The three Dickinson City Commission candidates talk issues prior to Tuesday's election
DICKINSON - Three candidates are vying for two open seats on the Dickinson City Commission. On Wednesday, The Press caught up with the trio - Shirley Dukart, Gene Jackson and Carson Steiner - and quizzed them on campaign issues.
What should the City Commission do, if anything, to curb vandalism, drug abuse and underage drinking in Dickinson?
DUKART: "I would say we would have to hire more police officers."
JACKSON: "I think the best thing the city can do is to help provide opportunities and facilitate kids, our youth, being involved...through schools, through church...any activity that a young person can be involved with. Because I think that young people who are involved are less likely to be tempted by those ills."
STEINER: "We would like to step up more police coverage.... Currently, our police department is extended to the limit of the personnel it has. I mean, they're working 12-hour shifts. At the most, we may have three or four patrol cars out there at one time.
"...The other way is for people to actually become neighborhood watches again. We had the neighborhood watch programs. We should become more involved in those. People just need to be aware of what's going on. ...Communication with the police department is very important.
"...I think we need to take a look at the type of penalties or fines they're giving out...if the kids can't afford it, then we need to have more of a work program for them to work off their fines....
"But basically to curb it, I think it's just going to take work between the police department and the people of Dickinson. ..."What can the City Commission do to help Dickinson sustain its economic growth of recent years?
DUKART: "We have to...really be careful with the budget. I know that people are very concerned about property taxes. But it takes a lot of money to run a city, and we've seen a lot of improvements, but the economy is changing now. Gas prices have changed many things, including the housing market, the way people have to live and shop."
JACKSON: "I think that perpetuating a climate in the city that attracts business and, more importantly today, attracts people. It is the single most important thing that the city commission can do. That means facilities, but it also means a reasonable tax structure. It means a city that is visually pleasing and one that has orderly growth in its residential and commercial areas. ..."
STEINER: "I think we need to continue to be prepared...for the expansions of certain areas of town that make it affordable for people to move to town and to build and make sure that we have the streets, the sewer and water - everything they need to come in and make it easy for them to make the conversion from where they're at to Dickinson.
"...To sustain the economic growth, to help business come to Dickinson and show them the good things that we have, the benefits that they would have by moving to Dickinson - you know, what's good for their employees, what's good for their employees' families. ...We need to make it business-friendly for companies to come to Dickinson. ..."
What are your thoughts on property taxes in Dickinson?
DUKART: "They must stop rising. We can't change them. You know, you can't change the budget. But we have to put a cap on those property taxes to where they can only increase at a certain percentage instead of 12 percent a year. Or we either have to look at the reassessment process."
JACKSON: "I've spent the last three and a half weeks walking door to door in various parts of Dickinson, and by far and away, the thing that people want to talk about most is property taxes. So whoever makes up the City Commission needs to take that property tax issue very serious. I think one of the things that we perhaps need to do more of is get better information to our citizens: information as to how our tax structure is derived, what we're doing as a city commission to keep them reasonable, the fact that the city only makes up 25 percent. ...We really need to work hard to make sure our citizens understand that we know what a priority it is for everybody. ..."
STEINER: "Being a taxpayer myself, I would like to see us work the hardest we can to reduce those and, you know, Dickinson is growing therefore the expenses come along with that all that - the streets, the curbs, the gutters, the sewers, the waste management - all that costs money. ...The most important thing I think is that when people look at their taxes is that they look at the amount, the 25 percent, that the city is part of. ...They have to look at the amount of percentage the school, the county and the minor percent the park district gets.
"...The commission, I think, we just need to continue to wisely spend the money that we have on property taxes. Truthfully, I think we're at the point now where our property taxes should start leveling out, if not going down. ...Eight years ago, we were not in good financial condition in this community, but over the years we've built up. We have more people here now. We have investment income with the city. The sales tax, we'll be able to pay some bills with that and redo the streets, put money from the general fund from that. ..."
What should the City Commission do, if anything, to help St. Joseph's Hospital attain sound financial footing?
DUKART: "We need to help them get the critical access designation. I don't think that the city would want to fund the existing hospital because of its age, and if we need to put in money I think it should be into a new hospital and then also have the four counties around us participate. And that, of course, would have to be up to the voters again."
JACKSON: "I think there are two or three things. First of all, I think we as a commission need to know that we're really informed as to what the issues are that face St. Joe's Hospital. Sometimes with casual observance, we're not as informed as we should be. Once we get informed, the second thing we need to do is participate in the efforts to expand federal participation in medical payments. Be it Medicare, Medicaid or any other program that the hospital is involved with. We as a city commission can help influence things at higher level of government. And then third, I think, as a city commission, we just need to foster a community that is attractive to heath care personnel - doctors, nurses, technicians, things that make our hospital really a high-quality hospital.
STEINER: "First of all, with the hospital...I think we have to let the hospital find out where they are and work through their situation. I think they're going to be able to come out of this a lot better than people think. ...However, the city, we can't sit back and just let them go it themselves. And by that I mean we have to be prepared in the future. And if that means setting aside some money now when that time comes, we have to be ready for it because they could come in and say, 'We're out of here in one month. What do we want to do?' The city's got to be prepared for that there. ...
"The other thing about the hospital is we built what's called a Southwest Law Enforcement Center. I think we need to look at a Southwest Community Hospital. And by that I mean the city of Dickinson shouldn't have to take on the expense all by themselves. We have the county that should be able to help us, and we have other counties in the Southwest that also use the hospital, and maybe we should be looking at them to also help us with the situation. So southwest North Dakota needs to look at what's best for the hospital, not just the city of Dickinson. ..."
Do you support the amendment to the half-percent sales tax ordinance? Why or why not?
DUKART: "Yes, I support it. Yes, because we need to keep moving forward. We need to have that money. I know people are saying pay off the community center. It is under a bond, so you only make payments when you are working with a bond. If we don't need the money there, I think that it should be for new projects in the city like the Badlands Activity Center or the hospital, if that would become a priority where we have to build a new hospital. Some of that money would come from the one-percent capital improvement, but also some of it would have to come from the half-percent. And the hospital has to be our priority."
JACKSON: "I absolutely support the amendment. This amendment is I think much more routine from an operational standpoint than some have been led to believe. It simply gives the City Commission more flexibility. It does not raise taxes. I think past commissions have proven that they are responsible...with the sales tax fund, and that a lot of positive things can be done in the future. Young and old, no matter where you are demographically, there's a lot more positive to this measure than some would have us believe."
STEINER: "I do support the half-cent amendment to the sales tax. The reason why is in this time...city government sometimes needs to act fast. Government does go slow and there's reason for that because you can look things over. But sometimes, you know, the community will be presented with something or they have to make a decision, and they have to make a decision within a month or two months. If the half-cent sales tax can generate some extra income there where we can put it away and be ready for these here, that's to our benefit.
"I think, without a doubt, the City Commission, this commission, previous commissions or next commissions...are not going...to spend a lot of money on something without the community's input. If there's a new hospital, the community's going to have their say. If there's a new activity center, Badlands Activity Center, I think the public deserves a say on that. ..."