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In the next few days we will wrap up our profiles of the candidates for both Eudora City Council and the Eudora School Board. We sent out a questionnaire to all candidates and asked them the exact same questions. Their responses to the questions will be printed verbatim. This is opportunity for you, the reader, to see not only their responses but how they respond. The questions in the survey came from both editorial board decisions and reader input.
Today, we profile incumbent Maria Nelson
Ms. Nelson, please tell about your background.
I attended the University of Kansas and recieved a Bachelors in Accounting and Business Adminstration. Shortly after college my husband and I started a landscape business, which he currently runs full time. I still take care of the administration side of our business, as well as working full time at CPA firm that specializes in assisting small businesses! We moved to Eudora six years ago because we loved the feel of the “small town.” We grew up in Johnson County and wanted to be somewhere a little more removed from that, but not too far away! Eudora offered great home prices and a great location, and we still love living here and seeing the City grow.
What qualifications do you have for a seat on the City Council?
I believe my greatest qualification is my background in business. A city, while it is a government entity and thus operates a little different from a business, should still be run like a business! The citizen is the shareholder, and all of our decisions should thus be made with them (the taxpayer) in mind. There should not be decisions made just because “it’s always been that way” or with an “old school” mentality. I am a solidly unbiased opinion in City Council meetings, as I base my decisions solely on the question at hand and how it should be answered from a business perspective that will be best for the greatest number of citizens.
What do you think is the most important issue that faces the City Council?
The most important issue for the Council, by far, is supporting and driving economic development in the City. This has been my stance for my last four years on the Council and will continue to be. The reason this is the most important, above even “lowering the budget” or “keeping taxes low” is because economic development will accomplish both of those! Without greater commercial development, and support of current commercial business, our citizens will bare the brunt of the taxes! Commercial businesses offer a way to share the tax burden, as well as offering the many amenities that our growing citizen base needs and demands.
How would you help improve the city budget?
This is an interesting question. A Council member can impact/improve a budget in several ways. The first way is when we approve and create the annual budget itself. I believe that I provide a great asset in this area, due to my knowledge base in simply how budgets work. This is what I do on a daily basis for small businesses – form budgets, approve budgets, educate clients on their budget, etc. Without a background in finance and budgeting, it takes quite a while to really understand all of these moving pieces; I come equipped with that knowledge. The second way to “improve” the budget would be on a daily basis, through funding decisions made for the departments. It has always been my mentality – and more so as the economy has been down – to consistently not allow spending on City equipment, etc, unless absolutely necessary. Just because a capital expense is in the budget does not mean that we need to buy that piece of equipment! This is the job of the Council member – to decide, with the help of City Staff, what is necessary and what is not.
Many citizens complain about the water quality in the city. Do you have ideas on how to improve the water conditions?
Water quality is my second “initiative” after economic development. It is actually one of the reasons I ran for Council the first time and will continue to be a priority for me in my second term! In the last four years, at my urging, we’ve completed a water study to determine what CAN be done to improve water quality. Ultimately, we need to replace the 65 year old water lines in the City, to the tune of around four million dollars…which is obviously NOT an option right now! Instead we moved forward with a smaller project at the recommendation of the engineers, which would make a marked improvement. We will be measuring the effect of this decision and while this one small step may or may not make the end user see an immediate change, it is a step in the right direction. Water quality is a change the citizens demand, and I will not let this issue die in my next four years – we need to keep making important improvements to the plant to keep working towards water that is not as hard, and not as ridden with the white “flak” we see.
Many citizens feel taxes and utility costs are high. What are your opinions on taxes and utility costs?
My opinion on taxes and utility costs is that they have gone up in the last few years, and that is why people are feeling them. However, before that time period, taxes and utility rates were simply never raised. When I got on Council we were facing a major budget crisis due to the fact that prior Councils never wanted to “be the bad guy” and “raise taxes”. They did not even perform basic cost of living adjustments or increases. Many of our rates were well below neighboring cities of our same size, and we can see the effect it has had. We were not able to keep up with the roads, we were not able to upgrade the water plant, we were not able to put money into the Parks or to promote our City in economic development. Right now, our rates are on par with other cities our size and the City budget is in a much better place. It is simply not safe to NOT have a cash reserve in a City our size – and that is the situation we were put in because taxes had previously never been raised. I have always and will always avoid raising taxes, however I will not simply not raise them at the expense of creating a City budget that is potentially unstable.
What ideas do you have to increases businesses and jobs in Eudora?
I believe that we are already primed to increase business and jobs in Eudora, but now we are the implementation stage. We have in place an economic development plan, which I personally helped push through in 2008, to show potential businesses what our City has to offer. This plan basically allows us to have a “roadmap” for developers when they are looking for a place to land. However, I believe that to ultimately increase businesses, we also need someone working for or with the city in a full time capacity driving this change; it won’t just “happen” on its own. We need to showcase the reasons for businesses to choose us – over anyone else – and that comes down to marketing. To market oneself or one’s business (or City!) takes time, money, and hard work. Until recently we didn’t have someone devoted solely to doing that for the city. A month ago, we moved forward on approving funding for a full time position to do just this. I believe that as a Council we need to support this new role by “branding” the city, creating an organized process for businesses to follow when they come to town, and really working to make it EASY for businesses to choose us. The easier this process is, the more likely a business is to set up shop.
What other issues do you feel are important to the City Council?
Other issues I feel of importance are improving our Parks system, and increasing pedestrian walkways. We are moving forward on both of these fronts, but they will need Council members who support them in the years to come to keep them moving forward. Our children and adults both need safe ways to cross town (sidewalks), to get to school, to walk their dog, to walk with their stroller, to exercise! I live at 12th & Maple and love to walk my daughter down to Paschal Fish Park! What a great thing to have just a block away. I’d like to see more money put into the parks system so we can improve and maintain these existing parks, and ultimately add more of these parks as funding allows.
Why do you want to sit on the City Council?
I want to continue to sit on the Council because I enjoy it. I have loved every minute (well almost every!) of the last four years, and feel that it is a form of community service. I was raised to volunteer and give back, and for me this has been a consistent way to do that. I want to see Eudora continue to grow and be an even greater place to live and raise my kids, and being on Council is a way to directly impact that.
We will be bringing you the responses from all the candidates over the coming days. You will have the opportunity to meet the candidates face to face on March 23rd when The Eudora Chamber of Commerce and Eudorareporter.com co-sponsor our “Meet the Candidates” forum. The forum will begin at 6:30PM. For more information about the forum you can click on this link: http://www.eudorareporter.com/eudora-news-meet-the-candidates/. Election day is Tuesday, April 5th.