Downtown’s capital project divided Carson City supervisor candidates Thursday night as two incumbents and their challengers crossed verbal swords by cutting to the chase.
In a forum that featured Supervisors Karen Abowd and John McKenna versus the pair who want to unseat them, Lisa Helget and Lori Bagwell, the two challengers said they would have opposed raising the city sales tax to do the downtown project while the incumbents repeated their reasons for funding the downtown remake. From Ward 1, Helget seeks Abowd’s seat; from Ward 3, it’s Bagwell against McKenna.
The Helget-Bagwell stand was a bedrock part of the pair’s challenge.
“I would have happily voted against it,” said Helget in answering a question regarding the one-eighth of a penny sales tax hike to, among other things, fund changing Carson Street downtown by going to three lanes and widening sidewalks. She called the project “a coat of paint” and repeated her contention listening to the people or letting them vote on such matters is crucial.
Abowd took the polar opposite position, not only saying why she supported the capital improvement funding but taking credit with her first remark.
“Actually, I co-authored it,” she said. She said the package adds gymnasiums via a multi-purpose athletic center, an animal shelter and business corridor improvements that include but aren’t limited to the downtown. She said those corridor improvements help free up other city finances for ongoing needs and contended it “makes our money go further.”
In the Ward 3 race, Bagwell like Helget didn’t mince words either.
”I would have voted no,” she said, citing a 2012 vote of Carson City residents against what she called a similar project. That was the more ambitious City Center project for downtown, which envisioned a tech-oriented library and other changes.
McKenna said his vote supporting the tax hike took into account all the projects encompassed in the capital program in which the downtown plan is just one facet.
“The voters said, ‘We want a community gym,’” he said, noting many also want a new animal shelter. He said people across the spectrum supported one or more of the projects in the package.
The candidates’ forum, which was in the Community Center’s Sierra Room, attracted upward of 50 residents and also was broadcast for viewers of Carson City public access television. In fielding various questions submitted by the audience or predetermined, candidates echoed each other in advocating fiscal responsibility and such things as building or protecting what were called reserves or the rainy day fund.
Another inquiry prompting division in the Ward 1 race, however, concerned the recent pact approved by the Board of Supervisors to turn animal services and the old shelter over to the Nevada Humane Society. Helget was alone in opposing it while Bagwell favored it and the sitting supervisors justified their support for the idea. The measure was approved this month unanimously and the society takes over Oct. 1.
Though Helget opposes the agreement, she joined others in viewing the humane society as a quality organization. She said society employees don’t represent the right fit for animal control purposes.
“They do not have the experienced, trained personnel,” Helget said.
Abowd, meanwhile, said the pact will provide $1 million in services for $700,000 and there will be a citizens’ oversight committee to make sure city government gets the service-first approach the society has pledged.
On another matter, Abowd and Helget took opposing positions on the question of whether Carson City should have ward nominating in primary elections. Abowd favors staying with citywide voting in primaries and general elections, while Helget favored the possible change to ward nominating. Currently supervisor candidates must live in the ward designated on the map, but run citywide in both elections. The question is on November’s ballot as Carson City Question 1.
McKenna said he had no opinion on the ballot question to move to ward nominations in primaries, while Bagwell said she was supporting it. Even if approved, the issue would have to get legislative endorsement, and opening up the city charter to legislative tinkering was something McKenna said he doesn’t like.
Though there were various other questions, among them one on the local impact of Tesla Motors’ battery factory coming to the region, it was the downtown issue that dominated the hour-long forum session. Another question sought responses on the new three-lane Carson Street downtown design. Abowd liked it, while Helget objected to narrowing the number of lanes from four to two with a third middle turn lane.
Bagwell said in walking the city for her campaign, she found people opposed the concept of narrowing Carson Street “overwhelmingly.” She also said many other roads need maintenance.
McKenna, meanwhile, said the Carson Street project envisions not only streetscape improvements but also underground utility work because pipes there are more than six decades old. “So it’s (the street) going to be torn up sooner or later,” he said.
In opening statements, the candidates cited their backgrounds. Bagwell and Helget both spoke of previous careers in state government and knowledge about watching the public purse. Abowd talked of her four years as supervisor, her civic work and experience in business. McKenna said he’s a certified public accountant, mentioned his credentials as a long-time school board member and talked of his past four years on the city’s governing board.