Supervisor candidates square off in debate
Candidates for the two open Board of Supervisors seats squared off Wednesday evening in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.Despite the fact the proposed library project is on the ballot for voters to decide, two of the candidates — Dennis Johnson and Jim Shirk — argued the project is too expensive, ill conceived and unneeded especially in this recession.However, they along with incumbent Ward 4 Supervisor Molly Walt, a supporter of the project, and Brad Bonkowski, Johnson’s opponent for the open Ward 2 seat — and undeclared on the project — all agreed they would abide by whatever decision the voters make on the proposed quarter-cent sales tax to build the $28.2 million Knowledge and Discovery Center.Shirk argued that the project would raise total city debt to $250 million. He made that statement despite the fact Phyllis Patton, former member of the library board of trustees, said earlier city debt would be $191 million with the library bonds and that the rest of the total is actually the hospital’s debt, not the city’s.Shirk said he’s the best candidate in Ward 4 because the board can’t be successful “if those who oversee your finances do it part time as my opponent (Walt) does.” He said he would be a full-time supervisor.He criticized her for voting with the majority to raise property taxes to balance the city budget and charged that the city budget was submitted $3.7 million out of balance.Walt pointed out state law requires cities and counties to have balanced budgets.“Our budget would not have been accepted by the Department of Taxation if it wasn’t a balanced budget,” she said.She argued her four years experience on the board is vital and it would be a mistake to change leadership at this time when things are finally starting to turn around. With a masters degree in public administration, she said she also is able to analyze the city’s finances and operation.Bonkowski argued the vote doesn’t approve or disapprove the library but only asks voters to support going forward with detailed planning for the project, adding that until it is completely vetted, he won’t decide yes or no.Johnson said after a career spent mostly in state and county government, he knows how government works. He said the board needs to look at the budget process and have those budget decisions made in full view of the public. He also argued that if the library is built, the city sales tax will be among the state’s highest and, “if there’s any catastrophe we’re going to be in serious trouble.” Bonkowski proudly said his career has been outside of government as a businessman, mostly in commercial and industrial real estate. He described himself as a job creator, saying he has worked with the Northern Nevada Development Authority to bring dozens of businesses and some 1,000 jobs to the capital.All four said they object to the governor and legislators pushing unfunded mandates onto local governments. Walt said those decisions cost Carson City some $2.1 million and forced departments to make 10 percent cuts, eliminating about 100 jobs.But Johnson criticized the existing board and city management, saying it was clear over the past two legislative cycles that those “pushdowns” were coming and that, “some planning should have been done a little bit earlier, a little bit better.”Shirk said he disagrees with Walt that the cuts would necessarily have to be to public safety. He said if the city didn’t have the money to support those jobs, “how did they have the money to give merit increases?”Walt said the past few years have been bad in terms of the fighting over issues — primarily the library project.“We have to stop fighting each other,” she said.Johnson said disagreements are healthy and help produce the best answers to problems.But Bonkowski said he agreed with Walt: “This election cycle has been different from election cycles I can remember in the past and I can remember back to Kennedy and Nixon. Civility has gone missing.“It’s OK to agree to disagree, but let’s be civil about it,” he said.