The two candidates for Harrington's mayor's office and one of the four hopefuls for city council seats held their only public forum for the upcoming May 7 municipal election Tuesday night at Lake Forest South Elementary School.
Mayoral incumbent Robert E. "Gene" Price Jr., and challenger former councilman Anthony R. Moyer, as well as District 1 council candidate Stacey Sizemore faced an audience of 60 city residents, who submitted questions through moderator Dr. Daniel Curry.
Concerns about attracting business to the city, repairing its roads and other infrastructure and fees charged by the city government were the main topics of the hour-long session.
In her two-minute opening statement, Sizemore, who is making her first run for public office, said her main worries were finding outlets for the city's youth and easing up on fees and regulations that, she said, throw up too many obstacles for businesses to want to come to the city.
"It's hard to operate when you have so many restrictions," she said.
Price, who is in his 13th year as mayor, said he enjoys representing Harrington, but admitted the city does have its troubles.
Those problems are not insurmountable, he added.
"I think we have a good group together that tries to work on the issues and get them solved," he said.
Moyer, who served two terms as a councilman and currently sits on the Planning and Zoning Committee, said the city is not keeping up with the times.
"I see the city has become level," he said. "We need proactive leadership. I've seen businesses leave this city, I've seen costs too high for people to even to want to move into the city."
Water and sewer costs are "through the roof," Moyer said, adding that high fees charged by the city do not promote growth or interest in coming to Harrington. Moyer also believes Harrington government needs greater transparency; while he did not think things were being purposely hidden, "it is very muddy waters," he said.
On the subject of keeping Harrington's roadways in good repair, Moyer inferred street work seems to be taking place only in favored parts of town.
"We seem to be repairing roads that have been repaired three or four times," he said.
"We need to get to the roads that need to be done and without concern for who lives on what street," he added. "It doesn't matter who lives there. If your road is in bad condition, it needs to be repaired."
Price noted more than $1 million has been spent on road repair in the last decade, and denied any favoritism regarding street repairs.
"This is an ongoing project that will never be done. It is a continuous project," he said.
Page 2 of 3 - A list was created to prioritize roadwork without taking into account its locale or the influence of who lives there. The city is continuing efforts to get more money to continue the work, he said.
Regarding the issue of property values, Price said the city had been enforcing ordinances to keep properties adjoining area homes from becoming eyesores, thus keeping home values from going down.
Moyer agreed, but took a different tack, stating that recent charter changes have had the effect of putting people's homes up as collateral for any money the city borrows.
"If the city defaulted, which I don't think it ever will, but if it did, your property value would plummet," he said.
Both Sizemore and Moyer criticized city government for its various fees and service charges, which they said keep prospective businesses from relocating to Harrington. Both felt that impact fees to developers should be reduced or eliminated.
The city needs infrastructure to support new businesses, and impact fees, which only affect the developer, help pay for those improvements, Price said. Eliminating them and finding another way to modernize the water and sewer system would put the burden on everyone, he said.
Such fees can add as much as 10 percent to the price of a home, Moyer noted, which does not create an incentive to build or buy. Doing away with that fee would encourage construction, which then would bring in transfer and property taxes, creating a better tax base for needed infrastructure.
Other pressing issues include reducing crime, which Moyer thought could be accomplished, in part, with a curfew. Price countered by saying that idea has been brought up, but is subject to constitutional questions. Moyer also promised to be more accessible to the public and to forgo a salary.
Both agreed bringing jobs into the city can help solve its infrastructure problems and reduce poverty, but Moyer criticized what he called a lack of effort by city government to bring in new businesses, particularly to the city's industrial area.
All three candidates concurred on the need for better communication between city government and residents, although they also felt Harrington's citizens should make a greater effort to attend meetings of various city councils, boards and committees.
In closing, Price said a city must be run like a business and that if there is not enough revenue available, it must come from sources such as taxes. The new borrowing authority built into a pending charter change requires a supermajority of council members for approval of any project, and would only be used as a last resort if there was a need for some sort of unforeseen expenditure.
Moyer said he'd like to see the city find ways of cutting costs and reducing expenditures, including eliminating pay for the mayor and council. New businesses are needed, new housing is needed, he said, and all of that brings in new revenue.
Page 3 of 3 - That's where the city's money should come from, not from the pockets of city residents, he said.
Sizemore thanked the audience for allowing her to express her views,
"I'll be there for you whenever you need me to be there," she promised. "I'll be a fresh, new face to city council if I am elected. I would like to shake it up a little bit and have my views come out there a little bit."
The meeting broke up with many in the audience staying behind to talk with the candidates and with each other.
Incumbent Councilman Charles W. Porter of District 1 and current Councilwoman Fonda Coleman and challenger Randolph L. Ferguson, running in District 3, were no-shows at the forum.
Rotary Club member Linda Chick, representing the Harrington-Greenwood-Felton Centennial Rotary, which, with the Harrington Business Association sponsored the forum, said those absences might have been because of conflicts with the candidates' prior schedules.
"We were a little late in getting out the invitations," she said. "They went out after the notices were in the newspapers."