Candidates for Carson City mayor, supervisor and school board faced off in a two-hour public forum Wednesday.
Nearly every seat in the 254-seat Brewery Arts Center Performance Hall was taken for the event in which audience members supplied the questions.
Chris Carver and incumbent Bob Crowell, candidates for mayor; incumbent Brad Bonkowski and Maurice White, vying for Board of Supervisors Ward 2; and John Barrette and incumbent Jim Shirk, running for Ward 4, all took the stage together.
Question topics covered the ongoing Carson Street construction project and the recruitment of new businesses downtown, the value of tourism to the city’s economy and rates for new construction.
In opening remarks, the incumbent supervisors recounted their records with Bonkowski outlining what he had voted for and Shirk describing what he had voted against.
“I have the pleasure of running on my record,” said Bonkowski, who said he had voted to approve allocating money from the general fund for roads maintenance and the rate hike that enabled upgrades to the sewer treatment facility, among other actions.
“I spoke out against the eighth of a percent sales tax, the narrowing of Carson Street,” said Shirk. “I made suggestions on how we could accomplish it with other sources.”
Crowell said it was necessary to transform downtown in order for it to thrive.
“Next year the bypass is going to open and we need to be prepared for that,” said Crowell. “We need a downtown that will bring people off that freeway and into downtown.”
The candidates disagreed on whether utility hook-up rates for new construction, which are being raised in a five-year phase-in plan, were high enough.
“They are still artificially low and we need to look at them again,” said Carver.
The audience was told the candidates couldn’t address questions on matters currently before the board because the presence of three current members constituted a quorum and would violate open meeting law.
But one question on age-restricted communities was a clear allusion to the controversial Vintage at Kings Canyon proposed development which is expected soon to go before the board for approval.
All agreed the city needs to provide an array of housing and attract a diverse population in order for Carson City to thrive.
“It’s exactly the same as any other development, as long as they’re in the right neighborhood and as long as they adhere to the master plan,” said White. “But it seems every large developer that comes to this town wants some kind of variance to the master plan and I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Barrette said the master plan needs to keep up with change.
“The master plan hasn’t been done in a decade or more and it should be done every seven years in my opinion,” he said.
On another panel, Steven Reynolds and Michael Walker, running for School Board Trustee District 5, talked about the role of teachers and standardized testing.
Both said testing is needed but has taken on an outsized role.
“The trap we’ve fallen into is allowing them to define a student based on one thing done on one day,” said Reynolds, who has served on the board for eight years.
Both also agreed the way to improve education is through teachers.
“There is a lack of ability to attract and retain good teachers,” said Walker, who has both taught and been an administrator. “There is a lot of unhappiness among teachers and administrators and we’ve got to find out why.”
Another panel took on the gas tax indexing question, the only local ballot question.
Patrick Pittenger, Carson City transportation manager, outlined the proposal, which would allow the Board of Supervisors to raise the gas tax up to 3 cents a year for the next 10 years in order to pay for roads maintenance.
He also explained the condition of Carson City roads are an average 62 on a scale of 100 and it would cost $25 million to bring the streets rated 40 up to an acceptable condition.
Mark Turner, a real estate developer and builder who’s currently president of the Nevada Builders Association, advocated for the proposal while Paul McGrath argued against it.
“I know how much it costs to build roads and the funds available today aren’t remotely adequate to take care of the roads,” said Turner.
“I believe Public Works needs to go back to the drawing board and use the existing tax,” he said.
The forum was sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Northern Nevada, in partnership with Sierra Nevada Forums, American Association of University Women Capital (NV) Branch, and PFLAG Carson Region.