Candidates Jon Stimmel and Larry Lewton explain their views and plans for La Center if elected
RIDGEFIELD — The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Clark County held the first of four general election candidate forums Thursday evening at the Ridgefield Community Center. Candidates for the La Center City Council Position 2 were on hand to answer questions from moderator Melanie Davis.
La Center residents Jon Stimmel and Larry Lewton are vying for Position 2 on the council currently held by Al Luiz, who is not seeking re-election. The race is the first time both have run for elected office.
Stimmel has been an engineer for about 12 years. He said that if elected, he would bring skills gained in “working on capital improvement projects.” Stimmel also said that he would bring a “new way of looking at things and interesting way of fixing problems.”
Lewton said that the most important ability he would bring as a councilor is his ability to listen with an open mind. “I bring the skill of hearing, I listen to what people say,” Lewton said.
The candidates were asked several questions pertaining to businesses in La Center. One of the concerns in the town is that while it is growing, its downtown core has limited space. The candidates detailed how they would address that issue.
Stimmel said that he believes space is not as much a problem as getting businesses to come to La Center. “The problem really is attraction,” Stimmel said. Finding ways to attract businesses to the city needs to be a focus, according to Stimmel.
Lewton acknowledged that La Center is a small town and that space in some areas is limited. He said that one way to address the issue of space was to utilize vacant buildings already in downtown La Center, and said that a vacant building behind city hall could be used as a secondary or tertiary health care facility.
Lewton also said that it is essential for La Center to “generate a good, working tax base.”
The candidates were also asked if, since recreational marijuana is legal in Washington, they would consider lifting a city moratorium on the growth and sale of marijuana in La Center.
Stimmel said that he would not support lifting the moratorium. He acknowledged that it could bring money to the community, but he did not want to expose young people in the community to marijuana.
“The reason for that is my focus on children,” Stimmel said. “I don’t think they [recreational marijuana] bring anything good to the community other than money.”
Lewton said that while many cities in the area are making money from taxes on marijuana in a “pretty responsible way,” he believes the city should wait until the federal government takes action to address the legality of the drug at a federal level before it acts.
“I don’t think we should do anything until the federal government makes a decision,” Lewton said.
Another issue facing La Center is the loss of revenue due to the closure of two card rooms in the city. The candidates were asked how they would replace the lost revenue and what city services they would trim, should the need arise.
Stimmel said that he would work to attract businesses to raise the tax base so that cuts would not be necessary. He also said that of all of the city services, he would fight to prevent the police and fire departments from seeing cuts to their budgets.
“I think we need to focus on attracting business and raising [the] tax base as opposed to making cuts,” Stimmel said.
Lewton said that he believed the remaining card rooms in the city would stay, but that La Center would need to find new ways to substitute for the lost revenue. He also said that reducing the budget of city services, if necessary, would have to be done for all services, not just some and not others.
“I can’t see eliminating programs altogether, but I know it’s something we’ll have to address,” Lewton said.
La Center has used outside contractors to work on city projects. The candidates were asked to address whether they supported using outside contractors instead of city employees.
Stimmel said that while it is almost always less expensive to contract for services, he believed that contractors do not always have a level of commitment to the community, and therefore do not provide the same level of performance.
Lewton said that either city employees or contractors could be used, depending on the specific situation. He noted, however, that the city council should listen to the advice of contractors or advisors when they have been paid to provide information, rather than disregarding recommendations.
One of the major areas of growth in La Center is the student population in the school district. Candidates were asked to state how the city should determine how its decisions about growth may affect infrastructure, including schools.
According to Stimmel, “the children have made that community what it is.” The city needs to make children a priority, he said.
“The children have to be a priority and we have to support the schools in their growth,” Stimmel said.
Lewton also said that he supports the La Center School District. He is in favor of passing a bond to help the district, and noted that children are the future of public service in the community.
“I’m a big supporter of the schools,” Lewton said.
Both candidates were asked what their top priorities for improving La Center were.
Stimmel said that he believed very little needed to be done in the way of improvements. “Instead of improving, we need to adapt,” he said.
The city needs to adapt its revenue streams, and address the changes in population growth and budget shortfalls, Stimmel said.
Lewton said that while residential growth is beneficial for the city, “businesses are where the tax base is.”
According to Lewton, La Center needs more businesses, the La Center junction needs to be developed and the city needs to reinvest in La Center’s downtown center.
The next League of Women Voters of Clark County general elections candidate forum will be held on Tue., Oct. 9 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Cascade Park Community Library, located at 600 NE 136th Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98684.
For more information on upcoming candidate forums, visit http://www.lwvwa.org/clark/ .