City debt, vision for future and financial transparency were among the main issues several Westfield City Council candidates examined at the Westfield City Council Forum.
The April 18 forum was sponsored by the Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County, at the Grand Park Events Center Restaurant. All the candidates were Republicans. Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Gossard and her opponent Tammy Havard also appeared at the forum.
Troy Patton is running against fellow Republicans Jim Ake and Cindy Spoljaric for an at-large seat. Incumbents Ake and Spoljaric were not able to attend.
“The No. 1 problem we face is our taxes and ensuing debt,” Patton said. “Our No. 1 asset is our schools and they are also the No. 1 employer here in the City of Westfield. We need those TIF districts to pay off the debt. As all of you saw the tax bills, you saw the referendum and how it impacts your pocketbook. The referendum was probably not needed.”
Mike Johns, a District 5 candidate who has been in strategic planning for a number of different companies, said he wants the council to revise the comprehensive plan.
“The next four years are going to be crucial to Westfield’s development,” Johns said. “If we don’t decide what we want to look like, it’s my fear we are going to look like a Chicago suburb, like Des Plaines or Arlington Heights, with steel and glass buildings and all kinds of strange things, none of which are going to attract people to our community.”
District 5 candidate Jeff Boller said Mayor Andy Cook’s vision is to turn the city into more of a tourism community.
“Grand Park is bringing a lot of tourism into the city,” Boller said. “I agree with Mike (Johns), our comprehensive plan does need to be revised. Talking to the city leaders, they say they have revisited it over time and it has constantly changed.”
Johns said one of the biggest problems is ook’s vision that Westfield is going to be the youth-oriented capital of America.
“I think that is an impractical plan, long-term,” Johns said. “We have a beautiful facility at Grand Park. It’s a great drawing area for our area and surrounding states. But we are not going to be Orlando. People aren’t coming here on their vacation. Long-term, we have to find a way to bring real paying economic jobs into our city, companies with high-paying jobs and high-tech companies as opposed to be the hospitality center of America.”
Johns later added, “It’s kind of like that movie, ‘If you build it, they will come’ from ‘Field of Dreams.’ I think if you believe in that, you are going to end up with a house of cards.”
Westfield High School Director of Wellness Jake Gilbert said he one of the biggest community engagement concerns is mental health.
“Indiana ranks second in the United States in suicide attempts by 15- to 25-year-olds. We’re ranked ninth in suicide completions and ninth in ideations,” Gilbert said. “As someone who works in the schools, I think we’re at the tip of iceberg. With the stress going all the way down to third grade, it’s eye-opening.”
Gilbert and Bob Beaudry are running in District 2.
Beaudry said the No. 1 problem is not enough information is being shared on projects.
“If we shared more of the information with the community, they would be more engaged and they would feel more a part of these projects,” Beaudry said. “I’m not against the projects per se, but one of the problems I have is a lack of communication and inclusiveness.”
Patton said the most reliable form of underutilized revenue is property taxes.
“Our property taxes can be used for other things. It doesn’t have to all go for Grand Junction,” Patton said. “(Recently) one of the people I’m running against said, ‘We have to take on a lot of debt because that’s the only way our city is going to grow.’ I couldn’t disagree more. We have to get a handle on the taxes of Westfield, and we can’t just borrow our way out of it.”
Scott Frei, a District 4 candidate, said the city has such massive debt it seems it will accept any business that will to come to Westfield.
“Most of us moved to Westfield because it was unique,” Frei said. “I’m fearful the debt we have is going to force us to accept any business we can get. We have to focus less on the drive-thrus, more on the white-collar businesses we can get.”
April 18 was a busy day for several of the same candidates, who appeared at a Meet the Candidates at a Westfield Chamber of Commerce luncheon at The Club at Chatham Hills.