Council Candidates Stress Infrastructure, Development

Two of three candidates for the open seats on the Chadron City Council stressed infrastructure improvements and attracting businesses during the KCSR/KBPY Election Forum Tuesday night.

Joseph Johndreau and AJ Bassett, both natives of the area who have returned home in recent years, are seeking to fill two seats on the council. Incumbent Keith Crofutt is also running for re-election but declined to appear at the forum.

Johndreau cited drainage as his top infrastructure priority, saying that addressing the issue will improve walkability in the city and extend the life of the streets. Bassett said the city needs to focus on street repairs and improving broadband access to attract businesses and remote workers. Both candidates said economic development is at the top of their list of goals to achieve if elected. Bassett would like to see the city hire a grant writer to improve efforts to obtain federal grant dollars for infrastructure improvement.

“We’ll attract mid-size operations that are looking at little towns like this,” she said if the infrastructure, particularly broadband, is updated.

The city needs to keep the downtown business district strong and look at broadening the tax base by recruiting light manufacturing or other types of industry, Johndreau said. The downtown revitalization efforts have been successful in retaining the character of the business district, and Johndreau said any future efforts should work to enhance the heritage reflected in the architecture. Both he and Bassett said additional advocation for community-wide clean-up efforts and beautification should also be supported.

A recent hiring incentive program approved by the city council drew mixed reactions from the candidates, with both noting that they recognize the need to resolve employee turnover but disagreeing with pieces of the program as it was passed. Johndreau said too many times cash incentives become problematic on their own, and he would like to see additional data gathered from employees through exit interviews. He was also intrigued by the idea that new employees would be allowed to carry over unused leave from their previous job as an alternative to cash incentives. Bassett said no cash incentives should be paid until after at least 90 days of employment.

A question regarding the residence of the Chadron city manager prompted Bassett to declare that the manager is a critical employee and should not be allowed to live outside of the city limits. Johndreau expressed a desire to explore the issue more, saying that if there is an ordinance that prevents the manager from living outside the city, it should be followed. Otherwise, it is an issue the city should consider more closely, he said.

With the city’s current budget at just over $16.2 million and a property tax asking of over $1.1 million, Bassett questioned how the city increased its budget during an economic shutdown, while Johndreau said a deeper look at the line items make it apparent that budget issues are more complicated.

“I’m very conservative, but I also understand that bringing in revenue and spending on the town, that’s investing in the town,” Johndreau said. Still, the council must pay close attention to the budget and hold it down wherever possible.

When questioned about raising water rates to accomplish renovations to the water system called for in the Master Water Plan, Johndreau indicated he is hesitant to raise rates but recognizes that the improvements will not be inexpensive. He said he would like to study the issue more and know whether or not any rate increase would be permanent or more temporary in nature before agreeing to such an increase.

Bassett voiced opposition to any water rate increases.

“Absolutely not,” she said, adding that the city should look at hiring a grant writer instead to chase grants that will offset those types of expenditures. “There is money to apply for infrastructure needs like this.”