Candidates for Hesston City Council spoke at a community forum on Oct. 19, hosted by the Hesston Public Library and moderated by Adam Strunk of Harvey County Now.
Below is a summary of candidates’ statements and answers to various questions asked at the event.
Susan Swartzendruber said she was a long-time resident of Hesston, Kansas, has lived in the community since 1996, has had children go through the school system, and has a son who is employed at the city. She said she’s owned a business for 20 years in the city.
“I’ve always appreciated Hesston’s support,” she said.
She said she feels it’s important to give back to the community. She’s been on the council since 2016.
Larry Fuqua said he’s lived in Hesston since 1969, before many in the audience were born. He said he was a long-time member of the business community. He said he believes it’s important for someone in the business community to give back to the community. He said he’s been on the city council for eight years.
Jason Jones said he’s lived in Hesston for 12 years, and his wife owns Essential Elements Wellness Spa, and his son is in the school district.
He said he’s served on the council for two terms, was off for two years and is now running again for another term.
“This is an opportunity to be your voice on the council,” he said.
He hopes to be able to listen to residents in a term on the council.
FC (Clare) Moore wasn’t present due to a 40th wedding anniversary getaway, and moderator Adam Strunk read a prepared statement Moore sent in.
He said he’s lived in Hesston for 18 years and has served on the city council for eight years.
He said he’s been a proponent of the golf course updates, improvements to city parks, as well as increased funding for the library. He said he is working to promote his plan of balanced spending with no tax mill increase.
What topics or issues do you wish to emphasize in this next term on the city council?
Fuqua said he doesn’t have any burning topics other than completing some of the projects that are going on. He said he’d like to get 22 acres on the eastern part of town developed.
Jones said he gets asked a lot of questions about the grocery store and can’t answer those questions, as he’s not in the meetings. He said he’d like to be part of those meetings, if elected.
He said he welcomed the opportunity to work within Hesston’s upcoming strategic plan. He said he was part of the last strategic plan. He said he looked forward to hearing what residents’ needs were as the city develops a strategic plan.
Swartzendruber said the city has needs for housing to maintain teachers and city staff, as well as workers at local industries.
“Housing needs to be something on the forefront,” she said.
She added there were some housing areas that could be developed, and the city needed to encourage that.
What would Hesston look like in four or five years to make you feel like your term on city council was a success?
Jones said there was a lot of unknowns with the TEFFI funds, with the grocery store the primary unknown. He said downtown redevelopment would be one of the biggest uses with the funds, and he was curious what it would look like for long-term plans.
He also said with Gary Emry planning to retire, he would like to make sure the city does an internal search to find a good city administrator.
Swartzendruber said she wanted to see Hesston with a grocery store and development of housing areas. She said she believed in four to five years, these things will take place.
Fuqua said housing was important. He said it’s a topic talked about in Hesston for 50 years, with the city making incremental progress. He said the city council isn’t directly involved in the grocery store project, but he believed he’d see some action on that in the next four years.
What is the ideal kind of housing you’d like to see develop in Hesston?
Swartzendruber said, as a real estate agent working in Hesston, it was a unique place. She said often there’s talk of need for affordable housing, and she understands the need for that, but affordable housing varies from place to place.
She said the greatest need for Hesston residents were three-bedroom, two-bath, ranch-style homes with basements, as well as zero-entry patio homes for people wishing to downsize.
Fuqua said in addition to single-family housing, he believed there was a need for apartments. He said one of the original plans for the cleared-out trailer park area was for apartments or possibly an eight-plex. He noted many people who work in the community drive in, and he was hopeful there would be development for places for such people to live.
Jones said single-family housing was important, but he also hoped to find an income level of housing to fit the need of many people who work in Hesston. He said that would be a tremendous opportunity to grow Hesston and its workforce.
In relation to utility rates and taxes, do you believe the city has been a good steward of resources? And if not, what would you change?
Fuqua said Hesston has the lowest tax rates in the county. He said, over the last 20 years, administration has done a good job of managing but not cutting corners.
He said the city has done well planning to get projects done without raising taxes. He said the city did recently raise taxes, but it was to increase the salary of employees.
Jones said when he was on the city council, the city always talked about fiscal responsibility.
He said the city made a concerted effort to avoid raising taxes. He said Hesston had a good track record of not raising taxes and said he thinks everyone on the city council, himself included, is against raising taxes but still supportive of maintaining infrastructure.
Swartzendruber said once she got on the council and began understanding how the city budgeted, she was very impressed. She said she wanted to give a shout-out to the police and fire/EMS departments for looking for grant funding.
“I’m impressed with that,” she said, adding it saved residents money.
What steps does Hesston need to take, if any, for economic development over the next four years?
Jones said he has been the city’s representative on Harvey County Economic Development for a number of years and supports economic development. He noted that Midwest Transformers recently purchased 26 acres of the city’s industrial park, and now the city needs to look for new properties for future development. He said he’s in board meetings where they talk about prospects wishing to move to Hesston with nowhere to move to.
Swartzendruber said the sale of the industrial park to Midwest Transformers was an amazing opportunity for the city, and now the city needed to look for more property for economic development. She said the city needs to look for properties to attract suppliers of some of its larger industry.
Fuqua said the city had been looking for additional property as soon as existing property was sold and there was something in the works for finding more property. He said the city does need more property for an industrial park.
What is the city council’s and city management’s responsibilities in giving leadership to Beneficient developments in Hesston?
Swartzendruber said Beneficient is its own entity, and the city was not linked with them.
“I’m hesitant to answer that, as I’m not part of Beneficient, and I don’t know what their plan is,” she said.
She said the company would file any necessary permits it needed for projects within in the city.
Fuqua said the city council’s role with Beneficient was the same with any other entity wanting to do business in town. He said its role was to make sure projects followed city regulations.
Jones noted that the city had its city administrator and mayor on the Beneficient Heartland Foundation. He said they would be the voice of the city council to the foundation. He said his thought was any ideas the city had, the city reps would take to the foundation to make sure city ideas were heard.
What qualities do you have that would make you the best choice for election to the Hesston City Council?
Fuqua said he’s demonstrated he knows how to run a business, and it is important government be run like a business. He said he watches dollars closely. He said having people on the council who have been in business is very important.
Jones said he’s been in community leadership for 20 years. He said he’s participated in leadership development programs. He said he’s worked as a director of community wellness. He said he’s gone through regular training from the League of Municipalities, and his goal has always been to be the best city council member he can be.
Swartzendruber said owning a business sets a person up for the position very well. She said the City of Hesston is a business, to some extent. She said she believes in budgeting and fiscal responsibility.
What’s one thing Hesston can do better?
Jones said, in the past, Hesston Fire and EMS has had difficulties recruiting and retaining staff. He said if the city hasn’t taken care of that issue already, fire and EMS would be good to look at to maintain a high level of service.
Swartzendruber said Hesston needs housing and she’d like to see Hesston have some sort of community gathering spot. She said if they could get all the town’s great people together, great things could get done.
Fuqua said he was looking forward to creating Hesston’s new strategic plan. He said, without a plan like that, the city doesn’t know where it’s going. He said he was impressed that most of the past developments of the previous strategic plan had been done. He said it was important for the city to have a plan.
What’s one question you wished would have been asked at this forum?
Swartzendruber said she’d like to have talked about the golf course renovations. She noted the city took an old maintenance shed and turned it into a venue and that venue was beautiful and was a great opportunity for community residents. She said the golf course also now has an outdoor patio. She said the golf course has been renovated, and that hasn’t been done since 1977.
Fuqua said there seems to be an issue between Harvey County Now and the city council concerning the publication of legal notices. He said the city recently has decided to designate its website as its newspaper, where it can put notices on. He said he wasn’t sure why it was a big deal, and it seemed like a no brainer for the city. He said the city has spent a lot of money on the website to make it more accessible.
Jones said he really believed community leadership experience was vital. He said he wanted to be asked how he’s been active in community leadership. He said he’s served multiple years on the Harvey County Economic Development Board. He said he’s been the vice president of the League of Municipalities. He said he’s been on the city council for a term of eight years, as well as president of Hesston Area Economic Development.
How can the city council support the library to become a community gathering spot?
Fuqua said the city could continue to support the library as it has in the past. He said other than continue to support the library through the budgeting process, there wasn’t much the city could do, as the library sets its own budget and makes its own decisions.
Jones said he loves the library and the building is great, and if some outdoor public space was added to the library, it could be a wonderful community gathering spot.
Swartzendruber said the library is a great community gathering spot. She said the library serves a great service and the city serves the library and continues to support the library.