Moderator Dr. Jeffery Gentry fielded a series of questions to eight of nine Claremore City Council candidates during a candidate forum Tuesday to prepare voters for the April 4 election.
All members of the Claremore Area Chamber of Commerce legislative and public policy committee and chamber board submitted questions for the forum.
There are three council seats being sought -one in each - of three wards. In Ward 2, Gentry asked Mickey Keely, Justin Michael and Don Purkey if the City of Claremore should focus on attracting retail development or manufacturing.
Keely said, “I think it would be appropriate if we bring in more industrial businesses…but I am not sure you can really distinguish between manufacturing or industrial busineses or retail because we need all of them. If we bring in more residents because they are working in the industrial areas, we are going to need more retail to match that. I am not sure you can have one without the other.” Michael said, “We are already working on this. You will find that Jeri Koehler did a great job as executive director for CIEDA (Claremore Industrial and Economic Development Authority)... Now we’ve hired John Feary and he will directly be responsible for some more industrial areas, and that is beneficial to all of this. We cannot have one or the other.”
Purkey agreed, saying,”You have to have economic development to create jobs. You have got to have industry, which is down a little bit. It is a mixed bag. We have all the players available that is in progress and working through issues. We are doing as much as we can, but it is going to happen.”
Ward 3 candidates — Ken Hays and Shelly Taylor (not present, candidate Pam Ziriax) — were asked since the State's average price for electricity is 9.2 cents per kilowatt-hour and in Claremore it is 11.1 cents, could they bring Claremore's electricity costs closer to the state average?
Hays said, “As we know, the electricity cost helps subsidize many of our city services. I believe we need to work more diligently to keep those costs in line, but also believe we have a lot of services that other cities are not able to provide to their citizens. This is definitely an issue we need to consider in the future of our city.
We are aware the cost of electric for GRDA has gone up and caused the city to be more creative in handling the costs.”
Taylor said, “Hearing people that have PSO and houses that are equivalent to the same size as the ones we have in Claremore, the price difference is just sickening. There is enough sales tax revenue to compensate for additional fees and funds that the city has.” She continued by saying the city makes “well above and beyond” and has a significant profit margin due to the electric revenue.
Candidates vying for a seat in Ward 4 are Frank Church, Bryan McDonald and Will DeMier.
Gentry asked the candidates about recent state legislation that would have sold off the Grand River Dam Authority and if that bill comes up again and passes, how would Claremore cope with $9 million to $10 million in lost revenue?
Church said, “I would say I do not have an answer for that today. It is a bridge we will have to cross when we get to it.
I would hope that we have increased sales tax revenue in the city to the point we are not reliant upon the electric or on the GRDA to make money for the city.”
McDonald said, “I agree. It is a bridge we would have to cross and look at when we get there. The particulars of that transaction are not yet known.”
DeMier said, “Basically, the budget (the $9.4 million) if we lose that, we are not going to make it up. We pay for the police salaries and benefits, we pay for employees salaries and benefits and we pay for fire salaries and benefits. If we lose that, that dog ain’t going to hunt anymore. We are not going to have it. Our sales tax is $10.4 million. There is no way the city can support itself on $10.4 million in sales tax.”
The election for Claremore City Council positions in on Tuesday at the Rogers County Election Board from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.