Where do this year’s mayoral candidates stand on the issues?

To give voters a better understanding of where this year’s mayoral candidates stand on various issues, the Kokomo Perspective is issuing questionnaires to Republican Tyler Moore, Democrat Abbie Smith, and Libertarian Michael Virgin in the lead up to the General Election. Last week, readers garnered mayoral candidates’ views on economic development, ranging from diversification ideas to the most pressing issues facing the City of Firsts. This week, candidates weigh in on development utilizing public-private partnerships, job attraction, and potential areas of focus should they be elected to the mayor’s office. Check out the conclusion to the first candidate questionnaire below.

6. What private sector industry should Kokomo most work toward developing, and how would you attract such jobs to the area?

Tyler Moore, Republican: “Again, I believe the need to explore the shift from relying on heavy industry and manufacturing to exploring non-durable goods is a good start. The key to the success of these initiatives will be more great collaboration between Kokomo’s public and private sectors, especially with the Alliance, IUK, and Ivy Tech.”

Abbie Smith, Democrat: “As we look to attract industries to our community, we need to look toward those projected to grow over the next 10 years and beyond. According to that metric and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the healthcare industry is where we need to be focusing.

“Attracting these jobs is not as much the challenge as is fulfilling the workforce demands of this industry. We currently have these jobs available, and they are only projected to grow. We must develop partnerships with existing organizations at all levels to support, train, and place people in the jobs available today in addition to training for adaptability as the healthcare industry changes and grows.

“Again, in order for this to work, working adults must have access to quality, affordable childcare.”

Michael Virgin, Libertarian: “Industrial hemp – utilize local hemp industry connections to create round table/committee which will travel to Colorado and other states to meet with industries who would think about relocating to the area. The opportunity is there; it just depends who is bold enough to go for it.”

7. What area within the city would you select for future economic development, and what do you envision for it?

Moore: “Kokomo has many areas for potential that would support new businesses and new private development. To narrow our view to just one area would be cheating ourselves out of the best way forward. Community dialog will once again be vital in these decisions.”

Smith: “The southern gateway into Kokomo along the 931 corridor connects us more closely with the Indianapolis metro and already has valuable infrastructure to support investment in economic development opportunities. Thoughtfully investing taxpayer money to repurpose an existing area and leverage what is already in place is smart growth.

“Kokomo has demonstrated time and again that we are able to reimagine and revitalize. A collaborative strategy will allow us to repurpose a long-held asset of our community for a mixed-use business park attracting the exact types of jobs we’re looking for to diversify our job base and make us less dependent on manufacturing.

“Ensuring people have access to all areas of the city to get from where they live to where they work by continued investment in our public transportation system takes this strategy to the next level.”

Virgin: “Trail system/more bike baths connecting all of Kokomo, park upgrades, and fix main thoroughfares in the southern part of town (aggressive road maintenance to restore majority of roadways). Working towards a more eco-friendly Kokomo with emphasis on beautification and utilizing habitat/nature reserves/food forests more within the city. Also north- and east-end could use more economic attention.”

8. If elected, would you want the bypass developed, and if so, how could you facilitate that?

Moore: “I would support what the market would dictate as to the potential new developments that might end up around the new bypass. As mayor, I would work with our partners in the community to make sure those developments are right for Kokomo. Again, the proper development of the new Championship Park area will help determine how we facilitate future development.”

Smith: “The city should welcome any conversation about development in all parts of Kokomo. The development must be responsible, place the best interests of the taxpayers first, leverage current assets, and allow for the expansion and diversification of our economy. Each development project is unique and must be vetted and researched thoroughly. I will be a mayor who faces forward and leads our community into the future, having learned from the inaction of the past. We cannot simply let things happen to us while watching and sitting on the sidelines. We must act to define our own destiny.”

Virgin: “No. I’m typically for a hands-off approach, but this time I don’t mind government’s interjection. The bypass caused businesses on 931 to take a hit, so initially there was a moratorium not letting businesses build there because it could create more vacant businesses on 931, which would negatively affect the local economy because just by appearance alone it would look like our town was dying to anybody noticing multiple closed businesses off of 931. We need to focus on the businesses we do have, and in this case many businesses on 931 would benefit from a continued moratorium on businesses building off the bypass.”

9. Are you in favor of continued public/private development projects? If so, how would you choose which private companies to essentially subsidize?

Moore: “I am absolutely in favor of supporting these initiative. Kokomo and Howard County have benefitted greatly from these partnerships for as long as I have been county commissioner. Consequently, any public/private projects that we would partner with a developer on would have to undergo a comprehensive evaluation, coupled with public input, to ensure it would have a positive impact. Each new project would be considered for subsidies on a case-by-case basis, depending on its overall economic impact.”

Smith: “I am in favor of continued public/private development projects. Good public/private partnerships lift the burden from taxpayers, create buy-in from companies looking to join our community, and help to expand the tax base.”

Virgin: “Yes, but with more transparency and feedback from the public (online polling). Also, I would discontinue use of low-income housing projects. We have enough homeless and poor in the area that need attention. We don’t need to make a Kokomo another city milking the HUD system to make it appear like its growing.”

10. As business real property tax in the city continues to rise, do you have any ideas to reduce the tax burden of existing business owners?

Moore: “Property taxes are the life blood of any city, and I would work closely with our state representatives and state senators to make sure our existing large businesses are paying the appropriate amount, while assisting our legislators in finding ways to help our smaller businesses thrive.“

Smith: “Business real property tax rates are capped in the Indiana Constitution at 3 percent. Those rates are not rising; the assessment of their property is increasing. Overall, that is a good thing for business owners, but it does come with an increased cost and challenges to overcome. The majority of businesses impacted by rising assessments are small businesses which employ 20 or fewer employees. As mayor, I plan to create a position within our development department to focus specifically on ways that the city can support local, small businesses with 20 or fewer employees. Assisting those businesses as they navigate through increases in assessments, utility rates, and other business costs will be integral to the responsibilities of that new position.”

Virgin: “Keep government efficient and responsive to the people. Attract actual jobs to the area, and discontinue use of all these big public/private ventures until we can see that our local economy actually demands it. What the city calls economic development is really just economic distribution of public funds at the discretion of the elected official. It’s funny that our local Democratic party is slipping into soft socialism, where a majority of their projects only occur because large amounts of public money are pumped into them. In the case of the hotel/conference centers, more public money is being invested than is by the private developer. So this private for-profit company will be competing against other business owners in the area who have paid property taxes for years. These business owners didn’t get millions in tax abatements or other government subsidies. This is how areas slip into debt and into an economy that can only exist with huge government subsidies.”