Incumbent District 1 county commissioner C.J. Wettstein and challenger Kevin Clark made their points of view known.
By ROBERT PIERCE • Daily Leader
Incumbent District 1 county commissioner C.J. Wettstein and challenger Kevin Clark made their points of view known to a viewing and listening audience Tuesday evening at the KSCB Radio studios. After opening statements, the candidates first fielded a question about what they believe their two most core issues are going into next Tuesday’s election. Clark said his first issue is on the economic development end. “Working not only with the county, but with the city as well,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’re missing, and what we need to see more of is the commissions working together when it comes to economic development.” Clark said not only the county, but also the City of Liberal, as well as Kismet, benefit from this team effort. “I’m very disappointed, as are a lot of people in the community, on the retail end as far as economic development,” he said. “We have had some projects going on with the heavy industrial. They’ve got some others that they are looking at.” Wettstein also said economic development is a very important issue. “In the last year, we had three businesses that got started up that went through Great Plains Development and got grants to start, and the county sponsored them,” he said. “These were retail businesses of different varieties. We have worked on retail business.” Wettstein noted retail businesses require much in the way of money, and work, to be started. “You can help them out, but it still takes a lot of money on their own part,” he said. Clark and Wettstein were then asked if they support economic development on the county level. Wettstein began his remarks by noting some projects he has worked on as a commissioner. “About nine years ago, we did the Air Products plant,” he said. “We did a 10 percent reducing tax on it. We just did a 10 percent reducing tax on the ethanol plant. There was also a 10 percent reducing tax on the cotton warehouse.” Wettstein said through all of these projects, Seward County has gained about 40 employees. “I think it’s very important whether it’s two people or 20 people,” he said. Clark said he does support economic development on the county level, noting their is currently a joint, meaning city and county, economic development committee in place. “I do believe you need to have both, and you need to have both work together,” he said. “A majority of the projects will be heavy industrial. I still believe you’ve got to balance it out, working with the city, and there’s no reason the county can’t work with the city as far as bringing in retail and vice versa.”
The next questioned concerned a perceived housing shortage locally. Clark said he was unaware of such a problem. “I’m not aware of how much of an impact the community of Liberal is experiencing,” he said. “I have visited with a couple of friends of mine that are realtors, and they say the housing is still pretty strong and the buying is still pretty strong in the community as well. As far as the county, that’s probably something I would have to take up and debate and work on if elected as commissioner somewhere down the line.” Wettstein, a realtor, said Liberal is experiencing a housing shortage at the present time. “We do have some developers that are going along,” he said. “The City of Liberal does have a program for developers. Anybody who would like to be a developer and start building houses, I do know they have a $5,000 program that the developer can receive.” Wettstein said this is a program that anybody who wants to start building houses and be a developer can have. “I think it would be a little bit tougher for the county to work a program like this,” he said. “I think if someone came with a program, we could look at it and see.” The candidates next answered a question concerning the local crime problem. Clark said expanding the Seward County Jail could be definite possibility in the future. “That’s something we’re definitely going to have to look into,” he said. “With the people we’ve got in their right now, we’re running out of room to put them, and it’s costing a lot of money to have to transfer a lot of these, especially with the juveniles. We’re currently working on that.” Clark noted some of the programs in place to deal with crime in the community, including Adolescent Support Services, Tri-Agency and a juvenile crime task force. “They’re working on those projects, and I think they’ve got some good plans ahead,” he said. “They’re just getting started. I think once we let them go the course for a little bit and see what kind of progress is being made. Then we can take a look at that and see if there’s any different ways we gotta go or take that.” Wettstein brought up the history of Tri-Agency, which was started in the early 1980s. “At that time, the Tri-Agency was just a three-member board, and Tri- Agency just handled the truancy,” he said. “At one time, they decided to expand the board to nine members. Since we were an existing board, they wanted us to give out part of this Focus on the Future money. When that happened, everything went kind of bad.” Wettstein said because of this, in the last year, Tri-Agency has gone back to just three board members. “Our main goal right now is we don’t worry about giving money to anybody,” he said. “We have two ladies that are doing a very fine job. They contact all the schools every day. If a kid is out of school, they go knock on the door. They contact them. They call them and get a hold of the parents and say ‘Your child is not in school.’ I feel that the more we can keep the kids in school, I think that will help them a lot.”