City commission candidates listen as challenger Steve Frazier, far right, gives his opening statement Thursday evening in a forum hosted by the Seward County Republicans and the Leader & Times. L&T photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the first in a series of reports of Thursday night’s city commission candidate forum.
On May 10, Liberal voters will get a chance to decide the fate of a proposed recreational center.
Thursday night, candidates in the upcoming Liberal City Commission race had a chance to speak about the issue during a forum for the contenders hosted by the Seward County Republicans and the Leader & Times.
Most of the candidates, including challenger Marlena Nobles, said the issue is in the voters’ hands.
“I’ve been on both sides of the fence,” she said. “Personally, I don’t have feelings either way at this point.”
Nobles said she is more concerned with what the community’s taxpayers want.
“Whatever their will is, whatever they ultimately decide is what I will do and the way I will represent them,” she said. “I don’t believe that it’s to our advantage to try to push the taxpayers into something either way, but I think there’s a very realistic cost here that the taxpayers need to know about.”
For this reason, Nobles said she would not give a “yes” or “no” to the question.
“I, for one, at this point, am not going to voice support nor negativity about it because in my opinion, there’s a lot of good to it and a lot of questions still to be answered,” Nobles said.
Fellow challenger J.D. Cox said Liberal already has enough facilities to use, and he believes there are ways to utilize them.
“I think we could use the Activity Center, go in with the county and split the cost of maintenance and upkeep on the place and keep it open until 10 o’clock in the night,” he said. “Put basketball goals up in there and use it. If they want to walk, they can walk around the edge of it.”
Cox said with the rising cost of fuel, this will keep many people from going to a rec center built as proposed near the city’s airport.
“We build a big building, the expenses, maintenance and upkeep on it will be tremendous,” he said. “I figure we should hold off on it.”
Incumbent Larry Koochel said the matter of a new rec center is something the community, not the commission, should decide.
“Several months ago, the city commission passed a resolution to allow the voters to vote on it and see what they want,” he said. “It’s in their hands.”
Fellow incumbent Bob Carlile said the commission has discussed the issue at length with the Focus on the Future group, and it was agreed to put the rec center to a vote of the people.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to do whatever the people want,” he said. “If they vote to do it, I’ll support it 100 percent. If they vote not to do it, I’ll support that. I don’t think that the commissioners should come out one way or the other on it.”
Candidate Janet Willimon also said she is supportive of taxpayers’ desires.
“I absolutely support the process in which it all came together,” she said. “I support the people who have put it together. It’s going to come to vote May 10. That’s my whole platform is to listen to what the people want. I hope the people come out and vote May 10. The outcome, yes, we’ll go with it, or no, it stops.”
Incumbent Dave Harrison said when he initially ran for office, he told constituents he would give them an opportunity to vote on a new rec center. He said it is the public’s decision to make.
“There’s nothing I’m going to do to try to trump your decision,” he said. “If you say yes, we will build what we tell you we’re going to build. If you say no, we’ll do something else.”
Harrison said the project will be paid for with money from the city’s 1-cent sales tax fund, and the price tag of $6.5 million is just the beginning.
“By the time interest and expense comes in, it’s going to be an $8 million project, but we have a plan in place should you folks decide to vote for it,” he said.
Challenger Steve Frazier, however, did come out in support of a new rec center.
“I think it’s a fantastic deal,” he said. “We’ve basically got the money. It’s not going to raise taxes. They’re going to do it with the 1-cent sales tax.”
Frazier said a new rec center has been needed for 20 years.
“It’s way past due,” he said. “The youth of this community need a recreation center of this magnitude. I know it’s expensive, and I don’t know if the dollars are there, but I would love to see us get together with the high school and work out an agreement with some kind of benefit for both and put the pool in while we’re doing it.”
Candidate John Blackmore agreed with Frazier, saying a new facility would help get kids and gangs off the streets of Liberal.
“Liberal says we don’t have (gangs), but we do,” he said. “This rec center will get them off the street and out there, but right now, the 1-cent sales tax is going to build the building. Let’s get off the swimming pool. That can come later. Get the rec center. It’ll help the kids.”