Seven candidates for three Seward County Commission seats prepare for a forum/debate Monday evening in city commission chambers at city hall. Three incumbents are in the race: Joyce Hibler, Steve “Ike” Eisenhauer and Toby Hale. Daily Leader photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
Three incumbents, a former city commissioner, a former county commissioner and two newcomers took part in a candidate debate Monday for three seats on the Seward County Commission.
Following opening statements, candidates were asked a series of questions about current issues in the county, having a minute to answer each question.
One of the issues raised was concerning economic development in Seward County and the role of the county in that process.
Gary Hittle, a challenger in the District No. 2 race, said simply working together with the city to promote new business and growth.
Current county chairman and District 2 candidate Joyce Hibler said the county is working with the City of Liberal to promote growth.
“We have meetings,” she said. “As far as economic development, we need to bring business in here the best we can. We’ve brought the dairies in here and the cotton warehouse.”
Incumbent District No. 3 commissioner Steve “Ike” Eisenhauer said the county needs to provide an environment that is inviting to people and businesses.
“There’s always a great debate when you try to bring in a new business about tax abatements,” he said. “It’s an incentive that’s used nationwide. Those things have to be considered if you’re going to get businesses to come here because you’ve got all the other communities of our size and larger competing for the same industries and businesses.”
Eisenhauer’s challenger, Randy Malin, a former county commissioner, said he is always working to promote Liberal.
“Liberal’s got things to offer,” he said. “Some people don’t think so. They think we live out here in the sticks, but we do have things to offer. We do everything we can to promote this town and businesses that can come in here and businesses that we can supply for them.”
Former city commissioner Doug LaFreniere, a challenger to the District No. 4 seat currently held by Toby Hale, said while the city does supply the major funding for economic development, the county should play a supporting role.
“All economic developments are widely publicized,” he said. “The worst thing that can happen is you think you’ve got a deal worked out and somebody throws a hurdle at you that you weren’t aware of. You should relate to the city since they are funding it if you’re going to have an issue with their project. State so up front so they can work that out before it comes down to finalizing anything.”
Hale said the county is deeply involved in economic development.
“We’ve put money in it just like the city,” he said. “We do have county people on the economic development board. I believe in it. We need it. We need to make jobs for people in Seward County.”
Ada Linenbroker, another challenger in the District 2 race, said it is important for the city and the county to work together for economic development.
“I wish we could work on a project and find another business similar either to National Beef or the ethanol plant,” she said. “It doesn’t just benefit by getting us jobs. It also helps the people that are raising the cattle and that are farming and raising the grains. That all benefits to work together as one thing to make our economy better.”
Another question candidates answered regarded the Seward County Five State Fair. The county has historically budgeted in excess of $50,000 each year for the fair and waived all rent and fees for the event. Candidates were asked if they plan to increase or decrease that amount.
Linenbroker said the total should at least stay the same.
“If we can afford to do it with the budget, I would gradually like to start increasing it again. I think the fair is important,” she said. “It’s something I think is part of our community not just because we are an agricultural community. We have our youth that are in 4-H stuff that spend all year working towards the fair. It’s also an event that brings a lot of people into town. That helps the economy, and I think the fair is something we should continue with.”
Hittle said the county’s budget needs to be explored first.
“If we need to give the fair some more money so we can grow and bring other businesses to Liberal, I think we need to do so,” he said.
Hibler said she wants to do everything possible to continue the fair.
“We’re working on the buildings out there,” she said. “As far as the money, if it’s in our budget to give them more, I think that’s very important.”
Eisenhauer feels the fair is a vital and essential part of the community.
“I think it shows community pride,” he said. “In this day and time and in this economy, we are looking hard. We’re in the budget process. We’re really looking hard at everything, and there’s a possibility that we’ll have to cut some from the fair budget at this time. We always assume that the economy’s going to pick back up. We’ll just have to take it from there when that time comes. I’m definitely in favor of the fair. It’s never going to be a stand alone thing. It’s one of those county things that’s supported by the taxpayers.”
Malin said he has always supported the fair, and he began to see the decline of the event when he last served on the commission.
“I’m glad to see that this current commission is revitalizing the fair,” he said. “There’s a lot of times that people can’t go anywhere or take a vacation. They like to go to the fair. That’s just one of the things that’s always been a part of Liberal, and I want to see it stay that way.”
LaFreniere said getting something accomplished under a commission system takes more than one person.
“There’s not much I can do by myself,” he said. “The fair itself I look at as a quality of life issue. Some people love the fair. That’s what they look forward to every year, and you’ve got to respect that. Some people see it as a big waste of money. It’s not what it used to be. As a commission, you’ve got to make a decision – are you going to go all in and do it the best that you can and keep it as a quality of life issue or do you cut back on it. That’s what a commission needs to decide.”