Aurora -- Budget scrutiny, improving infrastructure, connectivity efforts and economic development were among the major topics addressed by the city's six candidates for mayor Oct. 17 at a forum at Aurora High School sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Northern Portage County.
An estimated 100 to 125 people attended the forum in the auditorium. It was one of a handful of candidate forums sponsored by various city organizations during the campaign season.
The six candidates vying for the post and speaking at the forum are Mark Demyan, Delbert Dunbar, John Kudley, John Monroe, Tom Plunkett and Ann Womer Benjamin.
All the candidates expressed a strong desire not to seek new taxes during their four-year term unless residents strongly support a project which would require a levy or bond issue.
A majority of the candidates said they are not convinced a police levy is necessary at this time, and if the 1.2-mill levy on the Nov. 5 ballot fails, they would rather try to find funds elsewhere to address police department manpower.
Although only Kudley and Womer Benjamin have held political offices -- both are current Council reps and the latter was a four-term state representative -- the others also said they believe they have the necessary business experience to sit in the mayor's chair.
Plunkett pointed out he has overseen the fire department in Reminderville and is quite familiar with the budgeting process and other municipal operations. He said he has dealt with union contracts and has reduced overtime costs, and is very familiar with a municipality's safety operations.
HAVING AN economic development director either full or parttime to deal with existing and potential new businesses was cited by all as being very important. Monroe said he believes although a director is important, the mayor still must be actively involved with development.
Kudley emphasized he led the initiative to get resource officers into the schools and was the only Council rep to oppose acquisition of the Aurora Golf Club land. He also cited his many years teaching at the high school as a positive when dealing with school district officials.
Monroe and Dunbar stressed their many years of running companies as a positive. Monroe said he is used to dealing with $30 million-plus budgets, which is about what the city's overall budget is annually.
In discussing the importance of economic development, Demyan commented, "More employees means more tax revenues." Dunbar and Kudley added, however, that Aurora should be selective in what types of businesses it seeks. "We don't want industry that pollutes," Dunbar said.
All of the candidates said the key to attracting a good mix of residential, commercial and office space for the 500 or so acres at the former Geauga Lake Park is to create a mixed-use zoning district and cooperate with Bainbridge Township trustees.
The candidates aid part of the process leading to development of that land would be to form a Joint Economic Development District, which would allow the city and township to share in income tax revenue.
Plunkett said he believes the best way to develop the property is to have a "master developer" be in charge of one large parcel, rather than piece-mealing the land.
WOMER Benjamin called developing the property "a challenge" since the land is privately owned, but she said she believes an attractive complex can be created.
Responding to an audience question about cooperating with nearby communities' officials, Kudley said the city needs to establish good relationships with Portage County and its neighbors, but in the end "we must decide what's best for us."
All of the candidates aid they support improving connectivity between neighborhoods and major commercial areas by installing sidewalks and building bike paths.
"I don't think we need to spend $700,000 on a boathouse at Sunny Lake; I'd rather use that money for bike paths," said Dunbar, who added he'd like to see a "family-oriented" amusement park opened on part of the former Geauga Lake Park land.
About connectivity, Plunkett said, "We've spent time and money studying this matter, now we need to find the money to get things done." Kudley favored holding future residential developers responsible for installing sidewalks as part of the site development process.
On the topic of cutting costs, many of the candidates said tough negotiations with employee unions are needed. "We need to take a firm approach," said Kudley, while Monroe said there are options to reduce costs and "we can't put our resources in jeopardy," and Demyan noted he favors saving money wherever possible.
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