Nine candidates vying for six seats met Oct. 1 to answer community questions and state their case to either be re-elected or join the Fishers City Council in 2020.
Conducted at Fishers City Hall by the League of Women Voters, forum participants were incumbent Republican Eric Moeller and Democrat challenger Samantha DeLong, representing the North Central District; incumbent Republican John Weingardt and Democrat challenger Lane Skeeters, representing the South Central District; incumbent Republican David George and Democrat challenger Adam Kaps, representing the Southwest District; and incumbent Republicans Cecilia Coble and Todd Zimmerman and Democrat challenger Jocelyn Vare, who are running for three at-large seats. Incumbent Republican Rich Block also is running for re-election for his at-large seat but was out of town.
Janet Chandler moderated two portions of the forum – one featuring district candidates and another featuring at-large candidates – taking questions from the audience that primarily centered on development, diversity, affordable housing and transparency.
When asked about transparency, incumbents said they were mostly happy with the city’s level of openness with citizens and that efforts are being made to engage the community. Moeller mentioned the city council booth at the summer farmers market and his efforts to hold meetings with HOA leadership, ideas that were echoed by George, Weingardt, Coble and Zimmerman.
Zimmerman also said the city has difficulty getting the community engaged through public meetings and that councilors must be more active in the community to get feedback.
“Engagement at city council meetings is slim,” Zimmerman said. “You’d be amazed the feedback I get (through volunteering and coaching) when people find out I’m on city council. If we rely on just (City Hall), then we will continue to not engage the community.”
Skeeters said although the city administration does a good job communicating its accomplishments, more should be done.
“The city already has a great system in place to get the word out,” Skeeters said. “We need to utilize those same strategies, but we need to do it two years in advance, before the projects get off the ground, so residents can talk about what they want to have in those areas before developers have a say.”
DeLong and Kaps said they plan to continue canvassing, meet citizens individually and hold office hours after they are elected to continue engaging the community. Vare said she believes the city has an issue putting citizens first and that more than a quarter of the time, the council suspends its own rules to take votes early, shrinking the amount of time and number of meetings citizen input can be taken.
At-large candidates Coble, Vare and Zimmerman spoke at length about tax increment financing districts, which are established by communities to collect a portion of property tax revenues. The “extra” revenue comes from development or increased assessed value that occurs from the time the city created the district and is set aside for future economic development projects within the district boundaries.
Vare said Fishers uses TIF heavily and that she believes in a “common-sense balance” for establishing TIF districts.
“It’s a gamble. The city government is banking that, over the course of time, the gamble will pay off,” Vare said. “Eighty percent of all zoned land in Fishers is in a TIF district, and frankly, our community will lose on TIF gambles if those private investments (in the districts) would have been made anyway.”
Zimmerman said each TIF district should be thoroughly vetted before it is approved and that Fishers’ practice has led to successful areas of the city and business growth.
“The thought process behind TIFs (is) you have to do your research and figure out (some businesses) are right for the community, and hopefully, development surrounds it,” Zimmerman said. “Without using a TIF (district), the downtown would not have been able to be established, thus the growth of us being able to introduce and welcome new businesses and headquarters into the community to make sure we have a diverse tax and employment base.”
Coble said TIF districts have paid off for the city and that there are many factors to look at when deciding to approve a TIF district.
“(TIF districts) are very carefully evaluated by many factors – what kind of industry is wanting to come in, the types of jobs, the (salary), the tax base,” Coble said. “We had a lot of open space and we needed to get some economic development here because we cannot sustain ourselves in the future as a bedroom community, and that’s what we were prior to becoming a city. We had no industry here. We had no businesses to sustain us in the long term and fuel that economic tax base.”
If you could fix just one thing in Fishers, what would you fix and why?
DeLong: Add culture downtown and citywide.
- Weingarten: Fix disproportionate revenues received from the county option income tax.
- George: Update and enhance infrastructure for existing and older neighborhoods.
- Moeller: 116th Street and Allisonville Road improvement and development.
- Skeeters: Focus on TIF districts and financing.
- Kaps: Change the pace of development in the city to fill existing empty storefronts before new development is funded.
What do you like best about Fishers?
Vare: Community volunteer work
- Zimmerman: Sense of family and community
- Coble: Health initiatives for mental health and individuals with physical disabilities