With the April 2 election just days away, around 60 area residents gathered at Southwest Baptist University Monday evening to hear from candidates and bond issue proponents during a public election forum.
The event, co-hosted by SBU and the Bolivar Herald-Free Press, was moderated by SBU president Eric Turner and featured audience-generated questions.
Attendees heard from candidates running for seats on the Bolivar Board of Aldermen, Polk County’s 911 board and the Morrisville Fire Protection District board, as well as panelists advocating the passage of Bolivar R-1’s $6 million no-tax-rate-increase bond issue.
Bolivar Board of Aldermen
Aldermen candidates are prepared to represent constituents, they say.
Two incumbents and two candidates running for Bolivar aldermen seats shared their experience and views Monday evening.
Charles Keith, Ward 4 candidate, has lived in Bolivar for nearly 50 years, he said. His background includes working for and managing teams in manufacturing companies, being a union steward and negotiating contracts.
“I look back over the last four years,” he said. “My opponent hasn’t been real attentive at the city council meetings. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, if you don’t show up, you don’t have a job.”
Keith challenges incumbent Vicky Routh, who did not attend the forum.
John Credille, Ward 2 incumbent, also graduated from Bolivar High School, then was drafted into the Navy, he said. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
He’s lived in Ward 2 since 1987 and has held an alderman seat since 1997, he said.
“I’d like to continue in that role…” Credille said.
Mike Ryan, also running for Ward 2 alderman, has lived in Bolivar his whole life, other than a two-year period he spent in Hickory County as a student pastor, he said.
Ryan is a paraeducator at Bolivar R-1 Schools, he said.
“Mr. Credille ... has done a phenomenal job,” Ryan said of his opponent, adding his motivation to run for office is because he wants “to see Bolivar continue to grow.”
Unopposed Ward 1 incumbent Steve Skopec served on the board for 12 years, he said, adding he has “enjoyed it very much.”
Also a BHS graduate and U.S. Navy veteran, Skopec knows infrastructure because of his past managing operations and engineering for Southwest Electric Cooperative, he said.
“We have quite a bit of infrastructure here in Bolivar,” Skopec said. “The streets, the water, the sewer and other things.”
In his years as alderman, Skopec learned other management areas like administration, he said.
When asked the role of an alderman and whose job it is to manage the city, all four men had similar answers.
Keith said an alderman’s role includes “to look out for the welfare and benefit of the people in the ward that they are in” and to “further the cause of the city.”
Aldermen also stand behind the mayor to support causes that will benefit the city, he said.
“I look at some of the things that have happened here lately,” Keith said. “I see some people on fixed incomes, and all of a sudden they’re in a world of hurt trying to take care of the things we’ve done.”
However, Keith believes he can “learn on the job,” and make a positive difference in the city, he said.
Credille explained the board’s composition, eight aldermen working as a team.
“The No. 1 job I have is to represent the constituents of Ward 2,” Credille said.
Credille’s publicized phone number and email address makes it easy for constituents to contact him, he said.
“The board ultimately hires the city administrator,” Credille said, adding “it’s a big responsibility.”
Another responsibility is to be frugal, according to Credille.
Reflecting the others, Ryan said his passion would be to be the “voice of Ward 2.”
“There’s a lot of learning that I will have to do, but I am ready for the challenge …,” Ryan said.
One goal, if elected, is to educate the community about different issues, Ryan said.
“A lot of times the only thing we see is a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Ryan said.
Ryan wants people to see and understand the process and considerations behind each “yes” or “no” vote, he said.
The city administrator, Skopec said, runs the city’s daily operations based on policies set by the city council.
“Even though we set the policies, we do not have day-to-day operations with the employees,” he said.
In addition to setting policies, the board approves the city’s budget each year, Skopec said.
Next, each panelist answered why the recent water rate increase was right or wrong.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m running,” Keith said.
Describing himself as “extremely conservative,” Keith knows the city has to pay the bills, he said.
Keith has met budgets within companies and wants a shot at reworking Bolivar’s water rate increases, he said.
Acknowledging the water rate increases were a hot button topic, Credille received more phone calls on the increases than on any other recent issue, he said.
“The bottom line is that the last water increase that we had was in 2009 …” Credille said. “We kind of, perhaps, dropped the ball a little bit and went nine years without an increase.”
Costs, however, have increased, he said. For example, last summer’s downtown water line construction came in at around $1 million, he said.
“Water has got to pay for itself,” Credille said.
Tough decisions have to be made, according to Ryan.
“I have faith and believe they weighed the options,” he said. “The need was there (to make a change).”
Although change needed to happen, Ryan sympathizes both with budgets and people on fixed incomes, he said.
“We have to pay for it somehow,” Ryan said.
Skopec, on the other hand, said the federal government seems to roll out new sewer regulations “every time the sewer system seems up to date.”
For example, the recently installed ultraviolet light to kill bacteria at the wastewater treatment plant cost “quite a sum of money,” he said. Managing the water and sewer system would be simpler without the federal government, Skopec said.
In the meantime, there is at least one way people can cut their bill.
“We have a minimum. If you stay under that minimum, your bill will not increase,” Skopec said.
Finally, panelists were asked about issues Bolivar faces and how to address them.
Again, Keith was first to tackle the question.
Large cities tend to be more liberal and have more problems, he said.
“Hopefully, we can use them as examples to shy away from the things that they do,” Keith said.
Citing himself as “very, very pro-police department,” Keith will look to advance Bolivar’s PD in ways like shortening response time, he said.
Next, Credille referenced the saying, “an educated person is an employed person.”
One big issue is attracting new companies and workers to Bolivar, he said. For example, his two daughters attended high school and college in Bolivar but are “in careers elsewhere.”
The industrial park west of Mo. 13 and Aldrich Road, owned by the city, according to Credille, ought to be filled.
Also wanting to see Bolivar grow, Ryan wants to educate and prepare students to be future leaders, he said.
Potential employees look at job markets and city progression, Ryan said. He hopes people will look at Bolivar and see its positive aspects, he said.
“There’s things for my family, there’s jobs, there’s a great educational system,” Ryan said.
On the other hand, Skopec sees sales tax revenue decreases as one of Bolivar’s biggest issues, he said.
Internet purchases take away from city sales tax, he said.
“Our general revenue tax is, I believe, 1 cent,” Skopec said. “The police department and a big majority of the fire department are funded by that general fund.”
Much of the general revenue fund is taken by the police and fire departments, he said.
“It’s hard to grow when you have a limited income,” Skopec said. “It’s our livelihood for the city.”
Skopec also added city employees did not receive a raise in 2019 due to limited income.
Polk County 911 board
Two men with long standing histories in the E-911 system took questions at the forum Monday as they vie for two northern district spots on the system’s emergency services board in the April 2 election.
Board incumbent Jeff Miller and candidate Clay Meyer participated in the forum. Candidate Kenneth Wollard did not attend.
Miller has served on the board as treasurer for nine years, he said. He also has a master’s degree in administration and has 22 years of healthcare experience, including managing ambulance pre-hospital services.
Looking ahead, Miller told the audience the district will likely need to grow its 911 service by placing the 911 center in an independent building.
As previously reported in the BH-FP, the board purchased 4.8 acres of land in Davis Properties’ Village Acres near Killingsworth Avenue and Mo. 32 for $180,000 in June 2017.
The center currently occupies space in the basement at Windstream’s facility, which may not always be available, he said.
“I feel like all of our emergency services are working very well together. And I'd just like to see that continue to progress. One thing we’ve definitely done is grow the service. We’ve added more operators to field those calls. We’d like to continue to grow that service.”
The board has been frugal in the past, Miller said, but will need to responsibly prepare for growth in the future.
“I’ve also been adamant that we not build a new 911 center until we’ve got a good down payment on that building. If you’ve got a high monthly payment that you’re going to be making, it’s going to cost you more to operate that system.”
Meyer recently retired from a career with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and estimated he’s responded to thousands of vehicle wreck scenes. He agreed — the center will need its own building at some point.
“I do believe it is going to be a necessity at some point down the line,” he said.
Miller also took an opportunity at the forum to compliment Meyer.
“I have great respect for Clay. I know he’s been on the receiving end of a lot of those (911) calls. I know he’d be an excellent board member.”
As a former law enforcement officer, Meyer said he understands the importance of a quality 911 system.
“The center unifies all emergency services in Polk County,” he said. “It makes the citizens a lot safer. It gives them immediate help and assistance when that call comes in. Unless you have been in that system before, you may not understand how critical that is. When you need somebody, you need help, the 911 center gets it to you.”
The candidate said his experience dealing with the system gives him a unique perspective.
“I have worked with every emergency service in Polk County. Every fire department. Every volunteer fire department. I have loaded people into ambulances. I stood out there on thousands of crash scenes over my 28 years, so I have a personal relationship with each and every one of them.”
The system has vastly improved, he said.
“I remember the old days where you call for help and you may not hear ‘10-4, they’re en route,’ for 20 to 25 minutes,” he said.
Meyer said he knows the current members of the board and supports them. He’s hoping to continue their trend of responsible, conservative spending.
“It’s taxpayer money,” he said. “In this position, you’re going to have to ask tough questions. You’re going to have to make tough decisions. I do believe that the current board has been very diligent in handling taxpayer money and doing it correctly and when needed. I hope if I get into this position, I can continue that. I feel like I have the ability to ask the tough questions and make sure money is being spent in the right way.”
Morrisville Fire Protection District
One candidate for Morrisville’s Fire Protection District board — incumbent Dustin Kessler — participated in Monday night’s forum.
Two 6-year seats are up for election.
Kessler is no stranger to emergency services, saying he’s served as a Morrisville firefighter and board member for 13 years.
He said he hopes to stay on the board for the district to help “take it to the next level,” adding one of the goals of the board is “to have a good vision and mission and work toward achieving goals.”
Over the past four years, Kessler said the district has added to its fleet. Currently, he said the board is in the process of replacing two trucks.
But, he said the most important goal — as well as the biggest challenge — is taking care of the district’s volunteers. He said Morrisville currently has 18 volunteers, who both respond to calls and serve as auxiliary.
“It’s very important to have a good climate and a good culture,” he said. “There’s been times, in the past, with our department and with others that it wasn’t so pleasant. And as a board member and serving as the president, it’s important to me to take care of our people. We’ve got to have a culture that when we have responders, they’re comfortable coming to the board when they need to, comfortable coming to the chief, and not having to worry about a bunch of nonsense.”
Kessler said two ways the district is working to recruit and retain its volunteers is by offering stipends to firefighters and developing its cadet program to get young people interested in the fire service.
Other candidates on the ballot include Paul Dillman, Josh Hook and Rebecca Cercea.
Bolivar R-1 bond issue
Bolivar R-1 superintendent Tony Berry — joined by a panel of bond proponents and flanked by an entourage of Bolivar Community Teachers Association supporters — provided attendees with a summary of the anticipated projects the district could complete if its proposed $6 million no-tax-rate-increase bond issue passes April 2.
At the top of the district’s list is an early childhood learning center, which would include 12 classrooms and would be constructed east of the primary and intermediate schools with access to Rt. D.
The correlating rerouting of traffic, Berry said, is expected to help alleviate congestion on North Hartford Avenue during pickup and dropoff times.
But the center’s main goal would be to serve students.
Berry said the center, which is estimated to cost around $5.5 million, would serve around 240 students “at max capacity” per year in the district’s half-day preschool program.
Panelist Robin Campbell of Sunshine Preschool later added that number would be an increase of around 40 over the number of students currently served.
“So not only are we building this for now, we are also building it for the future,” Berry said.
Other potential projects could include a $1.5 million expansion to Bolivar Middle School, which Berry described as overcrowded and lacking important facilities.
“We are a class 4 school, folks,” Berry said. “We don’t have a sixth-grade science laboratory. For the love of Pete, something’s gotta give.”
Berry added that BMS students are currently attending counseling sessions “in what would be called a glorified closet.”
“We need to have some expansion at the middle school,” he concluded.
Also on the list of potential projects is an estimated $600,000 practice track slated for the district’s land, commonly referred to as the Gallivan property, northwest of East Division Street and North Hartford Avenue.
Describing the track as the most “controversial” project on the list, Berry said the project is the last item on the district’s priority list.
“I’m going to tell you, we’re only going to do this if we have enough money to,” Berry said, adding he is, however, “passionate” about the important role activities, including athletics, play in student lives.
As far as money is concerned, Berry emphasized the bond issue if passed would not increase the district debt service tax levy.
“No tax rate increase,” he said. “I’m going to say that again. No tax rate increase.”
However, he added, “I am not telling you your taxes will not go up.”
“If your taxes go up, though, it is not because of this,” he said, noting an individual’s tax bill could go up for other reasons, including an increase in assessed valuation.
However, during the audience question portion of the session, Berry said if the bond issue does not pass, the debt service levy, currently at .5675 per $100 assessed property valuation, “would go down in five years.”
In addition to the $6 million the issue would provide via bonds, Berry said the district would add an additional $1.5 million to $1.6 million to the projects from its capital reserve fund.
“We currently have $2.3 million in our … capital reserves,” he added.
Toward the end of the session, the panelists — including Paula Hubbert, Jannis Keeling, Jean Pufahl Vincent, Al Skalicky and Campbell — shared why they support the bond issue.
“Early childhood (education) is vital to our kids,” Campbell said, noting she has had students who came into the classroom without basic skills, such as how to use scissors. “It is vital to our community because if we can get those children at that age of 4 or 5 and give them a solid foundation, they are going to experience success and then feel confident as they move on to more academic, more structured learning.”
Hubbert said the bond issue is not only about today, but also the needs of tomorrow.
“The key to the future for our community is the children who walk the hallways of our schools,” Hubbert said, adding the projects that could be funded through the passage of the bond issue are “about our students who are here now but also for the generations of students that come after.”
Keeling, the founder of the Keeling Foundation for Kids, revisited the traffic solutions the early childhood center could provide.
“As the population grows, we have more cars, more kids to deliver, it’s just going to get worse,” she said, adding the new center could help eliminate one-third of vehicles from the frequently congested East Division Street and North Hartford Avenue area.
Referencing her experience as a teacher, Pufahl Vincent said she witnessed the difference early childhood education could make to student success.
Students with early access to education “far” outperformed “those who did not,” she said.
“What we are looking at now is giving every child the advantage of having those basic skills learned,” she added.
Skalicky, also a former R-1 teacher, said the issue boils down to what is possible and what isn’t when it comes to growth and space.
“As our community has grown … (the schools) just keep absorbing things and absorbing things,” he said. “Our classes get a little bigger. We move one teacher here or there to make room for another … And you reach a point where you can’t do that anymore. And that’s where we’re at right now. … Just ask a teacher, and they’ll tell you. We don’t have any room to grow anymore without doing some additional facilities expansion.”