Maria Nelson

Marian NelsonCity Commission Candidate Maria Nelson

With the upcoming elections for City Commission and School Board, we wanted to take time to highlight each candidate in the race.

All candidates were sent a questionnaire to fill out and respond to and stated that their responses to those questions will be presented as sent to us with no editing.

Today, we highlight City Commission Candidate Maria Nelson.

Please tell about your background and qualifications for a position on the City Commission

Professionally, my background is in finance and accounting.  I have been a Controller for the last five to eight years.  I am currently completing requirements to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam beginning this fall.  I believe that my financial acumen, and the way that I approach every decision logically and factually, is an important asset that I bring to the City Commission; so many of the Commission’s decisions surround funding and making sound business decisions with taxpayer money.  I previously served on the Eudora City Council from 2007-2011 and definitely feel that having a strong financial sense is of utmost importance for this position.

As for my personal background, my family has lived in Eudora for going on ten years.  We chose this community for it’s small-town feel; we wanted to move out of Johnson County (where we both grew up) and were drawn to Eudora as a safe, inviting place to grow our family.  We fell in love with the community here, the incredible school district, and the rural hometown feel of the city.
Voters in this election will be asked if they want to raise the City sales tax by ¾ of a percent to help fund the Parks and Recreation Master Plan and other capital expenditures. If this passes, what specific needs would you recommend that money going towards?

I would want to stay tightly in line with the intent of the proposal, which means using the money to fund Parks and Recreation.  When I was on the Council in 2011, we hosted multiple forums and sent out surveys on this topic of recreation growth – the response was overwhelming.  The citizens want more parks.  They want playground equipment.  They want trails.  They want to be outside with their families – safely.  Senior citizens want to walk outside – safely.  We still need a way to connect “the two sides” of our city so as to provide safe crossing. We have already made great strides toward meeting citizen demand, and the reality is that it is going to take more money to keep improving.  That said, if we are given the gift of this money via a sales tax increase, I would stick solidly to keeping the money in the line its original intent – funding Parks and Recreation related activities.
Where do you feel the city is in regards to economic development and what would you do in regards to economic development in the future?

I feel like the City is in a slow but steady mode in regards to economic development, and we need to make sure not to take our foot off the pedal.  I walked downtown recently on the weekend and visited all of the stores that were open on a Saturday morning – and quite honestly, they were bustling with activity.  This is a big change for us, and an exciting one.  We have not seen a sudden “burst” in activity – we’ve seen a slow and steady increase.  However, there is more work to be done.  The more we can bring new business into town (even if it’s a corporate-owned chain), the more it benefits the small businesses we already have thriving here as well.  The more options that people have to shop near home, the more they grow used to doing so.

I think that we need to define what it means, as a City, to not take our foot off the pedal regarding economic development.  We should identify specifically what we are doing to attract businesses here – and if they are choosing not to come, then why?  Are there changes we can make that would make us more attractive to further development?  Economic development is important to our community because it touches EVERYONE – more commercial options near home benefit all of us, and more businesses add more sales tax income – it all comes full circle in the end.

The most visible piece of land available for development is the property where the old Nottingham School and Laws Field currently sit. As a City Commissioner, what specifically would like to see done with this property?

I sat on several of the original meetings between the City and School Board regarding this property.  Everyone worked together and designed a general “feel” (and drawings/mock-ups) for what the property should look like.  Overall, I remember everyone seeming to be in agreement that the look of the space was very important to our city because in a way it is one of the first things you see when you enter our community.  Right now, having Laws Field there makes a statement.  We see soccer practice going on, people running on the track, kids flying down the water slide at the pool – that is Eudora.  That is our community.  Active, vibrant, healthy.  The new development should be something that encompasses this feel, and the size of the property gives us the opportunity to accomplish multiple goals (business development alongside a walking path and inviting entrance).  I have not stayed closely enough in the loop on this project to know if we have diverted from this line of thought for the property; however, I do remember the original meetings and I still think that a multi-use property should be a top priority.

What other issues do you think are important that the City Commission should look at?

Other issues that I believe are very important for the City Commission include long-term planning for the less glamorous items.  Of course we all want more parks, and more businesses in town.  But we all EXPECT water to come out of our faucets, and we kind of expect to not pop a tire pulling into our driveway.  However – replacement of the aging water pipe system throughout the city, and eventual updating of our streets (i.e. moving away from chip and seal) – aren’t things the average citizen wants to think about.  They just want them to work.  The City Commission, however, must think about them.  I want to review costs on these big-ticket items and see what our replacement schedule looks like – and make sure we are planning for the future.

Why do you want to sit on the City Commission?

For me, serving on City Commission is a consistent and constant way to give back to the community.  It is definitely difficult at times, but it is rewarding.  Things do not move quickly within a City, I understand that – but you can make an impact. There have been numerous agendas and ideas that I remember moving through Council when I was on it previously, and over the last four years since my departure many of the ideas we discussed have slowly come to fruition.  Serving on a City Commission is about being present in the moment, making sound unbiased decisions, and having good intentions.  I believe that I have a lot to add to the Commission and I would be excited to serve the community again.

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Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

Some changes are coming to City Hall.  Three City council positions were up for grabs in today’s election and a handful of candidates were vying for those seats.

Ruth Hughs came away as the leading vote getter, garnering over 400 votes for 28.8% of the vote. She bested the second place candidate Kenny Massey by 140 votes.  The race for the third and final spot was much tighter as John Fiore edged Jerry Trober by 12 votes.

Maria Nelson came in 5th 30 votes behind Trober and Chris Fiedler rounded out the list a distant 6th.

When we asked Hughs about her huge win she said “I can’t believe it. I’m just so humbled and honored to serve the citizens of Eudora. I appreciate all those who lent their support to me.”

John Fiore talked about how he was excited to be added to the City Council. “I appreciate all the voters faith in me. I will work hard to represent the people well.”

Kenny Massey, who decided to move away from the School Board and to the City Council spoke to us and talked about how “this is a new challenge for me and a new perspective.  I’m looking forward to that challenge in the future.”

Incumbent Maria Nelson, who fell short in her bid for a second term, was saddened by the news of the loss but was upbeat about the future. “I’m very happy to have served the last four years.  I’m also very happy to be handing over the reins to a group of great people.”

The newcomer to the race, Chris Fiedler summed up the race and the results  saying “Congratulations to those who won. It was a pleasure to run against everyone and do it in a good, clean race.   I look forward to cotniue being involved in the community in the coming years.”

The new Council should be sworn in at the April 11th City Council meeting.

News and notes about the numbers:

Voter turnout was fair with approximately 15% of the voters casting ballots. The lowest percentage turnout was in Central Eudora with 12.6% of votes cast and the largest was in the north precinct where they has 17.3%.

Jerry Trober tied with Rugh Hughs in the north precinct with 75 votes. Trober’s numbers in the south district were extremely low which knocked him down to 4th place in the race.

Massey had good enough numbers on the West side of town to propel him into second. Massey finished third in the other three precincts.

According to the numbers we have, just under 700 voters turned out for the City Council election. There are just over 4800 registered voters in the city.

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Recently, resident Beverly Wyant spoke to both The Eudora City Council and the local media about issues she had with the City in regards to when the city will discontinue electrical service due to non payment of bills.  (The original story can be read by clicking here.)

This outcry caused the City Council to reevaluate the process and formalize rules in the city code to assist people like the Wyants.  At the City Council meeting last Monday night, the City Council unanimously adopted several changes to the policy to help out citizens like Wyant.

The City of Eudora now has a cold weather policy in place. No one will be disconnected until the outdoor temperature is above 32 for a consecutive 48 hour period.

Residents with life supporting medical needs or equipment are allowed two medical extensions per year.  There are several requirements to obtaining this extension. The biggest of those requirements is that a letter must be provided by a licensed physician in Kansas. The letter is good for one use and if a second extension is needed a new letter must be obtained by the patient or their family.

Customers can now request a disconnection hearing, but the only people that would be able to delay the disconnection from occurring, are those that have life preserving medical equipment.

And for those 65 or older on Social Security who receive their Social Security checks after the 10th of the month, they can request to have the 10% penalty waived and can request that their billing date be changed to later in the month. Senior citizens will need to obtain a letter from the Social Security administration that states that their payments fall after the 10th of the month to be eligible.

Many of these policies were being followed informally by City Hall and this action now puts those policies in writing and allows gives City Hall staff more clarification and ability to assist customers.

A large discussion took place during the debate of this policy about the late fees charged by the city.  Councilwoman Maria Nelson stated that she thought the late fees “are really really high”.  Nelson stated how she noticed that on of the bills she pays, “the city has the highest and strictest policy of any of them.”

The cities current policy is that if your bill is not paid by the due date, a 10% fee is added to your bill. For most residents, the billing date is the 10th of the month.  If the bill is not paid by the 20th of the month, a door hangar is placed  on your door and a $25 fee is charged. If the bill is still not paid by the 21st, your electricity is disconnected and another $25 fee is charged to reconnect your service when the bill has been paid.

City Staff in attendance and other City Council members brought up the fact that the City currently has over $200,000 in uncollected payments for utilities and services and if the fees were lowered, it would likely cause that number to rise even more.  A city staff member also noted that Baldwin City’s disconnect rate was over double what Eudora currently charges.

No action was taken by the council to change the late fee amounts or disconnect fees rates from what they currently are.

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Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

The Eudora City Council is changing the policy of the City Cemetery in regards to flowers and decorations put near grave stone markers.  The City cemetery is located on 7th St on the east side of Eudora.

The new policy approved by the City Council Monday night is that between April 15 and November 15, fresh flowers, plants, artificial wreaths or flowers and shepherd hooks must be placed within the concrete foundation or on grave monuments or markers. This policy will not be in force near the Memorial Day holiday.

For 5 days before or 14 days after Memorial Day, patrons and family members can place the decorations listed above near graves as long as they are not in glass or pottery containers. City staff can remove these flowers after the two week period after Memorial Day ends. After this period, any materials that are blocking the mowers or have deteriorated, the City staff will be allowed to remove them.

Other notes in the regulations, is that patrons will not be able to plant in the ground and bushes, annuals or perennials. Benches, fences and landscaping or enclosures are also not permitted.

The reason for the new policy is to help facilitate city staff and not interfere with mowing that occurs on a regular basis in the cemetery.

During the discussion on the revised policy, Councilwoman Maria Nelson stated “I’ve seen many other cemeteries which have much stricter policies then what we have here.”

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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.

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