which in part prompted her criticism of the board’s decision to decrease the property tax rate.
Both candidates were asked about the size of city staff, which produced a modicum of agreement.
“We are lean to the point of inefficiency,” said Abowd. She said a Moss-Adams internal auditor study will help find efficiencies and ways to either save money or enhance service.
Helget also talked of having too few on city staff to get the job done and said the budget is too low for that as well. She said efficiencies are possible “by simply getting rid of waste and being more thrifty with our spending.” Asked for examples regarding cuts, she said: “We fund too many non-profits.”
Her remark about too few on city staff may also have reflected on her opposition regarding replacing city employees with contractual services for animal services and codes.
“The last thing that I ever think about is how to put some one out of their livelihood,” she said.
The Ward 1 candidates found common ground on whether the city’s governing board should micro-manage staff. Both opposed micro-management, saying staff oversight is the city manager’s role.
But on the city manager form of government, again there was a gap.
“I really do think it is the best form of city government,” said Abowd. “There needs to be an orchestra leader.”
Helget didn’t denigrate the city manager setup, nor did she talk favorably about a strong mayor or some other form of local government, but was keeping an open mind. If issues arose that made changing Carson City’s form of government a consideration, she said, “yes; there’s more than one way to deal with things.”