By: Noah Green
The final debate between St. Joseph city council candidates on Thursday, March 27 proved the most aggressive of the series.The forum, held at Missouri Western, featured general election challengers from District I, District II and District V. Each district race is between a challenger and the district’s incumbent, and will be decided by voters on Tuesday, April 8. The debate escalated from the start, as District II incumbent Joyce Starr and three-time challenger and Spring 2013 Western graduate Ellis Cross expressed drastically different views for their district. While other challengers avoided directly discussing their opponents, Cross made his position on St. Joseph’s current leadership known. “While it has gone downhill for the last eight years, not a single independent idea has come out of Joyce Starr’s head to help District II,” Cross said. Cross, in his opening statement, introduced a substantial change in property taxes focused on providing $1-for-$1 tax credit for property owners to help improve District II, which is full of historic homes in need of severe repair. “I’m proposing a dollar-for-dollar tax cut for anyone who has property in this city,” Cross said. “If you own property, you’re paying taxes. If you fix your property, it comes off your taxes. Very simple.” Starr put her foot down after Cross continually referred to District II as “the armpit of this city.” She took Cross to task, saying that, not only was District II a proud part of St. Joseph, but that she actively works in the community to clean up the area. She questioned Cross’ commitment to actual efforts to improve the area by pointing out that she’d never seen him during any District cleanup days. Another topic of discussion was the issue of St. Joseph street maintenance. District I incumbent Pat Jones, who faces challenger Dennis Adams next Tuesday, called for action to solve the problem. “We have 418 miles of streets in this city, and what people don’t realize is -- no, we don’t have the money to take care of our streets,” Jones said. “We don’t know if the use tax would be the best way to go, or if G.O. Bonds would be the best way to go. Nobody has that magic wand.” Cross felt that street maintenance was an issue solely prompted by bad weather. “By September, they’re all patched and smooth and everybody’s happy,” Cross said.
Starr disagreed with her opponent, claiming that more must be done to cover more ground with pavement.“A total of $18 million is going for streets [from the CIP tax], and it is over a period of six years, but what does that mean? Instead of 4.5 miles every year, it’s like 11 miles,” Starr said. “I think we need a new revenue stream.” All candidates found common ground when Western professor Jonathan Euchner, the forum’s moderator, posed a question regarding charging churches and other tax-exempt properties a land use fee. None of the candidates favored the proposal. The candidates also agreed with one another when a theological question about representative democracy was asked. All council candidates emphasized that their roles as councilmembers was to fully represent the opinion of their constituency, regardless of their own personal opinions. District V candidates Barbara LaBass and Mary Attebury had many similar opinions on the majority of the issues facing their district and the city at large.