PRINCETON – Princeton's debt level, building trust in the city council, and what to do with Darius Miller Park were three of the issues fielded by three of the four Princeton City Council commissioner candidates at Tuesday's forum.
About 50 people attended Tuesday's candidate forum co-sponsored by the Bureau County Republican and the Princeton Chamber of Commerce at the Bureau County Metro Center. Absent from the forum was candidate Paul Breseman, who sent a message to the BCR about 10 minutes before the forum began that he would not be able to attend.
Candidates Ray Mabry, Terry Madsen and Bob Warren answered questions from moderator and BCR Publisher Sam Fisher. Madsen and Warren are incumbents to the council. Mabry is seeking his first term on the council, as is Breseman.
When asked about the city's estimated $37 million debt, Madsen said the debt is a concern but is manageable. The biggest portion of the city's debt is in infrastructure projects which need to be done. The city's debt is not a crisis situation, he said.
Warren agreed, saying debt is not necessarily a bad thing as long as there is cash to pay for it. A lot of the city's debt is due to EPA-driven mandates. The debt is an issue, but there is cash to handle it, he said.
In his response, Mabry said the city's debt level is somewhat like having a party, and then someone has to clean up the mess. As a realtor, his opinion is the city paid twice as much for farmland north of the city (commercial park) than what it was worth. He also took issue with the Captain Swift covered bridge, which required some city money, and well as incentives for the Super Walmart project. The city's track record is poor, Mabry said.
When asked about the future of Darius Miller Park, the candidates all agreed the park is showing its age, but there is no money in the city's budget to do any work there. Private funds and volunteers are needed, they said.
Responding to a question on how to expand the tax base for the city, the candidates agreed the need is to create more jobs and to retain the existing jobs and businesses.
Madsen said the quality of life in Princeton will make Princeton a place where people want to move and to stay. Jobs have to be created which will sustain families. Warren said there are some new businesses and jobs in Princeton, as seen in the technology park and the recent new hotel, but it is not government's job to get more jobs. Rather, that comes from the private sector, he said. Mabry also suggested council members tour existing factories to see what the city can do to help retain current jobs and create new ones.
When asked to rate the trust level in the Princeton City Council on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), both Madsen and Mabry went for a 5, with Warren going with a 6.
Madsen said all the commissioners live in town and pay the same taxes as everyone else in town. It's sometimes difficult to understand how decisions are made by the council when people aren't directly involved. He also questioned a commissioner who distributed a press release to the media prior to a recent meeting, read the press release during the meeting, but did not give the press release to his fellow council members. Those things do not promote communication within the council, which is a problem.
Warren said trust is a two-way street. If people attended council meetings, then they would be more informed. The council is transparent and answers any questions during the two public comment portions of each council meeting.
Mabry said there is a wave to throw out incumbents in government, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. However, the public needs to hear from the council members on how they think on issues before the public is asked to vote on the issue, such as the home rule referendum.
Concerning their vision for the city, Warren said Princeton is a good place to live, work and raise kids. Ten years from now, he would like to see a little bit of growth in the city, but for it to still be a great place to live, work and raise children. Princeton hasn't changed a lot during the years, and he doesn't expect that to change much in coming years, Warren said.
In his comments, Mabry referred to his Park Place residential development and his new business development on 600 N. Main St., examples of what can be developed in Princeton by small business people like himself. Mabry said he doesn't expect large corporations to settle in Princeton, but rather the city needs to do what it can to help small businesses and to be better stewards of what the city already has.
Madsen said he envisions Princeton in the future as a living place with a quality of life which sets it apart from other communities. Princeton doesn't have to try to be like other communities, but to be itself, to recognize all it has, and to grow itself more.
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