HUTCHINSON, Kan. — All seven actively running Hutchinson city council candidates were at the forum hosted by the Chamber and the Young Professionals group Monday in Hutchinson. The seven candidates are Greg Fast and Brock Wells in the SW District, Jill Gumble and Jon Richardson in the NW District and incumbent Sara Bagwell and challengers Marla Jean Booher and Charles Johnston for the at-large seat.
The candidates were asked about where they would make cuts if they had to either cut services or raise taxes. None of them would be specific about cuts, but none wanted to raise taxes, either.
They were also asked about where to spend the federal COVID relief funds allocated to the city, it appeared that broadband and infrastructure specifically aimed at reducing the need for the stormwater utility fees were common themes.
The city's childcare issues were also asked about and multiple candidates talked about the need to bring the city's influence to bear on the state legislature in an effort to reduce regulation and make it easier for childcare providers to get started and stay open.
Multiple candidates praised the city's critical response team as a great first step toward addressing mental health issues in the city, but some candidates also see having a strong economy as being part of the key to helping people have something to value so they can build a life once their addiction is addressed.
When asked to address housing, the candidates focused on the fact that code enforcement in previous years has not been applied equitably and that needs to be fixed first so that those who own rental property in the community can improve those properties and make them livable without having undue threat from city staff, especially when the problems are not safety-related, but rather cosmetic.
The prospective council members all supported the work of full-time Human Relations Officer Dave Sotelo, as a safe place for those who may believe that the city has treated them unfairly because of their membership in a protected class to come to and get their issues addressed.
Business development ideas ran the gamut, but a common theme was reducing the hurdles to get businesses to come to town and encouraging home grown businesses to grow, while also providing the quality of life, specifically with regard to housing, that could draw both further hard industrial development and also potentially bring other types of jobs to the city.
There was not consensus on whether or not to continue to develop downtown specifically, more because some candidates believe that the gateway to the city also needs investment, but also because the industrial areas of the city need to be attractive to potential companies that could come and bring jobs, which ultimately would make investing throughout the city more attractive.
It appeared that there isn't a whole lot of support for the parks and rec master plan that was passed in 2019, mainly because the city has so many other needs that must be addressed with limited funds.
Multiple candidates want to know why businesses aren't coming to Hutchinson and they want to reshape the city's comprehensive plan, where necessary to bring more jobs to town and to be practical about what the city can execute, rather than writing down dreams that the city can't fund.