The three incumbent members of the Carson City Board of Supervisors faced off against their opponents Monday night, two defending their support for recent major projects and the third defending his opposition to that same list.
The political forum was held at Western Nevada College just a few weeks away from early voting beginning.
Mayor Bob Crowell and Supervisor Brad Bonkowski defended approving the eighth-cent sales tax to finish paying for the multi-purpose athletic center, repairs to the Carson City Community Center, building the animal shelter and the downtown street project.
Their opponents, Chris Carver and Maurice White respectively, said they would have put the sales tax hike to a vote of the people.
“There’s a lack of respect for voter intent,” said Carver.
“I would have honored the overwhelming desire of Carson residents to vote on the eighth-cent tax,” said Bonkowski’s opponent White. “They should be allowed to vote on major projects.”
But in the race for Ward 4, the tables were turned as Supervisor Jim Shirk defended his opposition to that funding mechanism while challenger John Barrette said he would have supported the board vote because interest rates are so low right now.
Bonkowski amplified Barrette’s reference to the low interest rates: “Cities do not have the ability to pay cash for most projects so you finance it.”
Shirk argued that residents are being double taxed for the athletic complex and that redevelopment funds should have paid for the downtown street project.
Carver said a bigger problem is that there is no sunset clause to the eighth-cent increase once those projects are paid for.
Crowell said residents already voted for a more pedestrian friendly downtown, a mixed-use environment and said it isn’t being double taxed because it’s a combination of open space money and sales tax.
All six agreed Carson’s roads need a lot of work. But Crowell pointed out that roads are built and maintained with gas tax money that is falling far short of needs. The city gets about $1 million a year but needs $3.5 million just to keep up.
Bonkowski said the total need is more like $90 million to $100 million.
“What may not be known by everybody in this room is if they’re not fixed in the next few years, they’ll cost five times more to fix,” said Barrette.
Carver said before raising taxes, “we need to exhaust every single dime of money already collected.”
Shirk again called for using Regional Transportation Commission cash to fix the roads and streets.
White said they can find more money for street maintenance if the city would “just stop wasting money.” He pointed to a contract to install LED lighting in city facilities.
All six said they oppose the ballot question to legalize recreational marijuana with Bonkowski pointing out that local governments have no control over the issue the way it’s written, that they just get to deal with the impacts and costs ranging from law enforcement to health issues.
The start of the candidate forum was delayed more than a half hour after the list of questions for the candidates had to be extensively rewritten. Bonkowski presented that list to District Attorney Jason Woodbury earlier in the day questioning whether incumbent supervisors could answer questions that dealt with ongoing issues before the board. The problem is that the three of them constitute a quorum of the supervisors, making the meeting public under the open meeting law.
Woodbury told Bonkowski he was correct, they could not answer several of those questions.
In addition, the original list was worded so each began with a politically charged statement of opinion before laying out the question.
“It’s the first time I’ve been invited to an ambush,” said Barrette.
After and extensive rewrite by professor Robert Warren at WNC and by Woodbury, the meeting finally got under way 45 minutes late.
The candidates will again appear in a different forum next week sponsored by the League of Women Voters.